U.S. Holiday Travel Outlook: Vaccine Passports and Limited Capacity

It’s no doubt that holiday and winter travel will look different this year. But the real question is, how different? Well, that answer depends on multiple variables – with the most crucial factors revolving around vaccine mandates and capacity.

Vaccine Mandates

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, vaccine mandates remain the focus for upcoming travel.

Out of nearly 2,000 respondents who took our latest survey – The Next Phase of U.S. Travel – 85% claimed to be vaccinated. However, out of those who said they were unvaccinated, 56% said they were not willing to get the vaccine even if traveling required it.

That sentiment is being put to the test. Starting in early November, foreign nationals traveling to the U.S. will need to show proof of vaccination. With a similar mandate looming for domestic travelers. There are now talks of implementing The U.S. Air Travel Public Safety Act. If passed, it would require airlines to ensure that all U.S. air passengers show digital or paper documentation that they are fully vaccinated before boarding a domestic flight.

With 68% of travelers surveyed by OAG saying they are interested in or want domestic vaccine passports, and 70% believing they should be required for international travel, these attitudes seem to be a critical factor for upcoming holiday and winter travel.

For example, of the 38% of travelers surveyed by OAG that said they typically fly for the holidays, only 40% of this group did so in 2020. This year, the percentage of that group who do intend to fly more than doubled (85%). There’s no question that intent to fly for the holidays is on the rise, and vaccine mandates may be influencing the destination, but one roadblock still remains: capacity.

Beyond the holidays as colder months approach and tropical hotspots become top of mind, we are seeing an uptick in bookings for smaller island destinations in the Caribbean. Aruba, St. Maarten and the U.S. Virgin Islands are nearing 2019 booking rates for November and December – with January bookings matching August 2019 statistics. Vaccinated travelers seem to be gravitating towards less populated islands as opposed to more crowded islands like the Dominican Republic. As the Caribbean’s most popular vacation spot, forward bookings are a third down from this time in 2019.

Capacity Restraints

Airline bookings soared as news of the U.S. reopening made its way to travelers around the globe, but actual capacity paints an entirely different picture.

At the end of September, 13.2 million seats were removed to the end of December globally. Even more startling is that since the first week of September, nearly 75 million seats have been cut to the end of the year. These drastic decreases will make it a challenge for those who have yet to book their holiday travel plans.

Travelers are itching to take-off this holiday season, but with shifting vaccine mandates and decreasing capacity, delays may be in store.

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