As the world tries to return to some sense of normalcy in the face of the ongoing pandemic, holiday travel is returning. But even as travelers are venturing out for the holiday season, a new variant of the COVID-19 virus recently reared its head, making it difficult to predict what holiday travel will look like this Christmas season.
When looking at travel numbers, “We aren’t comparing to 2020, we are comparing to 2019, because travel was so astronomically low in 2020,” Deanna Zachrisson, airport business development manager for the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport, told the News-Press.
“Compared to 2019, we are overperforming, 2019 was our record year,” Ms. Zachrisson told the News-Press, pointing out that 2,220 passengers were processed at the airport on the day before Thanksgiving, compared to 1,953 in 2019.
These numbers represent approximately half of the passengers which came through the airport that day, as they only represent incoming passengers, not passengers landing in the airport.
“If we come close to a million passengers, then we will have done that in approximately April through December only three-quarters of the year,” said Ms. Zachrisson, explaining that January through March in 2021 were bad months for the travel industry.
“We are cautiously optimistic about 2022, but the concern for COVID is still there. I can tell you the airline has not yet seen any impact from the Omicron variant. It seems unlikely at this point, unless something dramatic happens. So far in the recovery, it is a leisure travel driven recovery, business travel has not returned. Only about 50% of business travel has yet to come back,” said Ms. Zachrisson. Up to a 10% increase in leisure travel is expected this holiday season, based on estimates from Thanksgiving’s numbers.
“Flights are full over the holidays and travelers are flying both domestically and internationally for the holidays … My sales figures this November are almost three times higher than they were this time last year. My fellow travel agent friends report a similar increase in sales. November 2021 sales volume hit 90% of November 2019 sales. This is not all holiday-related travel, but is a sign of travelers feeling hopeful about travel now and next year,” Karen Ensign, travel advisor for Your Travel Center, told the News-Press in an email.
“The concern we would have is essentially that people are planning ahead for getting to the airport. Parking is likely to be in the economy lot on Hollister. We are running a shuttle service from the economy lot,” said Ms. Zachrisson. Early morning flights from 5:30-8:30 a.m., heading east, are the busiest and you should plan to arrive at least an hour before your flight. If you will be taking the shuttle from the economy lot, you should factor that into your travel times as well,” emphasized Ms. Zachrisson.
“Even with the challenges that the travel industry has faced, and the short staffing issues in the travel industry, we have an optimistic sense that we can pull this off in a good way,” said Ms. Zachrisson.