After more than a year of shutdown orders and closed borders, there’s plenty of desire to break out the suitcases and go somewhere—anywhere—this year.
According to a new study from Booking.com, 71% of adults in the U.S. say that the initial rollout of COVID-19 vaccines makes them feel more hopeful and optimistic about traveling in 2021.
“We’ve said since the beginning of the pandemic that vaccines will be critical to a full travel recovery,” Booking.com CEO Glenn Fogel tells Fortune. “It’s encouraging to see vaccine distribution ramping up, and clearly there is optimism around this and how it will help revive travel, but we still have a long road ahead to a full recovery.”
Based on the new findings, more than half (60%) of Americans have reevaluated the importance of the role travel plays in their lives and now deem it more critical than they did before the pandemic, having realized how central it is to their emotional well-being.
“While we still believe it will be years before travel recovers to pre-pandemic levels, we are seeing the impact of the pent-up travel demand and remain cautiously optimistic,” says Fogel. “That said, we do expect to see a rebound in summer travel domestically and are already observing some positive summer travel booking trends in various markets.”
The Amsterdam-based online travel agency conducted a study among a sample of adults planning to travel in the next 12 months. In total, 28,042 respondents across 28 countries and territories were polled through an online survey in January 2021.
Travel stocks, from airlines to hotel chains to cruise lines, have already started to pick up as COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson become more widely available to U.S. adults. Those companies have also benefited from additional funding allotted in the latest round of stimulus spending through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which prompted many businesses—including United Airlines and American Airlines—to outright cancel thousands of expected layoffs and planned furloughs.
As a result, and despite warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Americans are gradually resuming travel already. According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the number of people who passed through security systems at airports in the U.S. surpassed last year’s numbers for the first time during the third week of March, with 1.1 million people doing so on March 24, versus fewer than 954,000 a year prior. That sizable difference was even more pronounced on March 25, with 1.4 million people clearing checkpoints in the U.S.—nearly double what it was a year earlier.
“In these uncertain times, we know travelers are looking for flexibility when booking a trip and are paying close attention to cleanliness standards,” Fogel says. “We have been working hand in hand with our accommodation partners to help them update cancellation and rescheduling policies to be more flexible given what we know travelers are searching for. We have also implemented a new feature on property listings for partners to update their health and safety measures, given travelers are more conscious than ever of these standards before booking a place to stay.”
But the travel industry isn’t out of the woods by any means, and everyone from major airlines to owners of local bed and breakfast establishments are counting on a major rebound in 2021—not only to recoup losses from 2020, but just to survive into 2022.
Fogel says American travelers themselves are also interested in personally helping to support the travel industry. He notes that 26% of Booking.com survey respondents said they will book rooms at independent hotels; 24% plan to choose less frequented destinations; and 20% are booking accommodations in or near their hometown for a staycation.
“Travel will be forever reshaped by this extraordinary moment in time, and when we emerge from this global pandemic, our world and our industry will undoubtedly be different,” Fogel says. “But travel will remain fundamental to people’s lives.”
While nearly 75% of Booking.com’s accommodation partners in the U.S. say they are cautiously optimistic about the future of their business, many of them agree that the travel industry needs additional support—either through bailouts or loans—with more than half of survey respondents saying they would like to see governments do more in the future to support the travel industry during the ongoing crisis.
“As we start to see a light at the end of the tunnel, we encourage all those across the travel category as well as state, local, and federal governments to come together and implement solutions to revive and support travel,” Fogel says. “We know recovery will take time, and we know it will take the entire industry and governments working together to get travel back on its feet.”
On the heels of the news from the CDC advising that vaccinated Americans are free to travel but should still take precautions, Booking.com is also launching a new incentive. The Back to Travel promotion, which can be activated via the Booking.com mobile app, offers $50 in post-stay travel credits for Americans looking to travel again soon, whether that is closer to home or internationally (where possible right now).
“This initiative is intended to support Americans’ desire to rediscover the places, people, cultures, and experiences they love and have been missing, when it is safe to do so, and help make it easier to book a trip,” Fogel says. “It’s also intended to support our property partners and destinations in beginning to welcome back the guests they have been missing given the toll the pandemic has taken on the travel industry.”
More must-read lifestyle and entertainment coverage from Fortune:
- Booking.com’s CEO sees a summer rebound for travel, but “a long road ahead” for recovery
- How Caraway built the most in-demand cookware brand of the pandemic
- South Indian viral hit “Enjoy Enjaami” questions caste oppression
- 10 new books to read in April
- Beware, Netflix: Pandemic streaming is losing steam