Week in Review: Travel Industry Showing Signs of Return to “Normalcy”

Could the travel industry finally be returning to some level of “normalcy?” Well, according to some research shared this week by two separate companies, that may be the case.

First, Airlines Reporting Corp. (ARC) this week released data showing U.S. travel agency air ticket sales totaled $8.4 billion in February 2023, a 54 percent year-over-year increase from February 2022. It’s a great sign that ticket sales are up so high compared to last year, but when you look at the numbers month-over-month, it’s a bit of a different story.

Following on January 2023, ticket sales in February were flat and total passenger trips decreased (7 percent). That said, this follows pre-pandemic seasonality trends, which, according to Steve Solomon, chief commercial officer at ARC, “could indicate further industry normalization as airlines prepare for the busy spring and summer travel months.”

Separately, the number of senior travelers is the largest demographic of travelers again—the first since 2019, pre-pandemic. In its sample from late 2019/early 2020, travel insurance marketplace Squaremouth found that travelers aged 60-plus comprised over 46 percent of all consumers. During the pandemic, in 2021 and 2022, that number dropped to 16 and 22 percent, before rising this year to 37 percent. Despite the cohort still showing the most interest in policies that cover COVID-19, the overall shift signals a return to pre-COVID travel trends.

Another (mostly) positive sign: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics February employment report showed that leisure and hospitality jobs grew by 105,000 in the month, while the total economy added 311,000 jobs. That said, according to U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman, “Despite strong job growth, a staggering 1.7 million leisure and hospitality jobs are open—a concerning figure as we head into the peak summer travel season.” So, it would appear there is some ways to go before a full return to pre-COVID levels of employment.

One big challenge the industry will face this April is American Airlines’ relocation of fares for NDC (New Distribution Capability)-ready channels. American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) President and CEO Zane Kerby said the rapidly approaching date is too soon for the transition and many in the industry still have concerns over its implementation. Withholding upwards of 40 percent of fares from independent distribution channels “will have a serious negative impact on the traveling public,” said Kerby.

New From Mondrian, Intrepid Travel

Mondrian Tulum Hotel & Residences_Ennismore
Mondrian Tulum Hotel & Residences (Mondrian Tulum Hotel & Residences)

Both Mondrian Hotels and Intrepid Travel both released several bits of news this week. Here’s the latest:

Mondrian will open its second Mexico hotel in 2025, the Mondrian Tulum Hotel & Residences. The hotel, located off Coba Avenue, will offer 64 guestrooms and four F&B outlets, including a destination restaurant, lounge bar, specialty rooftop bar, and pool bar and grill. Other facilities include a spa, fitness center and outdoor pool, to name a few.

Then, in 2026, Mondrian Riyadh Al Malga Hotel and Residences will debut as the brand’s first in Saudi Arabia. There will be 200 keys, including 130 standard rooms and suites, with 25 one-bedroom, 35 two-bedroom and 10 three-bedroom serviced apartments. The hotel will offer culinary and mixology experiences with three new restaurants and lounges by Ennismore’s in-house F&B concept studio, Carte Blanched.

Pretty cool: The Mondrian Riyadh Al Malga Hotel and Residences will be developed as part of the mixed-use Al Malga Urban Village, which is located at the entrance of the recently announced 1,312-foot-high, cube-shaped skyscraper Mukaab.

As for Intrepid, the tour operator announced its 121st country: The Comoros Islands. The nine-day “Comoros Wildlife Expedition," which begins departures August 2023, will depart from the capital city of Moroni before venturing to Itsamia and Mwali, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve that is home to the second highest marine diversity in the world.

It also debuted new women’s trips and experiences for 2023, including its first ever “Women’s Expedition” in Pakistan. The Intrepid “Women’s Expeditions” range will comprise six trips in 2023, each designed to support employment opportunities for women while expanding the possibilities of female travel. Other destinations will include Morocco, India, Jordan and Iran.

Carnival Cruise Line’s Milestone

Carnival President Christine Duffy, the Clifford Family and Carnival Sunrise Captain Luca Cherchi
Carnival President Christine Duffy, the Clifford family (the 100 millionth guests) and Carnival Sunrise Captain Luca Cherchi. (Photo by Carnival Cruise Line)

Carnival Cruise Line become the first cruise line to embark 100 million guests since its first sailing. Carnival President Christine Duffy visited Carnival Sunrise today as guests boarded the ship at PortMiami, where the cruise line was founded, to thank them for "choosing fun since 1972 and making Carnival the world’s most popular cruise line."

Guests were recognized with fanfare from Duffy and the ship’s team members, who are led by Captain Luca Cherchi. Guests embarking on the cruise were able to take part in the festivities as well, and take special photos signifying how each is “One in 100 Million.”

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