Welcome back, global travelers

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After nearly two years, fully vaccinated travelers from 33 countries can come into the U.S. to work and play, reunite with loved ones and explore. Whether it's their first time in America or their 100th trip, people are eager to visit the U.S. How eager? In the last month alone, U.S.-bound flight bookings have reached 70% of pre-pandemic levels, with international travel accounting for 52% of those aboard the planes.

Greg Webb is CEO of Travelport and a member of the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board.

Airline CEOs and travel industry experts have been integral in pushing the U.S. government to reinstate international travel and open our borders, investing in research on health and safety and traveler sentiment and citing flight-booking volumes to confirm demand and spending power. These industry advocates are not focused only on their own bottom lines; they are pushing for protocols that make sense for the country and our economy.

I know this because I'm one of them.

I believe that people should have the ability to travel safely, if they choose to do so, and that the travel industry should have the ability to restore its significant contribution to our national economy as well as the global economy. According to research prepared for the U.S. Travel Association by Tourism Economics, 65% of all American jobs that were lost during the pandemic supported travel. It's time for us to begin to reverse that.

In 2019, before the pandemic, the U.S. attracted nearly 80 million visitors with spending power that represented 9.5% of total U.S. exports of goods and services, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce National Travel and Tourism Office. Now that our reopening day is finally here, the U.S. government and the industry must work even more closely together to restart and rebuild the $239 billion industry that we once had. To do that, government-led health and safety requirements for travel must be uncomplicated and consistent if we want to effectively restore confidence among the millions of international travelers that the U.S. is preparing to welcome this month.

Here at Travelport, we're able to see a clear picture of the travel trends that are emerging. First and foremost, travelers want to go now: Nov. 8, the very first day that international travelers were welcomed back, was the most popular departure date.

On Sept. 20, President Biden's first travel announcement said that fully vaccinated travelers from both the U.K. and the EU would be able to enter the country starting in November. In the 24 hours following that news, U.S.-bound flights from the U.K. were searched more than U.S.-bound flights from all other European countries combined. Clearly, travelers from the U.K. seem most eager to return.

On Oct. 15, President Biden's second announcement confirmed the Nov. 8 reopening date and detailed which additional countries would be approved to enter. Even with these additional countries, the U.K. remained the No. 1 country searching and booking flights to the U.S., and bookings increased 108% from the week after the first announcement. Our booking trends show that Brits are particularly eager to visit for Thanksgiving, with flight bookings for the holiday weekend increasing by 2,200% just 24 hours after the October announcement. Whether they're looking to reunite with their American family or just take advantage of our Black Friday shopping deals, we're just happy to have them back. The World Travel and Tourism Council estimated that the U.S. economy lost $40 million a day just from the absence of U.K. travelers.

In November, most U.K. travelers are headed for New York, but the Big Apple only ranked No. 2 for the country overall. For Brits, sunny Orlando holds the No. 1 spot, a locale that, pre-pandemic, would've ranked No. 2. Trips to Orlando in August 2022 have been extremely popular, bringing visitors to Florida just in time to experience Walt Disney World's 50th anniversary.

Following behind the U.K., the countries that have booked the most U.S.-bound flights are Germany, France, Italy and Spain. Overall, international travelers seem most excited to visit these five destinations: New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Orlando and San Francisco.

Armed with this booking intelligence, businesses should prepare for the influx of visitors coming and be prepared to give them the red carpet welcome back that they all deserve. Together, we'll enable the U.S. travel and tourism industry to not only compete but to thrive once again.

The world will be watching, so let's give our international guests the experience they've waited nearly two years for. Travel and tourism has long waited for this moment to shine -- and pump billions back into the economy. 

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