The Backlog of 1.6 Million Passports, and Future of Travel After a Pandemic

While the near future of international travel looks bleak, there is a silver lining for the domestic travel industry.

NBC Universal, Inc.

Like so many businesses, the U.S. Department of State was forced to cut back operations when the pandemic hit, a decision made to prioritize the safety of staff members. Unfortunately, the reduction of passport services has resulted in a backlog of 1.6 million passport applications.

Travel industry analyst Adam Sacks explained that he does not expect the backlog of passport applications to play a major role, since the international travel industry is not likely to start its recovery until late 2021 and the backlog is expected to be cleared by then. Sacks predicted that it could take another three years for international travel to make a full recovery. 

Earlier this year, teacher Julie Nors had big plans to take her family on their dream summer vacation. They were looking forward to a Mediterranean cruise that would allow them to explore parts of Italy, Spain and France. Nors and her family sent their passports in for renewal in February, just before the pandemic hit. Their trip was canceled, but their passports remained M.I.A. for months, with no word from the State Department.

“Something that we’re supposed to take such good care of and be careful about is floating around out there somewhere,” Nors told NBC4. “So, that’s the odd part I guess.”

Nors and her family just received their passports in the mail, after about four months. While she’s hopeful that they’ll take their dream trip someday, they’re waiting until it feels safer to travel. 

“I don’t know when I’ll be ready to travel again,” she admitted.

While the near future of international travel looks bleak, there is a silver lining for the domestic travel industry. Sacks noted that travelers are taking more domestic trips instead, with many Americans traveling to drivable, outdoorsy destinations, which pumps money back into the U.S. economy. 

“That change in travel behavior, from international to domestic, is a global phenomenon,” Sacks explained. “And just about every tourism business is shifting their market strategy and orientation to pivot toward that new reality.” 

Note that if you need a passport for an emergency, the State Department says you can get one in two to three days. However, it will cost extra, and only applies to situations that the department deems “life or death.” 

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