While cruise lines continue to deal with COVID-caused cancellations, land vacations have not been exempt from the impact of the latest surge in cases around the world.
That’s according to tour operators speaking to TMR this week about what their advisor partners and consumer clients have been saying during the past month since Omicron started to make headlines. And while Omicron has definitely made a mark, this “third variant” of COVID-19 is not having the same impact as previous ones.
Jacki Marks, Executive Vice President, Trade Brands for Apple Leisure Group Vacations (ALGV), speaking to TMR this week, said that Omicron is affecting its business.
While the level of cancellations is “nowhere near what we saw at the beginning of the pandemic,” ALGV is seeing cancellations through the next four or five weeks or so, something that is “in line with predictions for when Omicron is expected to die out in the U.S.”
Still, that level of cancellations has dropped off, Marks said.
“Over the past week, cancellations have dropped off as Americans learn more about Omicron and its safety protocols,” she said. “There is still high demand for vacations among Americans. Those that are canceling for January are pushing back their dates into February and beyond, which are starting to fill in quickly. New bookings are also following this trend.”
Marriott, in a statement from a spokesperson speaking about its Caribbean and Mexico bookings, said, “While preliminary data shows that the spike is having some impact on bookings, we continue to see overall robust demand, specifically in Mexico.”
Jack Richards, president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays, told TMR that Pleasant is also experiencing some “near-term” impacts from Omicron and from the rising infection numbers, including a slower booking pace that “began December 2021 and continues during January 2022, and higher trip cancellations.”
Still, the level of comfortability clients have traveling with Omicron in the headlines is still much higher than previous variants.
“The impact of the Omicron Variant to date is much less compared to the Delta Variant during July through September 2021,” Richards said.
“We are seeing the same trends we have experienced throughout the pandemic. Sun destinations closest to home for US travelers are the most popular, including Mexico, the Caribbean, Florida, Las Vegas, California, Costa Rica, and Tahiti. Demand is low for long-haul international destinations,” he added.
Those trends include a consumer preference for traveling with fewer restrictions and requirements—Mexico, a destination that doesn’t require a COVID-19 test or vaccine proof upon entry, is still doing well for both ALGV and for Pleasant.
“Due to testing difficulties in the U.S., another trend we are seeing is customers switching destinations from some Caribbean islands where a test is required for entry to Mexico or Florida, which do not have that requirement,” Marks said of ALGV.
“Mexico, a destination without the same is the best performing destination in 2022, up triple digits compared to 2019, which was a record year for Pleasant Holidays,” Richards said, adding that, for Pleasant, domestic destinations including Hawaii, Florida, Las Vegas, and California are pacing up versus 2019.
For Pleasant, there is still a sense of optimism for 2022 as bookings for travel from February through December 2022 are above 2019 levels at this time.
TSA Numbers Don’t Tell the Whole Story
Examining the passenger volume from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) tells a similar story, though there are other factors to consider when using TSA volume as a metric.
The TSA on Tuesday, Jan. 11, screened 1.12 million people at airport security checkpoints. That is the lowest number of passengers since April 2021 and a drop-off from a holiday season that regularly saw 2 million-plus people travel through those same checkpoints.
That drop-off could be spurred both by a post-holiday lull in travel (2019 saw a similar pattern with passenger traffic dropping from 2.4 million at the end of December to 1.6 million on Jan. 11, 2019) and by continuing cancellations from airlines dealing with staffing issues caused by COVID-19 infections.
Airline cancellations have caused chaos for so many during the past few weeks (Alaska Airlines, Southwest, and more were all forced to cancel because of staffing issues) and, according to FlightAware, the trend is continuing with more cancellations scattered across carriers this week.
United Airlines is the latest carrier to do so, saying this week that it would reduce its upcoming schedule in order to try to “reset” amid staffing shortages. In a memo, the carrier’s CEO Scott Kirby said that the “Omicron surge has put a strain on our operation, resulting in customer disruptions during a busy holiday season.”
Kirby didn’t specify how much of United’s schedule would be canceled, but consumers can expect more delays throughout January.