Article written by Dan Richards, CEO of Global Rescue, the leading provider of medical, security, evacuation and travel risk management services. Richards currently serves on the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board at the U.S. Department of Commerce and is an Ambassador for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team and a Global Member of the World Travel and Tourism Council.
Experts in the travel industry have spent the last two years trying to keep their businesses alive while searching for signals that recovery is imminent. Now, the signals are clear: that recovery is happening despite some hesitation brought on by higher fuel prices and the war in Ukraine.
The latest TSA data indicates traveler activity in and out of U.S. airports is steadily increasing, reaching up to near 89% of pre-pandemic levels. Countries like the U.K. have dropped all restrictions, and New Zealand, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and others are opening their borders. The CEOs of many of the U.S.' major airlines wrote a letter last week demanding the Biden administration remove pretesting requirements for international arrivals and masking requirements on domestic flights. All U.S. states have dropped their mask mandates.
Nearly half of travelers (49 percent) have already taken an international trip since the start of the pandemic, reflecting an 88 percent jump in travel abroad since the summer of 2021, according to the Winter 2022 Global Rescue Travel Safety and Sentiment survey of the world's most experienced travelers. Domestically, 85 percent of respondents have already traveled, signaling an 18 percent increase since the summer of 2021.
Decreasing health impact from the coronavirus is contributing to the travel rebound. Three-quarters of the U.S. population has received at least one vaccination shot, and 64 percent are fully vaccinated. COVID-19 cases are falling in every state. Deaths and hospitalizations from the disease are decreasing. The omicron variant has not been as serious as originally feared.
Nine out of ten travelers (93.42 percent) are less or much less concerned about travel since the pandemic started, reflecting a 72 percent improvement in individual concerns about travel compared to traveler attitudes at the beginning of 2021.
At the same time, travelers are responsive to global events like the war in Ukraine. Initially, searches for international travel plummeted following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. But interest quickly returned during the next few weeks, according to Kayak, an online travel agency and metasearch engine.
For many travelers, additional security precautions are being taken to increase their peace of mind. Since the war started, we've seen a 37 percent higher demand for Global Rescue's non-medical emergency security service plans that provide evacuation capabilities when travelers are in danger from insurgent attacks, terrorism, civil unrest and natural disasters.
When people feel safe, they travel. The leading factor providing peace of mind among travelers is whether they've been vaccinated or had COVID or both. According to the survey, nearly half of respondents (47 percent) confirm they feel safest when vaccinated followed by having medical evacuation protection (20 percent).
A third contributing factor for a traveler's sense of safety is crowd level. Seventeen percent of respondents said visiting uncrowded destinations or taking part in outdoor activities made them feel safest. Those travelers, like many others, are taking common-sense steps to stay safe by choosing destinations that are out-of-the-way places in the open air with fewer people. More than three-quarters of respondents (76 percent) are planning more outdoor, remote travel - a 40 percent increase compared to traveler responses nearly a year ago.
Despite the improvement in travel attitudes and behavior, more than half of travelers (52 percent) admit COVID-19 infection, its variants or quarantine are still their number one travel fear, followed by trip cancellation (17 percent) and having an accident or sustaining an injury (16 percent).
Those travel concerns are reflected in the ongoing increase in the awareness of, and desire for, medical evacuation services. Sixty-two percent of respondents - a 17 percent increase compared to the fall of 2021 - identified medical evacuation protection for rescue from point of injury or illness, including COVID-19, as their preferred protection. Cancel For Any Reason trip insurance was the second most important protection (15 percent), and transport from treating medical facility to home or home hospital of choice (10 percent) was third most important.
As signals continue to indicate a pandemic travel revival, they also point to travelers adding a new layer of essential protections for their wallets and personal safety. That's a revival we can all live with.
Global Rescue conducted the Traveler Sentiment and Safety Survey of more than 1,400 of its current and former members between January 25-29, 2022.
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