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The travel market is splintering three ways: steady recovery, slow recovery, and stalled progress.
While sales in post-lockdown China show a domestic rebound, travel bookings growth remains slow in Europe and appears to be stalling in the U.S., according to data that travel technology company Travelport shared on Wednesday.
The lopsided global recovery is confounding airlines, hotel companies, and travel agencies as they try to recover from their most profound crisis in years. It means that travel companies with sizable business in China or the broader Asia-Pacific region, while still weakened, may be in a better position than others.
After being hit first by the pandemic and the associated slump, China is early to rebound. Shanghai air bookings have quadrupled since pre-Covid-19 times, Travelport said.
The U.S. travel market is, in contrast, performing less well than Europe and Asia in the last few weeks.
“After a strong initial restart, we have seen a dip in North America,” said Matthew Webb, head of agency customer data and analytics. Webb chalked up the issue to shaky traveler confidence.
“The recovery won’t be linear,” Webb said. “There will be pauses and dips, and then it will come back.”
Travelport looked at gross bookings by the thousands of travel agencies that use its reservation systems. The company also shared search data from its shopping request platform.
The story varies elsewhere. Much of the Middle East, including Egypt, has begun to pick up. Mexico and Argentina also see early domestic recoveries.
Travelport’s analysis dovetails with other reports.
“Comparing year-over-year volumes, back to June 1, we were at the 12 to 15 percent of 2019 volumes,” said David Harvey, vice president Southwest Business at Southwest Airlines, which focuses on domestic U.S. travel. “More recently we’ve gotten to about 30 percent.”
“We’re going to be in a window of uncertainty,” Harvey cautioned. “We do surveys every couple of weeks. There’s a segment, about a quarter of our travelers, who aren’t interested in traveling right now. There’s not much at all we’re going to be able to convince them that it’s safe.”
Analysis on Exiting the Travel Crisis
Some corporations are taking cautious approaches. Chip Juedes, CEO at the agency Fox World Travel in Wisconsin, said that some companies that have never required senior-level approval for business travel by employees are now insisting on it, both for safety and budget reasons.
Travelport debuted this week a “confidence index” that aims to reflect actual traveler activity, rather than sentiment as polled in survey questions.
Some airlines have responded to the crisis by accelerating their efforts to drive demand.
Southwest Airlines last August said it would provide its content and booking capabilities in so-called global distribution systems like Travelport and Amadeus at an industry-standard level of participation, instead of at a basic booking level. On May 4, the airline said it had delivered all of its fares in Travelport’s Apollo and Worldspan reservation systems for booking, ticketing, and functionality.
“We took the crisis as an opportunity to accelerate and go to market with full participation,” said Harvey at Southwest, who hopes his airline can gain share in the corporate sector.
“The business segment has dropped precipitously and skimmed along the bottom, except for government and some essential services like health care,” Harvey said of Southwest’s reservation volume. “But many travel managers we speak with are penciling in post-Labor Day plans for a potential recovery.”
Subscribers to Skift Research can see its Skift Recovery Index, which tracks the travel recovery based on data from industry partners.