USA spotlight – travel spend sees only slight improvement, but air travel is down; hotels see upswing in bookings due to arrival of hurricanes; travel industry urges government to support testing programme

7 September, 2020

Travel spend in the US is slowly clawing its way back up in a very shallow trajectory. After stalling last week, travel spend rose to USD13 billion for the week ending 29-Aug-2020 which is -43% below 2019 levels for the same week, resulting in a loss of USD10 billion for the week.

Losses for the month of Aug-2020 are therefore likely to top USD45 billion, which is the lowest loss since the pandemic began and a big improvement from the USD83.5 billion loss seen in Apr-2020. These figures are according to the Tourism Economics weekly report prepared for the US Travel Association.

Air travel continues to struggle, contracting from the previous week to less than 29% of its 2019 level. The latest seven day average TSA screenings for week ending 1-Sep-2020 was 661,000, -4.4% below the previous week.

Car trips fared better than air travel although also saw a drop from the previous week, falling from 87% of 2019 levels to 72%. As the US Labor Day holiday approaches there is hope that there will be some upward change in these figures.

While there was minor improvement in spending on the national level, 31 states saw contractions with most of the downturns seen in the South. However hotel bookings in the South registered a definite upswing as people in the path of hurricanes booked hotels to evacuate the area and find safe haven.

Regionally spending losses rose slightly to USD2.4 billion in the Northeast, USD1.6 billion in the Midwest, and USD3.0 billion in the West for the week ending 29-Aug-2020. Losses in the South eased to USD3.0 billion. Over the past 26 weeks, cumulative losses have tallied USD73.3 billion for the Northeast, USD56.1 billion for the Midwest, USD121.6 billion for the South, and USD109.4 billion for the West.

The South extended its gradual return to pre-pandemic levels down -37%, experiencing a two percentage point improvement. The rest of the country saw minor declines, with the Northeast down -56% and Midwest down -42%, dipping one-percentage point, and the West down -45% seeing a more substantial two percent decline.

US airlines have been urging the president and congressional leaders to increase the level of Covid-19 testing in order to help provide an impetus to travel recovery. CEOs from 13 US airlines wrote a letter in Jul-2020 saying that more and better Covid-19 testing is an indispensable component of pursuing an economic recovery and urging a stepped-up federal role in making effective testing more widely available.

US Travel Association executive vice president of public affairs and policy, Tori Emerson Barns, recently released a statement in support of the airlines saying: “We have long maintained that testing is the key to both safer travel and reopening the economy. More rapid, efficient testing allows for a broader reopening of the travel economy and will enable organizations to more quickly restore lost jobs and rehire workers.

"Importantly, a robust testing program would allow America to welcome back international visitors, a segment of travel that has effectively disappeared since the start of the pandemic,” she added.

The ‘Let’s Go There’ campaign (highlighted by The Blue Swan Daily last week) is officially launched on 8-Sep-2020 when the collective travel industry in the US will encourage Americans to start making plans for travel. The campaigns will kick off with a homepage takeover, to show unity across the industry and raise awareness of the ‘Let’s Go There’ message.

The coming weeks will show whether the campaign has a positive impact on travel bookings and if the US government is listening to airline concerns.