Optimism Increases for Limited Omicron Corp. Travel Effect

The extremely contagious omicron variant in recent weeks rapidly has spread across the United States and Europe, as many epidemiologists promised, challenging airlines and other businesses to put together work schedules of healthy employees and delaying some companies’ return-to-office plans. But some indicators suggest that, nearly two weeks into 2022 the new variant’s rampage doesn’t appear to have led to dramatic new restrictions on or avoidance of business travel. 

Several travel management companies contacted this week by BTN indicated that the spread of omicron—a variant that evidence suggests generally causes milder illness than the delta variant, even as it spreads more easily, according to some epidemiologists—has reverberated less in clients’ corporate travel restarting plans than did delta. Additionally, some recent data suggest that any falloff in corporate travel booking activity thus far has been limited. 

Airline tickets sold by Airlines Reporting Corp.-accredited U.S. travel agencies that handle primarily corporate business during the seven days ending Jan. 9 were 49.5 percent lower than those sold during the commensurate week in 2019. That figure represents the overall decline in business travel volume during the pandemic, but it’s comparatively similar to figures from just before omicron’s late November discovery.

Weekly sales volume by those agencies in late October through mid-November ranged between 50.3 percent and 52.6 percent lower than the commensurate week in 2019, according to ARC, similar to the January figure. On the other hand, when the delta variant began spread through the U.S. in the summer of 2021, those comparative ARC booking percentages dropped quickly and sharply

“The delta variant had a much greater impact than what we are seeing with omicron with respect to restarting travel, cancellations and restrictions,” Fox World Travel director of client solutions Tina Husemoller told BTN In an email. “The omicron variant has simply not impacted our clients’ decisions or policies near to the level of the delta variant.”

While not a business-travel-specific metric, daily U.S. Transportation Security Administration airport security checkpoint counts don’t show a severe drop-off from pre-omicron figures. During the Jan. 2-Jan. 11 timeframe, about 80.9 percent of the 2019 figure of air passengers went through security checkpoints, not too much lower than the 81.6 percent that did from Nov. 1-Nov. 19, 2021. (And that’s even with the spate of post-holiday, omicron-fueled flight cancellations.)

The omicron variant has simply not impacted our clients’ decisions or policies near to the level of the delta variant.”

Fox World Travel’s Tina Husemoller

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian on Thursday during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call said he was encouraged by business travel volume amid omicron and said he was hopeful for a quick return to business travel recovery. “While the new variant is not done, it appears the worst may be behind us,” Bastian said.

Several TMC executives told BTN that they too were encouraged by the omicron business travel demand environment, especially when compared to the delta variant. “Our current volume remains strong in the Frosch corporate sector compared to pre-omicron, and we continue to experience increases week over week,” Judith Allen, president of the global corporate and energy division of Frosch International Travel, said in an email. “Our international locations are experiencing continued increases as well, but at a softer pace. We do see a bit higher volume of ticket exchanges compared to November, but only slightly.”

Corporates Waiting and Seeing

Still, even if corporate travel volumes, though reduced in the pandemic, are holding relatively steady, omicron could affect companies’ return-to-office plans and their willingness to allow employees to travel. Companies including Goldman Sachs and Facebook parent Meta are among those companies that have further delayed in-person office attendance as omicron surges

Some companies, including investment bank Jefferies Financial Group, according to the New York Post, specifically have reimposed business travel bans in the variant’s wake.

But several TMCs told BTN this week that their clients for the most part had held their travel policies steady and though some had implemented new travel restrictions, most have maintained their existing strategy. 

“The landscape around the rise of omicron is in stark contrast to when the delta variant gained traction in early 2021—vaccination programs have advanced, government restrictions have loosened, transatlantic travel has restarted and offices have reopened,” American Express Global Business Travel EVP of global clients and general manager David Reimer told BTN via email.

“More than three-quarters of GBT clients have reopened offices, suggesting businesses are starting to shift from a pandemic to endemic mindset,” Reimer continued. “While some did close offices in December-January and travel restrictions have been reintroduced, over 70 percent of clients who haven’t reopened offices anticipate doing so in Q1 2022. Overall, there is undeniable momentum for recovery, and we expect an uptick from February.”

