When the U.S. announced plans to lift an 18-month-long travel ban in September, Europeans wasted no time making plans — particularly the Brits.
In the 24 hours that followed the Sept. 20 announcement, flights from London to New York City were searched 1.4 million times, according to the global travel technology company Travelport, making it the most popular U.S.-bound flight search of the day.
The route, however, didn't achieve the most bookings that day.
Europeans booked the most seats on another route — London to Orlando — according to Travelport, which analyzes bookings made through travel agents and websites like Priceline and Booking.com.
This "underscores the return of leisure travel demand," said Katie Cline, a senior director at Travelport.
A business travel rebound
The Sept. 20 announcement, which indicated early pandemic-era travel bans would be replaced by vaccination and Covid-testing protocols for international travelers, specified a start month — "early November" — but not an effective date.
That was enough to send leisure travelers straight to their computers, many of whom booked travel well into the future. Most of the early bookings to Orlando, Florida — home to Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort — were for trips in the summer of 2022, said Cline.
On Oct. 15, the Biden Administration announced the new rules would start on Nov. 8. That unleashed a torrent of business traveler bookings for trips before the year-end.
"After the second announcement, corporate travel from London to New York has almost doubled," said Cline.
Hotel booking data from travel marketing company Adara supports this trend.
European leisure and business travelers booked U.S. hotels at similar rates until mid-October. Thereafter business bookings soared.
Where Europeans are going
The popularity of the Orlando route was soon eclipsed, said Cline, by a more expected transatlantic flightpath: London to New York.
According to Adara, New York City is the top destination for hotel bookings too.
European travelers also favored cities and "sun-centric locations," the company said.
Most cities are still attracting less interest from Europeans than in 2019. However, hotel bookings in Phoenix are up 84% among business travelers, while Honolulu is up 139% among leisure travelers, according to Adara. Miami has also returned to its pre-pandemic stride.
As to the sudden interest in Phoenix, Adara's CCO Carolyn Corda said she believes this may be due to a rise in smaller business conferences.
"Phoenix appeals to businesses in that it has decent air service, great golfing, sun and outdoor activities," she said. "It's also a little easier to corral participants in resorts versus a destination like Las Vegas."
Hotels aren't the only places seeing increased interest from European travelers. Following the Sept. 20 announcement, searches for U.S. house rentals by Europeans increased 91% from the prior week on vacation rental website HomeToGo.
Once again, New York City reigned supreme. It was the most searched U.S. destination for house rentals by European travelers from August to October, according to HomeToGo. Five states dominated the remainder of the top 10 list:
- California: Orange County (No. 2), L.A. (No. 5), San Diego (No. 7), San Bernardino County (No. 10)
- Florida: Miami-Dade County (No. 4), Broward Country (No. 6)
- Hawaii: Honolulu (No. 3)
- Colorado: Summit County (No. 8)
- Pennsylvania: Pocono Mountains (No. 9)
A HomeToGo representative said the company attributes much of its third-quarter growth to "the workcation phenomenon."
The 'need to travel now'
Since September, the top "origin markets" for travel from Europe to the U.S. are the U.K., Netherlands, France and Germany, according to Adara.
But Britons are leading the charge, according to Travelport. Its data showed that in the 24 hours after the Sept. 20 travel announcement, U.S.-bound flights from the U.K. were searched more than U.S.-bound flights from all other European countries combined.
Following the Oct. 15 announcement, flights from the U.K. to the U.S. for Thanksgiving weekend increased by 2,200%. Cline said she believes that's due to families reuniting for the holidays, as well as Britons who enjoy Black Friday shopping in the United States.
"Additionally, this underscores the greater trend we're seeing for 'the need to travel now,'" she said. "November was the most popular month for travel to the U.S. from Europe, and November 8th — the day of reopening — was the most popular departure date."
Recovery is underway
The uptick in international travel is positive news for the beleaguered travel industry, said Cline, who said it's "the first time we've [had] such a significant growth to transatlantic corporate travel since the pandemic began."
The industry is still far from a full recovery, however. Aggregate demand for hotel bookings by travelers from Europe, the Middle East and Africa in the U.S. is down 43% from 2019, according to Adara.
British business travelers made half the number of U.S. hotel bookings for 2021 year-end travel as they did in 2019, according to Adara.
Hotel bookings by German (-65%) and Swiss (-56%) business travelers are noticeably down too, while bookings by Israelis (-21%) are closer to pre-pandemic levels.
Dutch business travelers, however, don't appear to be sitting on the sidelines. Adara's data shows U.S. hotels booked from the Netherlands are up 44% this year as compared to 2019.
Still, both the speed and duration of the booking surge along with the interest in dense, urban areas are all optimistic signs of a recovery, according to a report issued by Adara in October.
"We expect these trends to continue to gain momentum," it said.
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal, which owns Universal Orlando Resort, and CNBC.