The following is a transcript of an interview with Tripadvisor CEO Stephen Kaufer that aired Sunday, May 30, 2021, on “Face the Nation.”
JOHN DICKERSON: As more Americans get vaccinated, they’re hitting the roads, riding trains and taking off and planes to get away. For more on how the industry is preparing for a travel surge. We go now to the CEO of Tripadvisor, Stephen Kaufer, who joins us from Newton, Massachusetts. Good morning.
TRIPADVISOR CEO STEPHEN KAUFER: Good morning to you all.
JOHN DICKERSON: So many people remember where they were at the beginning of this pandemic because they had to cancel travel plans now with vaccinations up. What does the picture look like?
KAUFER: Travel is back. If you look at the US, this is going to be a really busy season. We see half the people in America want to take a summer vacation domestically and another quarter want to take an international trip. And so if you think back to a year ago, it was- it was concern, it was cancellations and those taking trips were going outdoors. Now we have a lot more activity all around the country. And it’s not just outdoors. The cities are making a very real comeback.
JOHN DICKERSON: And as you look at what people are looking for, are they- you mentioned outdoors going back into the cities, which had high caseloads. Are you noticing behavior changes from what we would have expected in a pre pandemic age?
KAUFER: Yes, in fact, we’re seeing people interested in taking slightly longer vacations, spending more, 40% of folks say they’re going to be spending more on this vacation. What are they going to do? They’re going to take a longer vacation. They’re going to do a few more things on the vacation. They’re still not going internationally as much as they might have in 2019. They’re just not sure yet how much is open, especially in Europe. But we expect that to increase over the course of the summer. And, you know, bottom line, they’re getting out and everyone’s going somewhere this summer.
JOHN DICKERSON: Can the system handle it? Airlines, hotels, all of the institutions that have been challenged. Can they handle this new glut of people wanting to get out there?
KAUFER: I think if travelers approach it with some patience, because I think airports will still have a bit of- a bit of lines. I think flights will be quite full. I know airlines are ramping up capacity as much as they can, especially domestically. So, yes, I think everyone’s going to be able to have a great summer vacation no matter where they go.
JOHN DICKERSON: You mentioned the word patience. There have been a number of incidents where people aren’t showing any kind of patience at all, hitting flight attendants. Two airlines have now decided they’re not going to be serving alcohol on flights. What do you make of that?
KAUFER: I think there is a tremendous pent up demand. Of course, we encourage everyone to remember why you’re going on vacation, to have a great time, to be relaxed, to visit family and friends and the minor inconveniences to get there, it’s just- just part of the travel. But remember why you’re going on that vacation.
JOHN DICKERSON: Have you seen- you mentioned the minor inconveniences, the people who travel before the vaccines were available. Certain places had restrictions in terms of mask wearing, congregating. How many could be in your party. Do you see people making choices based on those kinds of things, which even if they’re not in place anymore, were kind of cultural signals? Do you see people making choices based on kind of where they can go in the country and feel free from the- the cultural restrictions that were part of the pandemic?
KAUFER: I’m not so sure on the cultural restrictions versus- the pandemic introduced a lot of us to more outdoor activities and we do see that continuing this summer. I believe I read the national parks still say they’re- they’re- so many of them are booked up for camping throughout the summer. And so as people go out and explore, as they look to have a great time- I mean, on Tripadvisor, we see hotel searches up. We see all the different experiences that you can book on Tripadvisor. Those are really going quite strong, again, demonstrating that that strong return to travel.
JOHN DICKERSON: So let’s talk about a couple of specific kinds of travel. Let’s start with cruise ships. Those played an important role in the pandemic, obviously. What’s the status of the cruise ship industry?
KAUFER: Well, as you may know, you know, cruise to Alaska, there are cruise ships that are going to be coming online, taking cruises. The cruise industry, if you’ve taken a cruise, chances are you love taking a cruise. Very, very loyal people are coming back. They report quite strong advance bookings. So whether it be a cruise or flight or a hotel, if you’re looking to go somewhere this summer, better start planning.
JOHN DICKERSON: What about vaccine passports for some of this kind of travel? What should people think about that? And how much are businesses weighing that from a business standpoint?
KAUFER: You know, a lot of countries, very naturally- now we’re talking international travel, very naturally, want to make sure that their populations are protected and many, I believe, will be adopting some form of that- of a vaccine passport so that travelers from other countries won’t have to quarantine. That would ruin any vacation. So get your vaccine. If you’re in this country, you want to go abroad, that’s going to be essentially your passport to landing and getting on with the remarkable trip. We hope that many countries adopt the same type of vaccine passport so it becomes relatively easy whether you’re going to France or Germany or Italy or the U.K., that you’d be able to show the same form of passport and get in easily.
JOHN DICKERSON: I want to ask you about foreign travel in a moment, but I wonder, are any businesses even in the United States making business decisions based on the vaccinated? In other words, are they looking at the kinds of people who’ve been vaccinated and either marketing to them or making a judgment about the kinds of vacations the people who are vaccinated would take versus those who are not?
KAUFER: I’m not sure about that, but I have spoken with a number of small businesses that hope that more and more people all around the world will become vaccinated and therefore travel to the US because the US loves the tourist dollars from all over the world. And to make sure our borders are open, vaccine passports are a great way to come in and not quarantine.
JOHN DICKERSON: In the last 30 seconds, the State Department has level four restrictions on so many foreign countries, almost 80% at one point. How- do you think that will change and how is that affecting the travel business?
KAUFER: It has been affecting the travel business massively in terms of how many people can take those international trips, we would really appreciate all governments getting together or acting on their own to allow foreigners to come into their country with the vaccination passport or a set of tests, depending on their choice, just to encourage more and more cross-border trips, vacations and, of course, experiencing the whole world.
JOHN DICKERSON: All right, Stephen Kaufer, thank you so much for being with us. We have to travel to a commercial and we’ll be right back.