Frosch’s Allen also suggested in-person work delays could affect travel volumes even without additional restrictions.

“We haven’t experienced new restrictions being put into place for our corporate clients due to the outbreak of omicron at this point,” according to Allen. “We have heard of several delays of clients reinstating mandatory in-office requirements for key individuals, which could impact internal travel trending.”

Fox World Travel’s Husemoller also noted the limited effect of the new variant. “Generally speaking, this new variant is not causing any new imposed travel restrictions by our clients; the majority are continuing to take the appropriate precautions and gauge their travelers’ comfort levels with traveling,” she wrote. “Even those clients that lagged in their return to travel have not pulled back entirely, but they also didn’t hit the ground running as fast as they expected in January.”

TCG Consulting president Graham Ruskin in an email suggested that the structures companies had put into place during the pandemic and the experience they gained during the delta variant outbreak has helped them to address omicron in a measured and systematic manner. 

“Early Covid travel management protocols pulled numerous inter-company stakeholder groups together (i.e. travel management, legal, risk and HR) and that togetherness has remained,” according to Ruskin. “Stakeholder groups are more closely connected, and a company’s preparedness to address, vet and operationalize safe travel (and those trips not to approve) is significantly elevated in 2022.”

As such, Ruskin noted, many companies’ plans regarding travel strategy have endured. “Organizations that planned or had plans to bring back selected trip types are working to progress forward safely,” he said.

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Survey: Travel Willingness Slips, But Some Cause for Optimism

2021-09-23 GBTA Chart

While a new survey of travel managers and industry suppliers doesn’t show any particular increase in optimism about near-term business travel demand, a few other indicators and comments this week point to perhaps a stronger stretch of interest as U.S. Covid-19 case counts begin to decline. 

The number of travel managers in a September survey who consider their organizations’ employees willing to travel for business declined from August levels and now stands at the lowest level since April 2021. In the Sept. 7-12 survey of around 280 member travel buyers and procurement professionals conducted by the Global Business Travel Association, about 69 percent said their organizations’ employees were “very wiling” or “willing” to travel. That’s down from 72 percent in August and 77 percent in July.

Travel supplier respondents to the GBTA survey, meanwhile, aren’t exactly brimming with optimism either. About 38 percent of the approximately 160 suppliers surveyed said travel bookings had declined in the past month, compared with 31 percent in August and 3 percent in July. (GBTA for this month’s survey changed the wording of that question, and previously asked respondents how bookings had changed in the prior week.)

Still, the number of member travel supplier respondents who said their bookings have increased rose to 32 percent in September from 24 percent in August. And the late-summer U.S. delta-variant wave of Covid-19 that swept through the Southern states in particular appears to be on the wane for the past week or two, according to The New York Times’ database.

Those suppliers aren’t alone in detecting some increased business travel activity. Hyatt Hotels Corp. in a filing this week with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission cited “growing momentum in business transient and group business” during September.

“While group cancellations have been elevated in August and September, new group bookings have remained strong,” according to Hyatt. “In addition, business transient bookings have accelerated materially in September as compared to August 2021.”

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi in a discussion this week at Goldman Sachs’ Communacopia Conference said that “we actually have seen a nice bump in business travel happening,” without offering specifics. Khosrowshahi’s remarks came one day after the ride-hailing giant reported overall third-quarter revenue trends that exceeded projections. 

And Airlines Reporting Corp. this week reported that air sales at U.S. corporate-focused travel agencies for the week ending Sept. 19 were 61.7 percent lower than the commensurate week in 2019, better than the 62.9 drop the week before and the lowest comparative decline since the beginning of August. 

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North Dakota coronavirus news, Feb. 28: Auto club survey finds fear, optimism | Health

Emmons County Public Health hosts testing on Mondays by appointment, beginning at 11 a.m. Asymptomatic people should call 701-254-4027, and people with symptoms should call 701-254-4531.

