The COVID-19 pandemic is keeping more Northeastern Pennsylvania residents home for the holidays, and that’s not good for local travel businesses.
Travel agents are booking fewer trips than in previous years and don’t expect business to pick up until sometime next year. Flight reservations for holiday travel out of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport also are expected to be fewer than last year, according to airport Executive Director Carl Beardsley Jr.
AAA last month predicted Thanksgiving air travel nationwide would be down by nearly half of what it was in previous years – to 2.4 million travelers, the largest one-year decrease on record. The association also predicted travel by other modes, including buses, trains and cruises, would decline 76 percent, to 353,000 travelers.
Some local travel agents, though, are seeing a spike in vacation travel out of the country. Teri Price, owner of Price Right Travel in Wilkes-Barre Township, has seen such a spike, which she said is keeping her business alive.
“Travel, in general, I think people are afraid to travel with the COVID,” Price said.
She said she hasn’t been booking trips for people to see family.
“All of our inquiries in the last 30 days are out of the country,” Price said. “That flipped a switch for us. We (normally) do a lot of Florida and Las Vegas. I think people want to isolate and get away from family to keep them safe.
She said she is booking trips to Mexico and Punta Cana, mostly for over the Christmas holiday. She said much of the Caribbean and Hawaii require a COVID test within 72 hours of traveling there. Mexico doesn’t.
Karen Monko-Nagle, owner Sea the World Travel, in Luzerne, also is seeing some travelers going to the islands, but is not booking trips to visit family.
“A few people are going between Christmas and New Year’s,” she said. “The Caribbean and Mexico are open.”
Monko-Nagle said with the resorts at 50 percent occupancy, guests are getting more attention from staff.
Ernie Lemoncelli, co-owner of EZ Cruise and Travel, Eynon, with his wife, Beatriz Cabrera, said people aren’t traveling because the future of COVID restrictions is uncertain.
“We have a family going from West Palm Beach to the Turks and Caicos (Islands),” Lemoncelli said. “We’ve got a customer booked for a trip in March for skiing in Colorado, but again, they could close those resorts.”
He said most people don’t plan to travel until the second half of 2021 and 2022.
Even once cruises are sailing next year, there could be restrictions be in various countries.
“What happens if you cross the Atlantic to go to these places and they don’t let you in?” he said. “You could fly out of here, but what restrictions will you face when you get there?”
Lemoncelli said most of the people traveling now are driving.
“If everything’s going well with the vaccine, maybe it will start to pick up in mid-2021.”
Beardsley, the airport director, also said he is seeing fewer travelers.
“Considering the environment we’re in now, we have a fair amount of travelers, but not anything near what it was last year,” he said.
Price said she was confident travel would rebound.
“It came back so strong after 9/11,” she said. “We truly know in this industry it’s going to come back stronger than ever.”