By Carah Jones
Don’t worry; you’re not alone. Either cool ocean breezes over sunburnt skin or serene treks through national parks are the subject of one-third of Americans’ daydreams, according to destination analysts.
The coronavirus pandemic disrupted travel plans on a global scale. A United Nations World Tourism Report reported that over 200 countries worldwide closed their borders to travel to limit the spread of COVID-19 in 2020.
U.S. Travel Association (USTA) reports show an unprecedented annual decline in travel spending between 2019 and 2020, totaling nearly $500 billion. One contribution to this decline was the significant portion of institutional study abroad programs that were shortened or canceled due to the coronavirus.
NAFSA: Association of International Educators reported that 94% of study abroad programs were shortened or canceled during spring and summer of 2020, resulting in a loss of $115 million to U.S. higher education.
Courtney Kondracke, a former student at the University of Georgia, felt the effects of a shortened program during her study abroad experience in spring 2020.
“Being forced to come home from Prague after six weeks when I had the intention to be there for four months was definitely heartbreaking,” Kondracke said. “I had so many plans to travel, and just living in Europe was such an incredible opportunity cut short.”
Kondracke said that both of her parents and her brother studied abroad while in college, so she always knew that it was something she wanted to do. Her family was planning on visiting Kondracke halfway through the program but had to cancel their travel plans.
As for the U.S., hotel occupancy averaged 44% in 2020, a significant reduction from 77% in 2019, as reported by the USTA. Following a similar trend, checkpoint travel numbers from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) show that the 2019 air traveler count nearly triples the number of air travelers in 2020.
“In my almost 40 years of doing this, it was much more severe than anything else our company has seen,” said Hilton’s President and CEO Christopher Nassatta during an interview with CNBC’s Selma Moody at an October conference of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW).
Business travel spending fell 70% within the travel industry compared to the almost 30% decrease in leisure travel spending. SABEW also hosted Robert Isom, president of American Airlines, who shared his thoughts on the significant decrease in spending on business travel.
“With the delta variant, I really view business travel as being delayed for a quarter or so,” said Isom. “My view is that over the course of 2022, business travel will rebound to where it had been in 2019.”
Between the travel industry and the tourism industry, the World Travel and Tourism Council estimated that the coronavirus pandemic led to over 100 million job losses in 2020. However, for American Airlines at least, Isom said both domestic and leisure business has rebounded to what was observed in 2019.
With the recent termination of certain U.S. travel restrictions, the USTA reports show that consumers are eager to start ‘revenge’ spending on luxuries they have been denied over the last year. According to a Global Business Travel Poll, more than half of American consumers have stored money in 2021 thus far, and there’s a “savings dam that is about to burst.”
“I’m so beyond grateful that I was able to study in Prague for the six weeks I was there, and I’d give my life to do it again,” said Kondracke. “I will definitely be visiting as soon as I can.”
UGA’s study abroad programs are starting to return in 2022, slowly but surely.
One positive that Kondracke said should boost students’ outlook on the current state of travel is newfound flexibility the coronavirus has implemented within the industry, such as airline compliance with flight cancellations.
“I think the great mistake that gets made in a crisis is getting caught up in the moment,” said Nassatta. “Either out of necessity or just because you get absorbed by it, you forget that what goes down will come back up.”
Carah Jones is a journalism student at the University of Georgia.