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Travel bookings still lower than last year, but steadily increasing in West Michigan

Gerald R. Ford International Airport has 50% less passengers than last year, but in March and April, they were down 96%.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Travel is down globally, but Gerald R. Ford International Airport sees hope on the horizon. 

In mid-March and April, the airport saw 96% less passengers than usual. Now, they are at 50% of passengers compared to this time last year. Alex Peric, the airport's chief operating officer, said they are growing steadily toward the end of the year. 

"Travel has been positive over the past few months," said Peric.

RELATED: MDHHS announces guidance on holiday travel, gatherings

Looking ahead to 2021, the spring break time is the airport's busiest. Peric said they are tracking passengers, and projecting what bookings may look like for next spring. 

"In 2021, we are conservatively projecting 85% of where we were last year," said Peric. 

He also said Ford airport is slightly busier than others around the nation. They are tracking at 10% above the national average in terms of passengers up to this point, year to date. 

The airport has adapted to 2020 health and safety guidelines. There are hand sanitizer stations around the airport, masks required, and social distancing markers. 

"We surveyed businesses in West Michigan, and over half of them expect business travel to come back by the end of the year or early next year," said Peric, "Which is very positive for us to hear. We’ve been seeing a lot of leisure traffic here in the airport, but we’re looking forward to the business travel coming back."

Meanwhile, West Michigan travel agencies are seeing similar trends. Shelley Kohtz, the manager of vacation travel services for Witte Travel, said they are seeing an uptick in domestic travel. 

"We're seeing a lot of interest in Florida, Disney, Universal Studios, beach destinations," said Kohtz, "People just want out of Michigan for a while. Also interest in the West, national parks, wide open spaces where people can roam mask free with their family and travel pods and be comfortable."

Kohtz said right now a lot of people are looking at holiday travel and spring break next year. Even though some universities and schools are cancelling spring break, Kohtz says the demand for travel during that time is still there. 

RELATED: MSU cancels spring break, plans to offer more in-person classes

Although, the past few months have been different, as conditions and restrictions continually changed. 

"It’s challenging," said Kohtz, "We’ve been through things that have never happened in this industry before."

Europe, on the other hand, is still closed. She said they don't have firm data for when Americans are allowed to visit, but her clients who pushed back trips this year are looking to re-book. 

Last year was a record-breaking year in terms of travel. However, things are picking up for 2021. 

RELATED: 96% drop in US airline travel recorded in April

"This year compared to last year, there’s no comparison, it’s way down still, said Kohtz, "But we have confidence the desire to travel is there, people want to travel, they'll get back to it."

She suggests if someone wants to travel for spring break to book early. Many hotels and resorts are operating at limited capacity and starting to fill up. She also recommends using a travel agent now more than ever, who can keep up and adjust schedules to the changing conditions and restrictions. Also, be flexible with plans. 

"You have to expect things might change," said Kohtz. 

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