For many of us, life during the Covid-19 pandemic was unlike anything we have ever experienced or will ever experience again. It threw off so many things — upset daily routines, mass job losses, social isolation, and hospital occupancy were only the tip of the iceberg. Life was turned upside-down in more ways than one. It was a life-changing era for many, from toilet paper shortages to learning how to make Zoom calls and much more severe circumstances, like losing loved ones and jobs that required in-person labour. One of the industries that took a heavy hit during the Covid-19 pandemic in the US was the tourism industry, and things still aren’t quite back to normal.
While there has been a rebound in travel into and out of the US since the tapering off of the Covid-19 pandemic worldwide, there is still a long way to go. From a private jet charter across the world to simply hopping across the US/Mexico and US/Canada borders, visitors to and from the US still are not at pre-pandemic levels. However, things are looking up for the tourism industry in the US (and worldwide, really). Between the total number of visitors to the US in December 2019 compared to December 2022, only about two-thirds of the visitor volume has been recaptured.
According to a recent study, all aspects of travel — in and out of the US and beyond — are regaining their former levels. This includes international travel bookings, which have been the slowest to transition back to “normal” since the pandemic. However, the research data suggests that even the slow-to-grow international travel sector is currently up 200% compared to international travel last year. With international vacations on hold for many, honeymoon vacations from Covid weddings on standby, and all of the vacation days piled up from two years of travel restrictions and Covid isolation — people are ready to get out and see the world again.
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The dynamic recovery of the tourism industry, both around the world and specifically in the US, has been reflected in the high demand for air travel capacity and accommodation. With climbing air travel rates approaching pre-pandemic levels (specifically around Europe) and global hotel occupancy rising, there is evidence of international travel demand beyond the number of people crossing the US border. This is exciting and refreshing news to many.
According to data from the UNWTO, international tourism has experienced a doubling of individuals travelling during the first quarter of 2023 than people travelling during the first quarter of 2022. With international arrivals approaching 80% of pre-pandemic numbers and 235 million international tourists travelling in the first quarter of 2023, it is safe to say that travel is back in style and on the road to recovery.
Many regions of the world are close to or have already exceeded pre-pandemic numbers of visitors to their countries. Europe has been leading this charge with intra-regional travel and travels from the US. At this point in 2023, the Americas are hovering around 68% recovery compared to international travel in 2019. With peak season between May and August heating up in the Northern Hemisphere, things are looking promising for the tourism industry in the US.
May was marked by National Travel and Tourism Week in the US — a celebration highlighting the travel and tourism industry and demonstrating the relationship between the travel industry and economic growth. In 2022 alone, the tourism industry earned $2.6 trillion and supported over 15 million jobs. These numbers are society-changing, as that means supporting the thriving of communities, making it possible for small businesses to compete with global corporates, and providing work for 15 million families across the US. A fraction of travel spending is also plugged right back into the economy through travel taxes, funding public services, and innovations in community development.
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The tourism industry’s rebound still faces some sizable challenges during this projected recovery. With inflation as high as it is and oil prices rising — travel has become more expensive (and therefore less attainable) for the everyday traveller. But at the rate that the travel industry is rebounding and the projections for the upcoming quarters, all things tourism should return to near-normal levels soon. After being cooped up indoors for months on end, it’s safe to say we are ready for it.