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December 1, 2021 0
Air China flight crew members in hazmat suits walk through the arrivals area Tuesday at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles. (AP photo/Jae C. Hong)
Businesses based on travel and tourism in the United States and around the world that were just finding their footing after nearly two years of devastation wrought by COVID-19 have been rattled again as countries throw up new barriers out of fears of the omicron variant.
In Oklahoma, officials indicated Wednesday that it’s still too soon to tell if the new coronavirus fear will have a major effect on travel.
At Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City, public information officer Stacey Hamm said traffic has remained steady and continues to rebound from 2020 numbers.
“As far as the new variant, we are not seeing any cancellations or issues here at the airport,” Hamm said.
The latest airport traffic report showed 40,154 passengers moved through the airport in the seven-day period ending Monday. The highest traffic was 7,005 on Sunday and the lowest was 3,485 on Thanksgiving Day.
Airport traffic for the first 11 months of 2021 totaled 1,550,268 passengers or a daily average of 4,655 – more than all 12 months in 2020 – but not back to 2019 levels when the daily average was 6,267.
Stories varied at airports and at travel destinations around the world.
Travelers eager to renew trips to places from the Holy Land to alpine ski resorts have been thrown back into old routines of reading up on new travel requirements. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has reported that travel bans are of limited value and will “place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.”
Other experts say travel restrictions won’t keep variants out but might give countries more time to get people vaccinated.
Notably, the first case of the omicron variant in the United States was reported in California on Wednesday.
At AAA Oklahoma, manager of public and government affairs Leslie Gamble said travel advisers are watching developments closely.
“It is too early to say how or if (omicron) will impact holiday or international travel,” she said.
It’s advisable for people planning international travel to work with a knowledgeable professional who can guide them through the complex and rapidly changing travel landscape, Gamble said.
Travel insurance policies that include a “cancel at any time” component also are recommended. Gamble said they offer more flexibility and protection in the event travelers need to cancel a trip.
According to an Associated Press report, Abby Moore, a librarian and associate professor at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, was scheduled to leave for Prague on Wednesday, but the day before she started having doubts when she saw that Prague had closed its Christmas markets and imposed a citywide curfew.
“I wasn’t really concerned about my trip until the Czech Republic started what looked like a mini-lockdown process,” Moore said.
She decided to reschedule her travel to March.
Less than a month after significantly easing restrictions for inbound international travel, the U.S. government has banned most foreign nationals who have recently been in any of eight southern African countries. A similar boomerang was seen in Japan and Israel, both of which tightened restrictions shortly after relaxing them.
While it is not clear where the variant emerged, South African scientists identified it last week, and many places, including the European Union and Canada, have restricted travel from the wider region.
For all the alarm, little is known about omicron, including whether it is more contagious, causes more serious illness or can evade vaccines.
London-based airline easyJet said Tuesday that renewed travel restrictions already appear to be hurting winter bookings, although CEO Johan Lundgren said the damage is not yet as severe as during previous waves. The CEO of SAS Scandinavian Airlines said winter demand had been looking up, but the outlook has since dimmed.
“In the past year, each new variant has brought a decline in bookings, but then an increase once the surge dissipates,” said Helane Becker, an analyst with financial services firm Cowen.
Hotels around the world, which were recovering more quickly than expected, have experienced a similar phenomenon.
“Every time there has been a variant, as soon as it clears up a little bit (leisure travel) snaps back very quickly. Business travel is a little more uncertain,” said Ari Klein, a hotels analyst for BMO Capital Markets.
Travel executives argue that government decisions about restrictions should wait until more is known about omicron, but they admit it’s a difficult call.
“If you wait, by the time you have all the data it’s probably too late to stop community spread because (the virus) is already here,” said Robert Jordan, the incoming CEO at Southwest Airlines. “If you jump ahead, you run the risk of the measures being more impactful than the actual cases.”
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December 2, 2021
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