In Williston, walk-in rapid testing for those 18 and older with no symptoms is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday in the former Sloulin Airport hangar at 408 Airport Road. 

PCR and rapid antigen tests are administered Tuesday through Saturday, from 12-6 p.m., at the strip mall at 2805 Morrison Ave., Suite A, in Bismarck.

Preregistration for testing events is available at https://testreg.nd.gov/. It speeds up the process but does not guarantee a test. People who previously have been tested for COVID-19 do not need to preregister.

North Dakota has had 99,809 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 14,639 in Burleigh County and 4,941 in Morton County. There have been 97,759 recoveries and 1,445 coronavirus-related deaths. A total of 3,867 people have been hospitalized; 21 remain so. State and private labs have processed tests on 404,760 people, and conducted 1,659,112 total tests.

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Pound euro exchange rate hits highest levels since May thanks to ‘vaccine optimism’ | Travel News

Pound euro exchange rate hits highest levels since May thanks to ‘vaccine optimism’ | Travel News | Travel » TechnoCodex

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When it comes to air travel in 2021, there’s some cautious optimism

The airline industry may see some improvement this year, depending on vaccine efforts.

MINNEAPOLIS — Temperatures are in the 20s again around the Twin Cities on New Year’s Day, so, naturally, you may be dreaming of a tropical vacation right now. Travel remains highly discouraged as we enter 2021, but depending on the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, the outlook may improve by the end of the year.  

To help us make sense of the travel industry in 2021, we spoke on Friday with Kyle Potter, the executive editor of Minnesota-based Thrifty Traveler. Here’s a transcript of our conversation (with some slight edits): 

KARE 11: Big picture, what do you see for the future of travel in 2021? 

KYLE POTTER: It’s a moving picture right now. I think most critically, for the first time since maybe last March, there is actually hope we will be able to travel in this next year. Whether that’s next month, probably not, or a couple of months, maybe, but as you look far out into 2021, the second and third quarters of the year, there’s confidence that people are actually going to be able to take the trips that they book. Airlines and travel companies are saying that, for the first time in many, many months, they’re seeing people book those trips 10 or 11 months out. 

KARE 11: For anyone optimistic about the second half of 2021, summer or fall, what would your advice be to them as they potentially make plans? 

KYLE: Even though things are still uncertain, right now is actually an amazing time to book travel for a couple of reasons. Flight prices are about as low as we’ve ever seen them. That’s what Thrifty Traveler does, we find flight deals, and it has been bananas for the last several weeks. And on top of that, airlines are offering free change and cancellation policies. Almost every major U.S. airline, even some of the minor ones and even some of the major international ones, are saying, ‘as long as you book with us by the end of January or as far out as March 2021, we will allow you to change that ticket for free, or you can cancel it and get a voucher for your ticket.’ There’s just that unprecedented level of flexibility. You don’t have to be taking a huge gamble if you’re booking a trip for later in 2021.  

KARE 11: Financially, what’s the outlook for the airline industry right now? 

KYLE: It’s a little shaky still. I think now, there is that kind of hope that travel will resume or start to resume by the end of the year. They’re in a better place than they were a few months ago. Still, it’s hard to know exactly how things are going to improve. International travel is probably not going to return to pre-COVID levels for many, many years. Domestic travel will come back quicker, but, that is still going to be pretty uneven and choppy for the next several months. And business travel, I don’t think anyone expects to come back to pre-COVID levels for a long time. The airlines really rely on corporate travelers who book seats up front and pay a ton for it, or book last-minute because they have to pay a lot more and because plans are constantly changing. That’s what the airlines have built their business around. Until that comes back in a meaningful way, it’s going to be a little shaky for airlines. 

KARE 11: Numbers-wise, overall, where are the airlines in terms of how much travel has dropped over the pandemic? 

