Election results & vaccine news are good news for travelers

[This is a slightly different version of a story we wrote for NBC News]

Are you feeling better about traveling somewhere?

Since March 2020, COVID-19 and government-mandated border closings have triggered $443 billion in cumulative losses for the U.S. travel economy, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

Spikes in COVID-19 cases have many grounded travelers worried that the country may go into lockdown mode. But others are buoyed by the fact that President-elect Joe Biden has named a coronavirus task force. And by the promising news from Pfizer about progress made on a COVID-19 vaccine.

Theresa Kauffman of Fort Worth, Texas is anxious to travel to see her parents and her mother-in-law. “You know how when you’re sick and get diagnosed by a doctor and you feel relieved to have a plan? That’s how this feels for travel,” said Kauffman. With the vaccine news, “It feels like we can start to hope again.”

Hospitality industry groups are encouraged by the president-elect’s support of science-based coronavirus-fighting strategies. And by his plan for a coordinated government COVID-19 response for a path to economic reopening and the return of international travel.

The U.S. Travel Association applauds “President-elect Biden’s objective of helping the industries most heavily impacted by the pandemic. The travel industry accounts for more than a third of overall U.S. unemployment, and policies to promote relief, recovery, and stimulus for travel businesses are integral to a U.S. economic turnaround.”

Gregory Miller, Executive Director of the Center for Responsible Travel, expects that a national mask mandate will be implemented.

“This would reduce COVID virus transmission considerably and likely increase the prospects for us to return sooner to traveling by air and public transportation with more safety and confidence,” Miller said.

And Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA) is looking forward to working with the President-elect on an infrastructure investment package.

“The entire travel industry is still suffering from the abrupt, sustained drop in tourism and business travel, and airports need help to get through this prolonged downturn.” said Kevin Burke, ACI-NA’s President and CEO.

A pent-up desire to travel

Due to the global pandemic, there is a great deal of pent up demand for travel.

In a pre-election survey of clients by the Virtuoso luxury travel network, 72 percent said they were ready to travel. 92 percent said that the election made them want to travel.

“We’re already seeing evidence of that confidence coming back with people booking stays for Thanksgiving and the holiday season,” said Virtuoso managing director Misty Belles.

Post-election, it looks like a lot more people are considering traveling.

KAYAK’s Data Dashboard shows that searches hit a 3 month low on election day (Tuesday, November 3), down 62 percent year over year. But in this post-election week, searches are trending upwards. On Monday, November 9, Kayak says searches were up 8 percent week over week and up 21 percent from election day.

And it is not just leisure travelers who are anxious to get back on the road.

The pandemic has forced many college students to forego travel and study experiences abroad, says Linfield University media professor Michael Huntsberger. He says it’s especially hard for seniors, who won’t have another opportunity. “But though COVID-19 has foreclosed these programs for 2020, students are anticipating future opportunities as soon as travel restrictions are lifted, and safety protocols are in place.”

Register to vote at this hotel

Here’s a great, nonpartisan, idea.

Extended Stay America, whose properties have remained open during the pandemic, is adding “voter registration center” to the amenities it offers.

The mid-priced chain’s STAY Counted initiative encourages guests to register to vote in the November 2020 election. 

No matter their politics.

All 561 company-owned hotels in 41 states, as well as select franchise locations, are participating in the program.

The initiative includes tools and resources to make it easier for both guests and hotel employees to register to vote.

“Extended Stay America is committed to empowering our communities.  As people across the country are standing up for justice, we believe it is our obligation to do more than issue hollow corporate messages, ” said Bruce Haase, President and Chief Executive Officer of Extended Stay America.

Here’s what the Stay Counted program entails:

Virtual Voter Registration Centers.

In addition to its online Stay Counted site, Extended Stay America is providing stamped envelopes for those registering in states that do not offer online registration. 

Voter Registration Ambassadors

Employees at participating Extended Stay America properties will serve as “voter registration ambassadors.” The staff will help guests with the voter registration process.

Paid Time Off to Vote.

Extended Stay America will give its 8,000 employees paid time off to vote in the November election.

Communications Campaign

The campaign will be reinforced with emails and messages on lobby cards, hotel TV monitors, and stickers.

Will airlines help with voter registration – again?

This isn’t the first time a travel company has gone all-in on encouraging people to register to vote.

Back in 2010 Virgin America (remember them?) teamed up with Rock the Vote for an in-flight voter registration campaign.

Passengers could use their smartphones to scan a QR code on the airline’s Red seat back entertainment platform and register to vote.

Emirates cutting service to U.S. Guess why.

It’s getting wild out there. Today Emirates shared news that it is reducing service to 5 of the 12 US cities it serves.

Emirates Statement:

Emirates can confirm that we will be reducing flights to five of the 12 US cities we currently serve. From 1 May and 23 May respectively, our Fort Lauderdale and Orlando operations will move from daily services to five a week. From 1 and 2 June respectively, our Seattle and Boston operations will move from twice-daily services, to a daily service. From 1 July, our operations to Los Angeles will move from twice-daily to a daily serve.

