When the United States lifted international travel restrictions, effective Nov. 8, it was good news for the Golden Triangle Regional Airport.
“As you know, (historically) about 80 percent of our traffic is business travel and that includes international travel,” Mike Hainsey, GTRA’s executive director, said Tuesday. “It’s coming back, but it’s coming back slowly. Our international travel is about 25-to-30 percent of what we saw in 2019.”
Hainsey said international travel accounts for about 10 percent of GTRA’s business travel. Currently, most of the international travel through GTR is from Mississippi State, he said.
“They are a major research university, so they are traveling, but for most of our industry, international travel will take some time to return to what we’ve seen before COVID,” Hainsey said.
“Most of Europe, except for Italy, has started locking back down now because of the resurgence of COVID. Then you have the Zoom effect, which has a major impact. International companies are far more likely to have teleconferences for their intra-company meetings than traveling.”
Tommy Williamson, who works in tech support for Steel Dynamics, said he’s continued to travel throughout the pandemic, but far less frequently than before the pandemic.
“It’s not just the travel restrictions,” said Williamson, who provides service to both domestic and international customers, including customers in Mexico. “During the pandemic most of my customers were shut down and some of them are still shut down. I’m traveling probably about 10 percent of the amount I used to travel. A lot of my customers are still shut down.”
Williamson said he works with his clients via Zoom calls, but there’s only so much that can be done through those meetings.
“You really need to see the operations, the equipment,” he said. “So I’m definitely looking forward to getting back to regular travel, the sooner the better.”
Hainsey said he doesn’t expect business travel to return to 2019 levels until the spring.
“Nobody travels in January, which is the slowest month of the year,” Hainsey said. “So I think maybe in the spring we’ll see business travel pick up again to where we were before.”
While he expects business travel to increase only incrementally until spring, GTRA has benefited from an increase in leisure travel.
“We’re doing about 85 percent of the traffic we had in 2019 and a lot of that has to do with leisure travel, which has definitely picked up. Fares are low and I think people may have more disposable income. People are ready to travel again, which has been great for us.”
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]