‘We Will Literally Go Anywhere’
When President Biden said in a national address earlier this month that barbecues and face-to-face gatherings might be possible for the July 4th holiday, many Americans hoped they could recapture another summer tradition: the holiday.
Even before the president’s cautiously optimistic speech, online search and booking activity for summer travel broke records. On Hopper, a travel booking app, searches for late summer flights have increased by nearly 75 percent since late February, when the third vaccine was approved for the U.S. The travel search website KAYAK is also seeing growing interest in summer travel. Search traffic on the website grows by up to 27 percent weekly.
In terms of bookings, Hopper reports that domestic bookings this month are up 58 percent compared to all of March 2019. Apparently, more Americans are planning sun breaks, reunions with grandchildren, or just escaping.
“We’re literally going to go anywhere, we’re so desperate to travel,” said Minda Alena, a New Jersey-based interior designer and creative director who is planning four trips this summer and fall. “We just want to get on a plane and feel like we’ve stepped back from our lives for a week.”
Your vacation starts with a trip in August to Turks & Caicos, a destination that has been on Ms. Alena’s bucket list for years. Next up is a visit to Jamaica with her husband, followed by a girls’ getaway to Palm Beach, Florida for her 50th birthday and a family trip with their three children to Greece before the end of the year.
Mrs. Alena, 49, and her husband are both newly vaccinated. They lost friends to the pandemic, but she said she felt lucky that no one in her family got sick. However, the past year has changed the way their families view their finances: they are more inclined to invest some of the money they have saved for years in experiences.
“My husband and I both say, ‘What are we waiting for? ‘Life is too short,’ she said.
Change in consumer attitudes
The pandemic decimated the travel industry last year: the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, after taking into account all the data, forecast a decline in the global tourism industry of up to 80 percent for 2020. As the pace of vaccinations accelerates and the number of trips increases, recovery – at least for domestic travel – is imminent.
A survey by Amazing America, a website for the American road trip, found that more than 75 percent of respondents believe it will be safe to travel this summer. (More than 68 percent said the pandemic pushed them to choose domestic travel over international travel.)
Prior to the pandemic, the average U.S. domestic travel booking window was between 45 and 60 days prior to departure. In 2020, however, that window shrank to just six or seven days, according to Priceline. Hesitation about quarantine rules, concerns about illness, and economic uncertainty were all factors for the few who took vacations.
Halee Whiting, owner of hotel sales consultancy Hospitality With a Flair, develops pricing strategies and customized packages for hotel brands. Almost 70 percent of the web traffic for their customers now comes from trips between July and mid-September.
“People itch to get out, but they still hesitate,” she said. “As the vaccine becomes more common and states begin to relax their guidelines, they’ll be ready to tiptoe out of their bladder this summer.”
For hotels and vacation homes, the demand is real.
In fact, many travel agencies and accommodation companies are already seeing numbers topping 2019, which was a banner year for the travel industry.
Vacasa, the rental apartment management website, reports that reservations are up more than 300 percent year over year. Stand-alone vacation homes were a big draw for vacationers in 2020 – thanks to their promise of privacy – and this summer, travelers are grabbing them again.
Take a look at just one of Vacasa’s hotels, Whispering Pines Lodge in Eagle River, Pennsylvania. Bookings at the 11 bedroom lodge are 97.5 percent higher than two years ago. The occupancy for the summer is almost 100 percent.
Hotels whose occupancy is still falling by more than 20 percent year-on-year are also welcoming this summer rush.
“August usually fills up late, but by August we’re already nearly 50 percent full,” said Phil Baxter, owner of Sesuit Harbor House, a 21-bedroom inn in East Dennis, Cape Cod Need to gather together and share joy and sadness is something you do with people, not alone. “
Hotels that opened in the middle of the pandemic are also seeing a much-needed boost. The Inn at the Mission San Juan Capistrano, which opened on September 1 next to the ruins of the historic Mission San Juan Capistrano in Southern California, saw its weekly bookings double compared to the last four months.
Roxbury at Stratton Falls, a whimsical resort in the Catskills with intricate themed houses, was about to close for good after opening in the summer of 2020 with a number of cancellations.
“This year we face the opposite problem,” said Greg Henderson, co-owner. “The demand is so high that there is no longer any weekend availability between mid-April and October.”
“The demand is real,” said Betsy O’Rourke, director of marketing for the Xanterra Travel Collection, which manages lodges and restaurants in national parks such as Grand Canyon National Park and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. “We’re sold out for most dates in the summer and fall.”
An inviting industry
Many travelers book trips to get the celebrations subdued or finally canceled in 2020, and hotels and tour operators like to lean on the trend. The Langham New York will fill a hotel room with balloons and champagne for travelers celebrating a birthday or anniversary, or going beyond. Another nearby hotel, Baccarat New York, has a similar package that includes a personalized gift to commemorate a guest’s missed 2020 milestone.
No travel sector has been harder hit by the pandemic than cruises, and most major cruise lines are not considering resuming U.S. sailing until the fall.
However, customers book for later in the year, especially on smaller ships. Uniworld, a boutique river cruise company, runs a European Christmas-themed cruise along the Danube every winter. This year they are also launching two special Christmas cruises in July for travelers who felt like their 2020 Christmas party was a wash.
John Capps, 65, a clinical psychologist living in Northern Virginia, busily booked the July cruise with his wife and another couple. Mr. Capps and his wife are both Covid-19 long-distance drivers who were still struggling with residual symptoms in December. Your Christmas party was gloomy and subdued.
“There was no party, no gatherings,” he said. “We’re damn lucky – we’re not 100 percent back, but we’re fully functional and haven’t lost any stream of income from the pandemic. But we are very happy about this summer trip, which also brings us Christmas. “
Lower rates and flexible bookings are still available
For those looking to travel this summer but not sure when to pull the purchase trigger, travel advisors say the longer you wait, the more you will spend.
“Prices are starting to go up, but there are still many offers,” said Brett Keller, CEO of Priceline. “For example, hotel prices will continue to be reduced by almost 20 percent compared to previous years, with the largest discounts still available in higher-quality 3- and 4-star hotels.”
And Adit Damodaran, the economist at Hopper, predicts that airfares will go up in April before they go up in early summer. “We usually see a gradual increase from mid-April to July, where flights get more expensive the closer they get to summer. This year it looks like a wave is rolling in, ”he said.
Another reason to book now? Most of the flexible booking policies introduced at the beginning of the pandemic remain in place, allowing travelers to change or cancel hotel and flight reservations without incurring large fees.
“As long as our customers have the option to cancel and pay a small fine, they are booking,” said Sudeep Shah, executive director of Travel King International, a travel agent in Dallas. “There are many people who make up for what they have lost.”
“A kind of euphoria”
Mr. Henderson of The Roxbury in Stratton Falls admits that after such a difficult year, it is difficult to trust the optimistic signs for his business. While he was struggling for his business in New York, his brother in Oklahoma nearly died of Covid.
“We all have some form of PTSD,” he said.
But both he and his husband were able to get their first shot of the Covid-19 vaccine this month after the New York privilege was extended to hotel workers. Two weeks after his second shot, he would be planning a trip to Oklahoma to see his brother.
“I’m not saying I’ll buy it yet, but I’m looking,” he said. “There is a kind of euphoria. And when I feel like this, I know that many other people have to feel the same way. “
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