With the ongoing success of vaccine rollouts, countries starting to open their borders and lots of pent-up travel wanderlust—not to mention warmer temps on the horizon—travelers across the U.S. are finally ready to get back out there…and they’re seeking the ultimate revenge for time lost. With the sensibilities of would-be tourists in a much different place since we left off, we decided to analyze early summer travel data from top sources to reveal how the world of vacations will look different this summer. Here are just a few of the trends you can expect to see during the prime vacation season.
1. Travelers are going luxe or going home
All signs point to this summer being filled with luxurious, lavish and over-the-top trips. Travelers not only have the desire to travel again, but multiple sources reveal to us that consumers are spending more to scratch their travel itch, too. A recently published Vacation Deprivation study from Expedia highlights that most people are willing to put more budget into their bucket list vacations in 2021 than they originally planned—and we're pretty sure we know why!
One such way travelers are looking to get revenge and create extra memorable travel experiences for summer is by booking private retreats, like the Prieta Bay residences available at The Four Seasons Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo. The drop-dead gorgeous villas are growing in demand, and travelers are spending longer, extended stays in these larger units, a rep for the hotel confirms for us.
Situated at the tip of Costa Rica’s most coveted peninsula, the resort is already wedged tightly in between beautiful beaches on two sides; but as an added bonus, these private retreats benefit not only from all the larger benefits of the resort, but they also boast their own private pools, private spaces to dine al fresco, and access to a private beach club and clubhouse. This exclusive sanctuary of sand, modern infinity pools, beach toys, world-class dining, and more is the reason families or groups of friends are finding it ideal for taking their first post-vaccine trip together.
Data from Vacasa helps to further support this bigger, better, ball out a little trend. Comparing reservations booked in March 2021 vs. March 2019 among a group of Vacasa vacation rentals with 4+ bedrooms, there's a 28-percent increase in dollars spent per reservation, indicating that guests are going big and willing to spend more on vacations this year than they were before the pandemic. And when rentals can look *this good*, they’re hard for budget-flush travelers to deny.
2. And getting water time is “highly desirable”
Boating has been in demand across the country since the beginning of the pandemic, with the National Marine Manufacturers Association telling us boat sales are at a 13-year high. Considering this record number of boats sold last year, levels the recreational boating industry has not seen since before the Great Recession in 2008, chances are you’ll be joining a vacation or weekend trip with a family member or friend who recently acquired their own bateaux—and rightfully wants to show it off.
Renting a boat is also an unexpected way to try something new on your next vacation or add a different dimension to a family trip you’ve been taking season-after-season your entire life. Travelers might consider joining one of those genius boat share programs this year to really amp up a summer vacay, or to simply spend more time on the water closer to home—or both. You’ll be in good company if you do: Peer-to-peer boat share company, Boatsetter, is on track to more than double their business this year; currently, 50 percent of their renters are millennials like us (with Gen-Z quickly catching up), and 43 percent of all renters are women.
3. Long weekend trips are passé
Remember when you used to rush out of the office early on a Thursday, take off Friday and Monday, and try to squeeze in a long-weekend trip, with the added pressure of a trip to the airport? Chalk it up to more flexible work schedules and saved up PTO time, and it’s easy to see why travelers are abandoning shorter trips in favor of longer stays.
In fact, new data from Vrbo reveals travelers are favoring longer stays for their next getaway, with 75 percent saying they are more likely to book trips of at least seven nights this summer, exceeding pre-pandemic demand levels, a rep tells us.
Need some ideas for a seven-day (or more) trip? Zero in on a custom itinerary to eco-lodge ORIGINS, which can help you reset to pre-pandemic stress levels through one of their custom wellness and holistic healing programs. You can also fill days with hiking, horseback riding, delicious grub presented in gawk-worthy ways, and even a trip to a nearby (dormant) volcano.
4. Flexible booking is still tantamount
If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us when it comes to travel, it’s to never assume anything and expect the unexpected. As we now know, travel guidelines, restrictions and requirements can change in the matter of minutes. “There are a few things people need to keep in mind as they think about summer international travel,” says Brian Kelly, aka The Points Guy. “First, we don’t know timing and when exactly the EU will reopen. Second, we don’t know how they’ll handle kids since they are not vaccinated. Lastly, we are still waiting to hear if the U.S. will drop the testing requirement to come home. Until we get clarity on those things, people shouldn’t rush to book anything since those are big questions,” he says.
However, if you do decide to book internationally, you’ll want to keep your options open and prepare for those *what ifs*—all while trying to secure the best deal. “There are some great deals out there right now to various places within the E.U.,” says Kelly. “For example, in July and August, you can fly from JFK to Paris for only 60,000 AAdvantage Miles + $97 round trip or from JFK to Amsterdam for only 66,000 Delta SkyMiles + $68 round trip,” the guru of travel rewards explains. “Even if you’re not sure about traveling internationally yet, all major U.S. airlines are waiving change fees so you have complete flexibility in the event you need to cancel or modify your reservation, your miles will simply go right back into your account. The best deal is to use frequent flier miles since they allow you to cancel and provide full flexibility.”