This is a commercial decision in response to weakened travel demand to US. The recent actions taken by the US government relating to the issuance of entry visas, heightened security vetting, and restrictions on electronic devices in aircraft cabins, have had a direct impact on consumer interest and demand for air travel into the US.

Until the start of 2017, Emirates’ operations in the US has seen healthy growth and performance, driven by customer demand for our high quality product and our international flight connections. However, over the past 3 months, we have seen a significant deterioration in the booking profiles on all our US routes, across all travel segments. Emirates has therefore responded as any profit-oriented enterprise would, and we will redeploy capacity to serve demand on other routes on our global network.

We will closely monitor the situation with the view to reinstate and grow our US flight operations as soon as viable. Emirates is committed to our US operations and will continue to serve our 12 American gateways – New York JFK, Newark, Boston, Washington DC, Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Dallas, Fort Lauderdale, and Orlando – with 101 flight departures per week, connecting these cities to Dubai and our global network of over 150 cities.

Trump slump in travel? Maybe, maybe not


(This is a slightly updated version of my story about the Trump Slump in Travel that appeared on NBC)


Is an unwelcoming political climate really creating a “Trump Slump” in the annual $250 billion international inbound business and leisure travel industry in the United States?

“Yes,” “No,” and “Maybe So,” say travel industry experts and number crunchers who point to a variety of hard and soft data points to measure the travel impact of initiatives such as President Donald Trump’s efforts to impose a travel ban barring inbound travelers from some predominantly Muslim countries and the recent ban on electronic devices in the airline cabins of U.S.-bound airplanes from certain countries.

On the up side, international visitors spent more than $20.8 billion on travel to, and on tourism-related activities within, the United States in January 2017, according to a recent report from the National Travel and Tourism Office.

That represents a one percent ($220 million) increase compared to 2016.

Looking back a bit longer, in the 60 days before Trump’s first travel ban was announced (November 29 to January 27, 2017) ForwardKeys, a company that analyzes air travel bookings, found international bookings for visits into the U.S. increased 2.2 percent in comparison to the same period last year.

But right after Trump issued the first travel ban, search engines such as Hopper saw a serious slip in flight searches into the U.S. and in the eight days following January 27 (the day the travel ban was first imposed) ForwardKeys saw international bookings to the U.S. fall by 6.5 percent.

Since then, there’s been a continued slow-down in U.S.-bound air travel bookings.

From January 28 to March 25, bookings were essentially flat, up just. 0.1 percent over the same period last year, according to ForwardKeys.

“When one bears in mind that as a general rule air travel grows consistently ahead of inflation, this is not a particularly encouraging statistic for the USA,” ForwardKeys CEO Oliver Jager told NBC.

The World Travel & Tourism Council agrees. Its data predicts that visitor exports, which is money spent by foreign visitors in the country, will decrease by 0.6 percent in 2017.

Though also attributable to the strength of the U.S. dollar, the dip is predominantly due to “the negative sentiments of the U.S. as a destination created by some of the new policies of President Trump’s Administration,” said Helen Marano, WTTC’s Senior Vice President Government Affairs. “Already, there have been clear signs and data that international visitors are rethinking booking their holidays to the U.S.”

But in a Travel Trends Index report released Tuesday, the U.S. Travel Association said that international travel to the U.S. “defied growth expectations” and actually grew faster than domestic travel during February.

But the group warns of a drop-off in international travel going forward.

The February TTI data — which factors in trips that involve a hotel stay and/or air travel — captures the first full month after President Trump’s first travel ban order was issued, but the U.S. Travel Association economists say that data fully doesn’t fully reflect the impact of the currently-on-hold ban’s impact on demand for international travel to the U.S.

“It’s important to remember that there’s a significant lag time between searches for international trips and when they’re actually taken — typically a matter of months,” said David Huether, the U.S. Travel Association’s senior vice president for research.

“There’s a lot of data out there purporting to show a drop in international travel to the U.S. because of President Trump’s executive order,” said Huether, but “the reality is we do not have a definitive data picture of the order’s impact yet.”

While we wait to get more data and find out whether or not the Trump administration’s travel ban go into effect, “the United States has already sent a message to the global community,” said Ian Jeffries, Vice President, Group Director at public relations and marketing firm Edelman, “We are counseling clients that there is an opportunity for the travel industry to lead and roll out the welcome mat. Tourism business leaders have the responsibility to let the world know that their cities, their hotels, their attractions are still open for business – – and that all travelers are welcome.”


Travel Tidbits: Travel Ban + Air Canada

In the news as the week ends…

A federal appeals court refused to reinstate President Donald Trump’s ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations.

Trump’s response:


Air Canada is celebrating its 80th anniversary and on Thursday had a series of events in several Canadian cities  to introduce a new livery design and new employee uniforms.

The new design will eventually appear on Air Canada‘s fleet of 300 mainline and regional aircraft, but the first three aircraft sporting the new livery are already flying.

Stay tuned to StuckatTheAirport.com this weekend for a report on my 24 hour  – intended – stay at Charles de Gaulle Airport, with an overnight at the new in-terminal Yotel.  Plotting out my meals, my shopping and my sleeping in a tiny, windowless cabin.