BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – Summer travel is back and bigger than ever following over a year of being stuck inside due to the COVID pandemic.

With vaccination rates up and COVID cases down, air travel and popular destinations have opened back up to the public, allowing summer vacations once again.

Last year, the airline industry took a hit due to the decrease in travel, but this summer, Tri-Cities Airport is among many airports returning to normalcy and experiencing a surge they haven’t seen in quite some time.

“We had probably lost 90% of our passengers and now we’re back up to probably I would say about 80% of what our normal was prior to COVID,” said Executive Director of the Tri-Cities Airport, Gene Cossey.

Since Memorial Day weekend, new records continue to be hit every day in terms of people traveling to destinations. “I don’t think there are a lot of airports that are up to pre-pandemic levels but almost every day TSA tells us we screened more today than we did yesterday, which is good news because it means we’re recovering,” said Cossey.

Kathy Kennedy is a cruise planner and American Express travel expert who said she has been working overtime and near 14-hour days booking her clients on trips, a far different site from last summer.

She said the interest in travel sparked following vaccinations, but she said some people are still hesitant about traveling, especially by air. One thing she’s stressing to her clients is the significant increase in prices, mainly the prices for flights.

“Travel 2019 is not coming back. It’s going to be a totally different picture for 2021,” said Kennedy.

She said right now, her most popular destinations to book are Alaska and Hawaii. As far as destinations on the mainland, she said places out West, National Parks, beaches, and Las Vegas remain popular summer spots. While all these locations differ, they share the high demand and low availability in some cases.

“It’s getting more and more difficult. Yesterday, I was booking people and we were struggling to find some cabins for where they wanted to be, and this is in 2022,” said Kennedy.

Kennedy’s biggest advice for those looking to book a trip this summer is not to wait. If prices are the reason you’re hesitant to book, she said there are plenty of options for a vacation on a budget. “The prices on all-inclusive resorts, especially Cancun, are amazing. Probably at the best I have seen,” she said.

She also said cruises are a great opportunity to travel on a budget and enjoy a trip that’s good for the entire family.

Kennedy posts travel tips weekly on her Facebook page for anyone seeking guidance on booking an upcoming trip.

For those booking soon, Kennedy warns that there are currently travel alerts out for false websites showing what look like great deals, but turn out to be scams. If you’re looking to book, she advises using a travel agent or going through a site you know and trust.