There’s an end in sight for the pandemic, and with that, the promise of a much-needed vacation.
In the last week, a window seems to have opened for the hard-hit hotel industry. On Dec. 11, the same day that Pfizer’s vaccine was approved for use by the FDA, the number of bookings made across Marriott, Intercontinental Hotel Group, Kayak, and Priceline’s websites—among those of many other boldface industry names—took a sudden and sharp turn upwards.
According to RateGain, the travel technology company that powers bookings for the aforementioned brands as well as Hotwire, Trivago, Hyatt, and Accor, last Friday represented the largest number of daily bookings since the pandemic began in March, with 9,512 transactions processed in the U.S., across all its partner sites. That number is even comparable to a typical day’s sales in Nov. and Dec. 2019, which generally saw between 8,500 to 10,000 bookings; the busiest day in Dec. saw 12,117 bookings.
All this together is promising, and a significant increase over the typical number of daily bookings that RateGain was recording throughout much of the preceding two months. The recent average hovered around 5,500; since Dec. 11, bookings have remained 22% to 56% higher than that. Other spikes in activity over the last eight months were tied to Thanksgiving travel and Biden’s win of the U.S. election, though neither one lasted more than one or two days—nor did they exceed 7,000 bookings in any 24-hour period.
Chinmai Sharma, the company’s president, says the bookings largely represent warm-weather domestic destinations: key markets include Orlando, Houston, Atlanta, and Austin, Tex.
Whether these bookings are meant as trips to visit family, leisure vacations, or business is harder to glean. Across the board, travel agents and online booking sites have seen a shift in consumer behavior that prioritizes last-minute bookings—which help avoid cancellations and changes stemming from fast-changing lockdown measures—meaning that Dec. 11 may have been the last perceived opportunity to pull the trigger on Christmas travels.
But Sharma believes something else is at play. While most of his company’s bookings have been taking place within 10 days of departure, he says “a healthy proportion of reservations are now being made further out into 2021.” Some of those trips are being planned for summer, but the majority, he explains, “are between now and March.”
The data is in keeping with predictions that were made by Expedia’s CEO, Peter Kern, who told Bloomberg in November that news of an impending vaccine—rather than the vaccine itself—is what would jump-start travel again. “People will think, ‘Well, by the summer Europe might be open, or I might have the vaccine, so let’s book it,’” he said.
“We expect long haul travel to start picking up slowly as consumer confidence seems to be rising with the vaccines being rolled out,” says RateGain’s Sharma in agreement. “A recent Harris poll published by the U.S. Travel Association said roughly three-quarters of Americans are postponing travel until a vaccine is available. With that input and the data we have seen, we believe that there will most likely be a rise in bookings as the vaccine continues to roll out.”