Introduction: Domestic travel now rules

Travel Industry Survey 2021



The 2021 Travel Weekly Travel Industry Survey reflects the reality most travel advisors have lived through these past 20 months: Personal income in free fall, cancellations and rebookings skyrocketing. Staff on furlough, business plans rejiggered, expenses cut.

For the most part, the survey confirms, in raw data, the subjective experiences that travel advisors have been sharing with Travel Weekly reporters and readers for more than a year and a half of crisis.

The delta variant taught us to be cautious about making predictions, but there are directional clues in the data. The timeline on the chart "A pandemic return to the Great Recession sales decline" is simultaneously depressing and hopeful: While it gives graphic expression to the plunge in agency sales, it also shows that, historically, when recovery takes hold (as it did in the third year after the Great Recession began), business revenue normalizes and, barring another crisis, stays normalized.

That's not to say that business or life will be the same as it was before the pandemic. Crisis or not, no two years are ever the same, and we wouldn't want them to be. Exciting new products come on the market. Tech innovations offer improvements to how we do business and the travel experience. As clients move through life's passages, what they want out of a vacation changes.

There is one chart in particular that I believe offers some clues about a significant shift in travel sales that may have real staying power: the one on this page.

Domestic outsells international for first time in a decade

This chart illustrates the recent dramatic change in sales of domestic versus international travel. For 17 years, there had been a slow, steady decline in domestic bookings matched by a slow, steady increase in international sales. The sudden reversal of this very consistent trend, one that remained unchanged even during the recession, is one of the most dramatic reversals in the study.

On one hand, there's an obvious explanation: With the exception of travel to Mexico, international travel ranged from exasperating to impossible. Varying, complex, confusing and inconsistent border entry requirements — if borders weren't closed completely — made domestic travel infinitely more attractive in 2020 and thus far through 2021.

Although historical data shows many customary travel patterns return relatively soon after a crisis, I'm not sure the return to international travel dominance will be swift. Many people who felt a vacation wasn't a vacation unless it put a stamp into their passport discovered the appeal of modern travel within the U.S.

And, specifically, consumers discovered the pleasure of visiting nonurban destinations within the U.S. While hotels remained shuttered in major cities, tertiary cities and resorts within 100 miles of highly populated areas were enjoying record average daily rates. Reinvesting their windfalls — and there is indeed evidence that these resorts and hotels are working to capitalize and expand upon their recent popularity, particularly in outdoor and adventure activities — will only make nonurban resorts and smaller cities all the more attractive.

We've also seen tour operators, river cruise lines and rail companies expand their U.S. offerings during the pandemic. If these remain in place — and indications are they've been well-received — it will expand domestic product breadth and inventory.

As you read through the charts in this year's Travel Industry Survey, you may notice other changes you believe indicate secular, rather than temporary, change. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts. As always, you can email me at [email protected]

Arnie Weissmann

Arnie Weissmann
Executive Vice President and Editor in Chief, Travel Weekly