Hector Addabbo took his first business trip in almost two years recently. He confessed that the entire experience of getting on a TSA security line at the airport, sitting on a plane with a mask, flying to his destination and checking into a hotel felt a bit strange. For the past 21 months, the sales executive for a software company worked remotely and in accordance with company policy was not allowed to travel. But he was recently asked to return to work, which he did, twice a week and was given permission to travel on company business once a month.
Addabbo’s return to the skies is an important development. Both the airlines and the hospitality industry say that even if leisure travel and tourism pick up, a full rebound could not take place until business travel returns. After all, it is business travel that has made it profitable for the airlines and hotel industry in the first place. Industry sources say that there is positive momentum in the travel, tourism, and hospitality industry this final quarter of 2021. Airlines are returning to the skies and hotels are once again booking. The big question is whether this is the beginning of a return to “normal.”
The Biden administration lifted all restrictions from overseas visitors. This will allow most foreign travelers from more than 30 countries, including the U.K. and Brazil, which have been restricted since early 2020, as Covid-19 cases rose globally. Visitors must be fully vaccinated against Covid and have a negative Covid test within three days before departure. Travel sources say that the new government policy is having an immediate effect on bookings for both air and hospitality.
No one is waiting for international travelers more than retailers, especially as the peak travel and tourism season approaches. Overseas visitors spent more than $43.4 billion on shopping in 2019 and with the main shopping season looming, retailers are hoping for the international visitors to help their businesses turn around and finally return to pre-Covid profitability.
What is not clear is whether the rebound includes immediate booking or long-term bookings, say industry experts. They fear that many international tourists may just be taking a wait and see attitude to the course of the pandemic, especially the rampant Delta variant. “
For New York City, international shoppers will be a key ingredient for recovery. During a typical year, visitors from other countries spend an estimated $4.75 billion on shopping, according to NYC & Company, the city’s tourism board. The group expects about 2.8 million international visitors to come to New York City this year, compared with 13.5 million international visitors in 2019. Next year, it expects international visitors to triple to about 8.5 million and by 2024, it expects international tourism to roughly match pre-pandemic levels. If those numbers hold up, the retailers will not realize an immediate bump but a good future prognosis.
The AAA is predicting jammed roads and airports as early as this upcoming Thanksgiving weekend. They do predict a rebound, saying things could look like pre-pandemic levels even though travelers are paying the highest prices at the pump in eight years. The AAA predicts more than 53.4 million people will be traveling, 13%, or 6.4 million more than in 2020. In addition, AAA says air travel will be 80% higher than last year, which would point to more immediate bookings than some experts are predicting. Despite the spiked gasoline prices of over $1.00 per gallon more than last year, 48.3 million or 90%, will drive to their destination.
The rapidly expanding kosher travel industry which has suffered greatly over the past 18 months is also encouraged by what it sees as a rebounding industry. They say that it was extremely encouraging to see the large number of guests who participated in Succos programs on almost every continent, according to Raphi Bloom, co-owner of www.TotallyJewishTravel.com . Some of the destinations that did extremely well included Mexico where over 1,500 guests participated in 4 programs. Italy played host to more than 900 guests at the three programs in the country. Africa welcomed over 1,000 kosher travelers across 5 locations in Morocco and Tunisia. More than 750 kosher travelers spent Yom Tov in Greece while 120 people were in Dubai. An additional 500 people joined programs in Florida and the USA.
Another sign of a comeback for the burgeoning kosher travel industry was that several thousand people rented houses in Orlando which has emerged as a major destination for families spending such Yomim Tovim as Sukkot and Passover.
The encouraging news of the successful Sukkot program bodes extremely well for this coming Pesach, according to Bloom. His TotallyJewishTravel.com already has over 20 programs advertising for next Pesach with more joining every week at locations across the world.
What is clear from all the data, both globally and from the Jewish travel scene, is that after nearly 2 years of restrictions, people are ready to resume travel once again. Yet, in speaking to travel experts, they have their eyes on the return to some semblance of normalcy for business. One travel agency said that his business has been “comparatively” quiet for the last two years and that he needs business travel to come back “big time.” He said that he used to make “good money” just from people travelling to shows. It appears that many international shows are coming back.
Just last week the annual trade show, Kosherfest, was held at the Meadowlands Convention Center in Secaucus, New Jersey but two neighboring hotels, the Embassy Suites and Holiday Inn were shuttered. The Holiday Inn was scheduled to reopen after extensive renovations and the Embassy Suites is expected to open next year under a new hotel brand. Travel experts say that many hotels around the country are planning to reopen after being closed.
The return to normalcy has been lagging for tourism to Israel as government travel restrictions have curtailed the number of people coming to Israel. In fact, some hotels have been closed awaiting the full reopening of travel and tourism. American Airlines last week postponed inaugurating Dallas to Tel Aviv direct flights because of Israel’s entry requirements. The Bennett administration has indicated that it may soon relax many of the restrictions but as of yet, the airlines are still well below “normal.” There is hope in the travel industry that “normalcy” will soon return and the signs seem to prove that their hope is well warranted.