From free flights to free nights, the tourism industry is pulling out all the stops this summer to get international customers back onto planes and into hotels after the coronavirus pandemic pulverized the travel sector and threatens to push some tourism-centric countries into their deepest-ever recessions.
Thanks to worldwide lockdowns, international tourism plunged by 22 percent in the first quarter, and it could decline by up to 80 percent in 2020, according to the U.N. World Tourism Organization. The International Air Transport Association said demand for air travel sank by 95 percent.
Last year, around 1.3 billion people rolled out their luggage for international trips, according to the travel website Skift. Now the industry is scrambling to attract travelers, offering once-in-a-lifetime deals — for those who are prepared to navigate the ever-changing quarantine regulations.
“There are deals we’ve never seen before this year — and possibly may never see again,” said Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights. He said he has seen a 50 percent uptick in flight deals for what are normally the busiest and most expensive months.
“The fact that the airlines have put out so many peak-season deals really underscores how hungry they are for new bookings,” he said, adding that he has seen round-trip California-to-Hawaii flights for $288 and nonstop flights from Chicago to Paris for $374 during the prime winter holiday season.
Of course, actually touching down in Paris is highly restricted. A ban on travel from most other European nations was lifted only this week, and the French government is expected to detail easing for those outside the EU on July 1.
American Airlines made headlines this month when it said it would offer a flexible cancellation policy for flights booked in June, along with double air miles, to tempt customers back in the air.
“There is definitely pent-up demand for travel as more states, business and attractions open up,” CEO Doug Parker said at the company’s annual shareholders meeting.
As the summer begins — but not summer camps — families cooped up at home for three months are beginning to pine for vacations. Perhaps another small sign of hope for the rest of the year: Airbnb has yet to shelve this year’s anticipated initial public offering. The home-sharing site said it took more bookings from May 17 to June 3 than it did during the same period a year ago.
Hotels are also looking to goose whatever business they can. The luxury hotel chain Fairmont is offering North American customers one free night for every one they book through the end of 2020.
In Las Vegas, hotels are dropping resort fees and room pricing to get people spending at the casino tables. The Luxor is offering a 10 percent discount on three nights booked, while the Caesars chain has rooms for just $10 a night.
Karisma Hotels & Resorts, with locations in Mexico, Colombia, Jamaica and elsewhere, is offering 77 percent off for guests booking two rooms for four days, along with $500 in resort credits. The U.S. is restricting travel to Mexico and Canada through July 21.
Egypt is considering discounts for archaeological sites and museums as part of a stimulus package to get tourists back. The country reopens to limited foreign tourism starting July 4.
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Italy, one of the European nations hit hardest by the pandemic, has set aside $84 million to give away vouchers for flights to the island of Sicily, alongside tax relief packages for hotels that could mean two free nights for visitors. The offer has garnered worldwide media attention.
Not everyone is in the frame of mind for traveling, however. Kevin Davidson, a PR executive who lives in New York City and typically enjoys weekends away, told NBC News he feels this year is different.
“There is still this situation going on, and I just don’t feel comfortable until we have this under control and there is a vaccine,” he said. “I’m comfortable in my home. Why be uncomfortable traveling somewhere else? Is it really that important? I’m enjoying the pause.”