5. And people are getting “touched up” specifically for travel
“Perhaps it is the ‘Zoom effect’ or perhaps it is the feeling of seasons changing or pent up demand, or patients feeling free to come in after vaccinations, but I am finding it difficult to keep up with demand,” says Cosmetic Dermatologist Dr. Michele Green, a trend we’ve heard from other top cosmetic dermatologists and plastic surgeons across the U.S. as people look toward the summer season, travel and just generally being in-person again. “Patients want to come in to rejuvenate and refresh before the summer season and before going on much-anticipated vacations. With the numbers of patients doing cosmetic injectables like Botox and Juvederm, lip fillers, acne and acne scar treatments, CoolSculpting and lasers reaching record highs, we are keeping long wait lists to try to accommodate our patients if we get cancellations,” she adds. So net, net: If you’re considering a little cosmetic touch up before your vacation, rescheduled destination wedding or just to feel your best for #vaccinesummer, make sure you plan well in advance and book your appointment, like, yesterday.
6. Planes? That’s so 2019. We’re taking trains again
Weary travelers became even less motivated to jump on a plane during the ongoing pandemic when airlines ended their COVID-19 policies of blocking middle seats, and stories of packed planes are seemingly the norm again. Combined with deals (more on that below), rising vaccine numbers and increased concern and focus on the ways travelers can immediately reduce their carbon emissions, our crystal ball tells us train travel will be full steam ahead this summer.
Regardless of your vaccine status at that time, Amtrak's trains are already equipped with onboard filtration systems with a fresh air exchange rate every four to five minutes, a rep tells us, and right now, prospective passengers can also see the percentage of seats sold on their trains at the time of booking, allowing you to book less-crowded trains, or even swap out your ticket without incurring a fee.
7. Procrastination has left the station
Current booking windows give us an interesting view into where travelers’ heads are at today when it comes to travel. According to Expedia, in 2020, booking windows shortened significantly as people were making more last-minute decisions or were only traveling out of sheer necessity. Now, they’re seeing booking windows lengthening again, nearing 2019’s levels. What this means is people are already making their summer travel plans, so if you procrastinate because you think “no one is really traveling right now,” you may risk missing out or end up paying more in popular, competitive destinations, or for those dream hotels or coveted direct flights you’ve bookmarked.
“What we know: Travel players spend a lot of time optimizing demand and supply by actively managing their pricing and, given the returning demand levels for both leisure and business travel, we expect them to try to maximize their profits from this returning demand,” Jason Guggenheim, Boston Consulting Group’s Global Head of Travel, tells us. “We do believe that, as business travel slowly returns over the summer and fall, airlines and hotels will see a shift to demand around their premium offerings, and this should impact their yield realization.” Translation: Yup, you guessed it—again, book ahead especially for premium seats or experiences, or you may risk paying hair-scratching rates for travel.
8. We’re traveling closer to home
As travelers return to the scene, get ready to see a lot of location-tagging on your ‘gram in Las Vegas, Orlando, Key West and Honolulu—naturally—as well as warm-weather destinations like Myrtle Beach, S.C., Destin, .F..L, Panama City Beach, F.L. and seasonal favorites like the Outer Banks, Cape Cod and the Jersey Shore.
Right now, search data from Expedia analyzed from March 1 to April 27, 2021 for destinations from June 1 to August 31, 2021, reveals short-haul international travelers are all about Mexico—which makes sense, when you consider it’s familiarity for most Americans and its closer-to-home location for a quick, post-vaccine trip. No surprise here, Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Los Cabos have all seen surges in searches on Expedia, likely due in part to the competitive nature of those markets and all the available deals for summer travel.
Another spot visitors are currently charmed by: Costa Rica. When examining the top ten most popular destinations for summertime travel, Costa Rica ranks sixth and is up 13 spots from 2019, KAYAK’s searches reveal. When compared to last month, search interest is up 24 percent for this Central American destination, with flight prices averaging about $407—not too shabby for a plane ride anywhere outside of the country.
Opening up to travelers earlier than many other destinations, Costa Rica is also popular for value and its ease of travel. In fact, many of the resorts quickly pivoted to offer on-site COVID-19 testing options for guests when, earlier this year, the U.S. announced it would require said tests for re-entry. Aside from giving travelers a sense of security in knowing they could return home with ease, Costa Rica’s government also requires travelers to purchase relatively inexpensive travel insurance that covers the cost of an extended stay should you test positive for the virus and subsequently need to quarantine.
9. But when we do want to go far, Americans are dreaming of Paris
With the recent announcement that the E.U. is likely to welcome back vaccinated travelers this summer, searches have already skyrocketed as we all start to dream up our ideal, Emily in Paris-inspired Euro summer vacation. “This past week has been the best period of international travel demand since March 2020,” said Steve Hafner, CEO of KAYAK. “We’re finally starting to see European hotspots like Paris, Rome and Barcelona pop again with searches to these cities up between 25 and 75 percent following Sunday’s news,” Hafner reveals.
Based on the search site’s data, you’ve probably already started adding Paris hotels to your summer vision board—they’ve seen the biggest surge in searches out of any other European market. As you consider, we think you’ll say Oui, Oui! by looking into the budget-friendly Hôtel Adèle & Jules; you’ll get insane value at this vacation rental offered through Vrbo which sleeps four; or, if like many you’re trending towards a splurge, you’ll want to look into Hotel Lutetia, where luxe Parisian dreams are realized.
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