USA spotlight – the shift from the summer travel season leaves the travel industry ‘more exposed to the virtual absence of business and group travel’

28 September, 2020

Travel spending across the US shrank by -5% last week continuing a downward trend since the Labor Day holiday weekend and suggesting the shift from the summer travel season "has left the travel industry more exposed to the virtual absence of business and group travel," latest findings from Tourism Economics have found.

Its regular research for the US Travel Association for the week ending 19-Sep-2020 shows national weekly travel spending fell to USD12.1billion – its lowest level since the week ending 01-Aug-2020. Weekly travel spending registered a -45% decline relative to prior year levels, deteriorating from -30% just two weeks ago and resulting in a USD10.0 billion loss when compared to the same week a year ago.

Since the beginning of March, the US travel economy’s losses from the Covid-19 pandemic have now exceeded USD386 billion. Last week’s projection of USD36 billion losses for Sep-2020 has been extended to a approaching USD40 billion for the month, albeit it will still continue a positive trend that has seen losses reduce month-on-month since Apr-2020 when a hefty USD83.5 billion was accumulated.

Air travel increased slightly since the previous week, but year-on-year rates remain down at similar levels to those seen throughout the summer. After a decline following Labor Day weekend, the latest seven-day average of screenings (through Tuesday September 22) was back above 700,000, according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). At 712,000, it was +4.2% higher than the previous week, but screenings over the last seven days were -69% lower than in the same period last year.

Arrivalist’s Daily Travel Index, which measures consumer road trips of 50 miles or more in all 50 US states shows road travel has slowed down considerably since the Labor Day weekend and performed significantly worse than the same period in 2019. After experiencing levels that nearly matched those of 2019 over the Labor Day travel period (down just -5.1% compared to 2019), road travel performed significantly worse last week, down -14.9% year-on-year. The latest declines are worse than the past few weeks but similar to those of mid-Aug-2020 and significantly improved from the lows of -70% in early Apr-2020.

Domestic bookings for future air and hotel travel have improved substantially, though they remain deep in negative territory. ADARA's Traveler Trends Tracker, which taps into real-time travel data on travel-related consumer behaviour including hotel volume and flight bookings for both business and leisure travel shows domestic air and hotel bookings for future travel have improved significantly – from -60% year-on-year two weeks ago to -54% year-on-year for the week of 14-Sep-2020.

Though they remain deep in negative territory, they have been steadily improving since early Jul-2020. Domestic bookings to Montana (-7%), Wyoming (-8%) and Idaho (-15%) again experienced the lowest, and New York (-74%), Massachusetts (67%) and New Jersey (-66%) the highest year-on-year declines.

International bookings for future travel to the US fared significantly worse than domestic bookings and fell from -67% year-on-year two weeks ago to -75% for the week of 14-Sep-2020.

Looking further at a regional level, the Midwest maintained USD1.6 billion in travel spending losses, but other regions saw travel spending losses rise to USD2.4 billion in the Northeast, USD3.1 billion in the South, and USD2.9 billion in the West. Over the past 29 weeks, cumulative losses have tallied USD79.9 billion for the Northeast, USD60.4 billion for the Midwest, USD129.1 billion for the South, and USD117.0 billion for the West, according the Tourism Economics research.

The week in questions performance as seen the Northeast (-60%), South (-39%), and West (-44%) experienced declines ranging from two to four percentage points, but the Midwest (-44%) improved by one-percentage point, but still registered below its 29-Aug-2020 (-42%).

The US Travel Association has warned that more than half (55%) of all small travel businesses in the US are at risk of either taking longer than six months to recover or never recovering at all from the Covid-19 pandemic. In information prepared by the data analytics firm Tourism Economics, there remains an extreme threat to travel-supported jobs, which employed one in 10 Americans pre-pandemic.

More than half of travel-supported jobs in the US disappeared between the onset of the pandemic and 01-May-2020, and the overall US economy is projected to lose USD1.2 trillion this year because of the drop in travel. Prior to the pandemic, travel was a Top 10 employer in 49 states and the District of Columbia, according to the US Travel Association.

“These numbers highlight the urgent need for further legislative measures to provide immediate relief to small travel businesses and their employees,” says Roger Dow, president of US Travel Association. “Each moment that passes makes it likelier that more small businesses will shut their doors and never reopen – meaning those jobs are gone for good, too.”

The downbeat attitude continues with the number of states and territories experiencing losses exceeding -50% increasing from six to nine, based on the analysis week’s performance, with Vermont, Connecticut, Washington, and Rhode Island joining, and Puerto Rico improving beyond this threshold.

Additionally, the New England subregion contracted significantly with every state experiencing at least a five-percentage point decline, while New Hampshire suffered the largest downturn in year-over-year percentage decline, going from -29% to -41%. Meanwhile, California, Oregon, and Washington felt the effect of twin tragedies from the ongoing pandemic and West coast wildfires, as the Pacific subregion saw travel spending fall -10% from the prior week.