KYLE: Even during this kind of hectic (by pandemic terms) Christmas travel period, travel numbers in the U.S. were still down about 50 percent compared to the same time last year. That’s going to drop again. This was a very busy travel period with people going to see family on quick trips. We’re going to be way off from the norm. MSP has said they don’t expect travel numbers, the number of passengers they see, to return to 2019 levels until at least 2024. That may even be a little optimistic. I think it really depends. Charting what travel recovery looks like is really difficult right now. We just don’t know how vaccine distribution is going to go, how countries around the world are going to respond with travel restrictions, how companies are going to respond with sending business travelers out to work again. There’s a lot in flux right now and you’re going to have to ask me again in three or four months about what that outlook is. 

KARE 11: It sounds like there are reasons for optimism – but, a lot of questions still. 

KYLE: Absolutely. The biggest thing, I think, is there is some hope and confidence that people are going to be able to travel again. That is new. We haven’t felt that for a long time. What really speaks volumes, to me anyway, is we had a big promo to say good riddance to 2020 and it was by far the most successful promo our company has ever had. If you had told me in July, that we had a promo and it was going to go this well, I wouldn’t have believed you. It was such a different picture. There was no confidence in travel just a few months ago. 

The other thing to keep in mind, as people do start thinking of returning to travel, is it’s going to be different for years. I think mask mandates are probably going to be in place on airlines for awhile. I would expect that is probably the last place that those mandates will disappear from. There’s never been a federal regulation on that, but all the airlines have really ratcheted up and banned people. Until we return to those 2019 travel levels, the number of flights in and around and out of the country is not going to look like what it did a year ago. There are going to be fewer frequencies between cities, where you might have been able to choose between eight or nine flights on Delta to go from MSP to Chicago, it’s going to be more like four or five throughout the day for a long time, until travel returns to what we had come to expect. 

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Charlotte Hornets tip off season with business optimism despite Covid pandemic – Charlotte Business Journal

Charlotte Hornets tip off season with business optimism despite Covid pandemic  Charlotte Business Journal

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Visit Orlando has ‘cautious optimism’ for holiday, future travel recovery – Orlando Business Journal

Visit Orlando has ‘cautious optimism’ for holiday, future travel recovery  Orlando Business Journal

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New Study Shows Optimism for Travel in 2021

One in two travelers is optimistic about taking a trip in the next 12 months, according to research from Expedia.

More than half (53 percent) of Americans who usually take a vacation have not done so since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, nearly 31 percent are dreaming of travel and actively planning for 2021.


“As the world keeps a watchful eye on vaccine news, and people continue to crave a change of scenery or opportunity to catch up with loved ones, we know the pent-up demand for travel will grow,” said Monya Mandich, vice president of global marketing, Expedia Group Media Solutions. “COVID-19 has driven a seismic shift in traveler preferences and influences, and understanding these changes is critical to recovery efforts and future marketing strategies. The new research provides insights into the steps travel brands can take to reassure and connect with travelers as they begin researching, planning and booking again.”

When they do travel again, Americans are looking to safety regulations that will make them feel more comfortable. Seventy-five percent of travelers said measures such as mask enforcement, contactless services and flexibility, including easy refunds or cancellation policies, will inform their decisions on where they stay, Expedia’s research showed.

Findings from Expedia’s Traveler Sentiment and Influences survey also found that just one-third of travelers took a trip during the pandemic. Of those who chose to travel, 80 percent did so for rejuvenation—to enjoy a change of scenery, different weather or to see family or friends.

Globally, Gen-Z and Millennial travelers are one-and-a-half times more likely than other generations to take a leisure trip in January to March 2021, and travelers are more likely to take trips between April and September 2021.

A vaccine will definitely get people on the move again. Fifty-seven percent of travelers said they would be comfortable traveling if a vaccine was widely available.

Six in 10 travelers said that they would be most comfortable traveling if social distancing measures were in place when it came to air travel. Overall, travelers are looking for safety measures such as mask-wearing to be enforced.

When it comes to lodging, more than half of travelers want to know that proper COVID-19 hygiene protocols are in place. Other considerations such as contactless room service and takeout (24 percent) and contactless check-in options (23 percent) will also inform decisions.

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