Rockford-area travel agents excited to return to normal
ROCKFORD — The local travel industry is breathing a sigh of relief now that the federal government has lifted coronavirus testing requirements for those entering the United States.
Travel agents say they are already seeing an increase in business and signs that international holiday bookings are poised for an even more steady influx.
“I just read a statistic this morning that (says) since (the Centers for Disease Control) dropped the requirement to test to return to the United States, 30% of people surveyed say they will now travel to the United States. abroad when they wouldn’t before,” said Sandra Chu, independent travel agent for Enchanted Travel.
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Before the government scrapped the rule – put in place under former President Donald Trump and amended by President Joe Biden – agents said planning international travel for their clients was difficult. Their customers chose domestic vacations over overseas trips or simply gave up on travelling.
“It had a big impact on people’s decisions because they could afford to take a week off, but they couldn’t afford to take a second week off if they tested positive,” said John Sturm, President of Lindstrom Travel. “Now that it’s gone, it’s a completely different situation.”
Even before the United States updated its travel advisories, travel agencies were seeing an increase in hot-weather vacations in places like Cancun and an increase in bookings for Alaskan vacations and cruises. The pent-up demand indicated that in terms of booking numbers, things were moving towards the way the industry operated before the pandemic.
But there are still some factors that make travel today, more than two years after the virus emerged, very different.
“It’s a whole different ball game, the way it is now compared to how it was before,” Sturm said. “Even on cruises, the majority of them demand a negative test before boarding the cruise ship. Two years ago you didn’t have to do something like this. You just show up and get on. So there is uncertainty. Are people going to test positive or negative when they go on vacation?”
Veronika Markgraf, owner of Vacations by Veronika, said many of her customers were tired of postponing their plans, stopped paying attention to the test rule and started booking more trips six months ago.
“They weren’t going to shy away from traveling anymore,” Markgraf said.
But, she believes the economy is preventing travel from returning to pre-pandemic levels.
“The price of everything is going up,” she said. “So I wouldn’t say we’re back to pre-pandemic.”
But without the international testing rule, that could change quickly, regardless of inflation. More bookings for the Caribbean, Europe and theme parks are all seeing increases.
“People are willing to spend more than they would have before,” Chu said. “They’re looking for special experiences – maybe upgrade to a higher room category to do something to celebrate that they haven’t traveled that long.”
Jim Hagerty covers general news, schools and courts. Contact him at email@example.com and @jimhagerty.