May 13, 2021 - Economy

Travel bookings are surging as vaccines unleash pent-up demand

Illustration of a suitcase covered in stickers from different states

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Multiple indicators now show how pent-up travel demand is playing out, as the U.S. exits lockdown mode.

Why it matters: Close to half of all Americans have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, enabling a growing economic recovery in the hard-hit travel and leisure sectors.

  • More than half of the 8 million jobs lost in leisure and hospitality in March and April last year have come back, with 331,000 jobs added in April this year alone. 

By the numbers: April bookings were up 11% compared with April 2019, according to data provided exclusively to Axios from American Express Travel.

  • Based on last month's figures, the vast majority of people are staying domestic — 87% — a trend consistent across age groups.
  • But 39% plan to travel internationally within the year. 
  • New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Dallas, Miami, Chicago, Charlotte, Denver, San Francisco and Phoenix are the top 10 U.S. destinations.
  • Sydney, Melbourne, London, Dubai, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore and Paris top the list of international destinations.

The big picture: Pent-up demand for services is on the rise, and nearing the level of demand for goods.

  • Flight bookings grew 11% in March, inching closer to e-commerce spending, according to Adobe Analytics.
  • Flight bookings for this year's December holiday season were up 17% as of March, versus March 2019. Thanksgiving bookings are 9% higher, per Adobe.
  • But the more lucrative business travel segment may never fully recover, CEO Glenn Fogel told Axios earlier this year.

What to watch: As leisure returns, concerns about worker shortages (and the cause) grow.

  • There were a record number of open jobs in the U.S. in March — with the highest postings for restaurant, bar, hotel, manufacturing, construction and retail positions.
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