As COVID-19 vaccinations gradually sweep the Western world, you might be dusting off your passport and checking Hotels.com for the first time in more than a year. And you wouldn’t be alone. A new report suggests millions of Americans across the country are currently typing, swiping, and tapping to book long-awaited summer vacation trips, signaling a massive wave of travel about to break.
According to data from Sensor Tower, a mobile app intelligence firm, U.S. downloads for apps in the travel category more than doubled in May 2021 compared to the same period last year, climbing 123% to a total of 24.7 million.
That rise was buoyed largely by commercial airline and hotel apps—neither of which typical smartphone users would install unless they were about to board a flight for that specific airline, or check in to that specific hotel—within a matter of weeks. While the flying and lodging industries were among the hardest hit during the thick of the global coronavirus lockdowns, major U.S. airlines saw the biggest growth within the travel category during May 2021, with downloads swelling 311% from a year earlier.
Of those, American Airlines was the favorite carrier, leading the pack with approximately 500,000 installs in May. That was followed by Delta (400,000 installs); Southwest (400,000 installs); United (400,000 installs); and budget carrier Spirit (300,000 installs).
In a year-over-year comparison, hotel apps spiked 258%, and vacation-booking apps such as Expedia, Priceline, and Hopper surged 300%, even surpassing 2019 levels by 65%. Last month, they collectively racked up 3.3 million downloads, and that’s expected to become 16.6 million for the first half of 2021.
Home-rental companies like Airbnb and Vrbo, by contrast, saw a moderate jump of 38%, likely because Americans viewed their offerings as safe, socially distant getaways during the pandemic, and many remote workers sought long-term stays away from crowded towns and cities at this time last year.
However, despite the burgeoning interest, travel companies as a whole have yet to recoup pre-pandemic levels for app downloads; according to Sensor Tower, they’re currently 77% of the way there. That could be accelerated in the coming months as vaccinations continue and border restrictions lift. As of now, 45% of the U.S. population is fully inoculated.
Earlier this week, a bloc of European countries—including Spain, Germany, Greece, and Croatia—recommended reopening to American tourists.