Grounded by COVID, travel industry picks up
As more and more places are opening up, people are starting to travel more.
As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic starts to wind down, the travel industry is starting to pick back up.
“Business is increasing each week,” said Fred Bursch of Alexandria, owner of Bursch Travel. “It is nowhere near pre-pandemic levels, but certainly much improved over a year ago.”
Larry Logeman, owner of Executive Express, a shuttle service that operates in and around the Alexandria lakes area, said he noticed business starting to pick up in March, around spring break time.
He said business usually dips after spring break, but he is getting busier and busier as more people are finally starting to travel.
"There is unprecedented demand for these cruises and many have sold out in short order."
- Fred Bursch, owner Bursch Travel
Bursch said that although people are starting to make travel plans again, most of the destinations are fairly close by. Domestic travel to places like Florida, Hawaii and California are some of the more popular areas to travel to, he said. Although he is also seeing some travel to Mexico and the Caribbean.
“People are more assured because of the vaccine, but many parts of the world still remain closed,” said Bursch.
With travel to Mexico and the Caribbean, travelers need to have a negative COVID-19 test in order to return to the U.S., he said. If travelers have to remain in Mexico due to a positive test, he noted that many hotels are providing the extra nights accommodation at no charge.
Cruises are also starting to sail once again from foreign ports, but he said cruise lines are requiring all passengers and crews to be vaccinated. Operations aboard cruise ships have changed to allow for social distancing.
“There is unprecedented demand for these cruises and many have sold out in short order,” said Bursch, adding that there are also cruises on smaller ships sailing from U.S. ports, including river cruises.
Navigating the challenges
As travel starts to pick up, however, there have been some challenges, he said.
His travel agents are finding it tough to find space in some popular destinations. In addition, with hotel and car rental companies having big cutbacks during the last year, they have not been able to rebound immediately, he said.
“Service industries and hotels are finding it hard to rehire staff and they are also operating at limited capacity,” Bursch said.
Logeman agreed, saying that with all the benefits being offered right now, it is hard to convince people to get back to work.
He said many businesses, including his, are having a hard time finding staff.
With a busy travel season ahead, along with the fact that it is wedding season, Logeman said he's hoping and praying he’ll have enough staff. Besides offering airport shuttle services, Executive Express offers private shuttle services for special events, like weddings.
Although he has always been the fill-in guy as he is the owner of the business, Logeman said he’s been busier than ever filling in for drivers.
“I have been driving every day,” he said. “I have driven more in the last month than I probably have in the last 17 years when I started the business.”
Because of the shortage of drivers, Logeman said that unfortunately, potential customers might start hearing the word “no” more often, which he said they haven’t really heard before. He said in the past his thought process has always been, “We can always buy more vehicles and we can always hire more staff.”
"I have been driving every day. I have driven more in the last month than I probably have in the last 17 years when I started the business."
- Larry Logeman, owner Executive Express
But right now, getting vehicles might be easy, but the hard part is getting more people.
“We have to start saying no as I am not comfortable saying yes to future business,” he said.
Logeman is hopeful, though, as past drivers have started to come back and he is continuing to reach out to even more former employees.
One thing that Logeman wanted the public to know is that it is OK for people to travel. "Airports are clean and safe, airplanes are clean and safe, people should start to travel again," he said.
Services expanding at Twin Cities airport
The Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport isn’t necessarily having an issue finding employees as it is gearing up for a busy travel season by expanding its services.
According to the Metropolitan Airports Commission, in the leadup to Memorial Day weekend, which is the traditional start to summer, airlines are operating 176 routes from MSP – a pandemic era high. The number will increase to 185 by the third week in June.
The airport commissioner owns and operates MSP, as well as six general aviation airports.
“We are seeing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic begin to unwind with increased vaccination rates, fewer domestic travel restrictions, and growing confidence in the safety of air travel,” said Brian Ryks, CEO of the Metropolitan Airports Commission. “In response to pent-up demand, airlines are significantly expanding service domestically this summer, with a particular focus on vacation destinations.”
Ryks also said that this summer, the terminals at MSP will be far busier since the pandemic began. He added that although more and more people have been vaccinated, the airport will continue its robust cleaning and sanitization program that was adopted in response to COVID-19.
"We are seeing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic begin to unwind with increased vaccination rates, fewer domestic travel restrictions, and growing confidence in the safety of air travel."
- Brian Ryks, CEO of the Metropolitan Airports Commission
“Federal regulations still require that masks be worn at airports and on aircraft,” he said.
Additional safety measures include social distancing reminders, the deployment of hundreds of hand sanitizing stations across terminals, and the installation of protective barriers at customer contact points, said Ryks.
For up-to-date security and travel guidance, visit www.tsa.gov/travel .
Comfortable with traveling
Last month, AAA – the Auto Club Group, released results from a survey the company conducted that revealed that nearly half of Minnesotans are now comfortable taking a trip.
According to the AAA survey, Minnesotans cited increased safety measures and less fear of dangers associated with the virus as the two top reasons they feel comfortable traveling.
“After a full year in a global pandemic, there is so much pent-up demand for travel that our AAA travel agents are seeing tremendous enthusiasm from Minnesotans who are eager to plan a trip,” said Meredith Mitts, an AAA spokeswoman. “While many want to wait until the summer, some have already received their vaccine and are motivated to travel now.”
Here are some other results from the AAA survey:
57% of Minnesotans expect to travel in 2021.
65% of Minnesotans say they would be traveling more if there was not a pandemic.
48% of Minnesotans say they will feel more comfortable traveling when they are fully vaccinated.
59% of Minnesotans are comfortable staying in a hotel/resort.
37% are comfortable taking a flight.