Travel companies are readying for another surge of travel bookings after the U.S. dropped its requirement that arriving travelers present a negative Covid test.
It's not clear yet how big the surge will be. But early data suggest that the end of the testing requirement appears to have boosted international demand from both domestic and foreign points of sale.
United reported that during the first three days after the change was announced, searches for international travel were up 7% week over week, with the total number of searches coming in at more than 2.4 million.
U.S. point-of-origin searches were up 7.6%, while searches for travel to the U.S. from abroad were up 6.9%, United said. The majority of searches by U.S. travelers were for trips this summer to Mexico, the Caribbean and Europe.
Similarly, Expedia reported that in the first two-and-a-half days after the mandate was dropped on June 12, more than half of the international flight searches undertaken for U.S. points of origin were for travel within the next month and a half. Top search destinations included cities in the Dominican Republic and Mexico as well as London, Paris, Rome and Toronto.
Expedia said U.K. point-of-origin searches for U.S. travel increased by more than 10% in that same period.
Delta said June 15 that it saw an increase in searches and bookings for international destinations, but it declined to share specifics. Hopper, meanwhile, said that bookings to international destinations from the U.S. increased 8% on June 10, which was the day that the rule change was announced.
Tour operators see an uptick
Tour and river cruise operators said that it was a little early to tell how much business would come in as a result of the relaxed policy. But some suppliers said they were already noticing a difference.
"We were beginning to see a slight uptick in bookings before the announcement, and business has been steadily picking up since then," said Stefanie Schmudde, vice president of product development and operations at Abercrombie & Kent. "We continue to receive many questions from travel advisors and their clients, but fear of traveling internationally and not being able to return home has certainly eased since the recent announcement."
Melissa Da Silva, president of TTC Tour Brands, the tour operator arm of the Travel Corporation, said the company was "confident" that it would see an uptick in interest in the coming days and weeks.
"We know testing to return home was a barrier and concern for so many travelers to book that international ticket," she said. "We're ready to meet the demand."
Jeff Roy, executive vice president of Collette, said that the company anticipated a significant reduction in another Covid-era booking trend: last-minute cancellations due to testing and quarantine requirements.
At the Travel Leaders Edge conference in Aurora, Colo., this week, Travel Leaders Group president John Lovell said it anticipated that European travel would "really kick in" as a result.
"People just want to get back to Europe. That's what we're seeing, that's what we're hearing," he said. "So hopefully in the next two, three weeks we'll see that demand start to work its way through the funnel."
Removing 'the biggest hurdle' to travel recovery
The decision to repeal the requirement came just days after travel and tourism associations, which had been lobbying the Biden administration for a repeal for months, vowed to get "aggressive." Leaders from hospitality and travel advisors had openly criticized the policy, saying it was repressing travel demand and negatively impacting job growth.
Many travel sellers attributed their optimism about future sales based on what their clients have told them over the past few months: If there's a chance they can't return to the U.S. because of a positive Covid test, they're not traveling.
"Being stuck in-destination in fear of testing positive was one of the biggest hurdles that we faced," said Helen Giontsis, president of Kensington Tours.
"My European business for this summer was way down because of the inbound testing rule," said Toni Lanotte-Day, a river cruise travel advisor and owner of Toni Tours. "All of my river cruise bookings for this year are from September onward. My clients were all concerned about testing positive and getting stuck."
In its statement rescinding the order, the CDC recommended that travelers voluntarily test themselves no more than three days ahead of travel.
It added that it would continue to monitor the state of the pandemic and would "reassess the need for a testing requirement if the situation changes."
The hassle of airport delays, cancellations
But a number of travel-related issues that have little to do with Covid and more to do with soaring demand and staffing shortages will test the optimism that suppliers and advisors have for a speedy period of travel recovery.
"Airport delays and flight cancellations remain a concern," A&K's Schmudde said, adding that space availability has also been an issue for months prior to the testing requirement expiration.
"There were already availability issues in North America and Europe, not just with accommodations but also A&K-quality guides and appropriate vehicles. Some regions are completely sold out for summer, and fall dates are quickly filling up. We are seeing unprecedented global demand for travel into 2023."
Jamie Biesiada contributed to this report.