American travelers are back in the saddle – but they’ve adapted to a new reality
After an outbreak of coronavirus cases in the spring that scuttled a much-anticipated cruise to Montreal, Nate Burglewski and his extended family really wanted to reunite this summer – while remaining safe.
The trip had to meet a few requirements: A destination that wasn’t too far away for elderly Midwestern parents, had strict local coronavirus safety measures, and offered plenty of outdoor activities. Burglewski and his wife live in upstate New York, while other family members are scattered across the country.
“Everyone is vaccinated and received them as soon as possible. With the delta variant, we still decided to be very careful. We went into quarantine and all were tested the week before,” he says. .
They ended up meeting in Indiana, renting a vacation home and spending a lot of time outdoors.
“Everything went well,” he says.
After losing major trips in 2020 due to the pandemic, many Americans are making similar decisions – and making up for lost time.
“After more than a year of isolation or limitation to local activities, people have shown this pent-up demand for travel,” said Larry Yu, professor of hotel management at George Washington University.
This strong desire to travel has sparked new trends in the industry, some of which may be here to stay. Like the Burglewski family, people flock to the outdoors, rural areas, and private vacation rentals, with less interest in hotels and international and urban destinations.
And early evidence shows that despite the delta variant and still high infection cases in the United States, Americans plan to continue traveling by the end of the year.
“We expect the demand for leisure, especially on weekends, to continue to be strong in the fall and winter,” said Jan Freitag, US hotel analytics manager for the CoStar Group. .
After sharp decline, industry shows signs of recovery
This is a big change from the early months of the pandemic, when the industry was hit hard.
In the United States, travel spending has fallen by nearly $ 500 billion, according to the United States Travel Association. Thousands of jobs were also lost: 65% of all jobs in the United States were lost in 2020 were supported by travel.
Certainly, the uncertainty associated with the pandemic still provokes a boost for businesses. Just last month, Southwest Airlines and other companies announced that they withdraw this autumn.
Still, the U.S. travel industry is recovering from its pandemic lows, companies and experts say. The Travel Association reports that travel spending is gradually recovering to 2019 levels. Hotel occupancy rates this summer are back to just below pre-pandemic figures: nearly 70% in July this year. , up from 73% in July 2019, according to STR, which provides data and research on the global hospitality industry.
Airline bookings – at least nationally – are also approaching pre-pandemic levels.
Rolling out vaccinations has made a big difference, says Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel.
The travel agency “has experienced a travel boom all year round,” she says. “The increase in domestic travel has been phenomenal.”
Americans are traveling in ways shaped by the pandemic
A Burglewski family vacation to Nashville, Indiana reflects many of the new realities. Most of the family members wore masks indoors and stayed outdoors as much as possible. They hiked and played four-seater at a nearby playground.
They chose a rental house – with a porch for gathering – rather than a large hotel.
“We feel like we can better control the environment,” says Burglewski.
“Some people in the family still really want to take a cruise,” he says, “but others said they didn’t think they would be comfortable doing something like this again.”
Other Americans have made similar choices over the summer – and in record numbers.
“Vrbo has had its best year ever,” said Melanie Fish, spokesperson for the company. This makes a lot of sense, she says, as private vacation homes in the United States were in high demand during the pandemic.
Families also stayed longer. For example, Airbnb has seen an increase in the number of families renting properties for three- and four-day weekends. It was easier because so many companies delayed the return to the office or announced flexible work weeks.
Travelers preferred mountains to skyscrapers
The destination of travelers is also changing. Coastal areas have been popular, says Yu, George Washington’s teacher, with more and more people enjoying the activities of kayaking, boating or canoeing. And small towns too. For example, 42 percent of nights booked by families on Airbnb this summer were in rural destinations, up from 32% two years ago.
“There has been strong growth in these areas,” said Christopher Nulty, director of public affairs for Airbnb. At the onset of the pandemic, he notes, “people were forced to drive to distant destinations and discovered that great places exist just a tank of gas.”
Vrbo experienced similar demand for more local trips. Trips of 250 miles or less in July and August increased by more than 20% compared to the same period in 2019, according to the latest company data.
The increased emphasis on nature and outdoor activities is reflected in the popularity of US national parks. Since seeing a significant drop in visitor numbers in the first few months of the pandemic, the National Park Service has experienced a healthy system-wide rebound in 2021.
Yellowstone National Park, for example, welcomed 921,844 visitors in August 2021, making it the most visited August on record and 12% above the pre-pandemic total for the same month, according to the NPS.
Experts predict busy fall and winter
Although coronavirus cases have declined and some foreign countries have reopened, American travelers remain cautious and, for now, close to home.
“The delta variant will continue to dampen business demand slightly, but US consumers do not appear to be discouraged,” said Freitag of the CoStar Group. “And as delta cases decline, we expect the demand for recreation to hold steady.”
Over 50% of U.S. adults plan to take a domestic vacation before the end of 2022, according to AAA.
Vrbo’s outlook for this fall and winter is also good, with “increased demand” for housing in December compared to previous years, said Nancy Lien, a spokesperson for the company.
“The demand for holiday bookings has started to increase from july“She said.” Warmer destinations like the Florida Keys and Naples, Fla. have less than 30 percent of Vrbo homes remaining during Christmas week. “
Skiing destinations in the United States are also a top choice. Vrbo reports that demand for popular ski resorts in Breckenridge, Colo., And surrounding areas has increased by more than 40% compared to the same period in 2019.
Among those who will contribute to the continued increase in travel will be Burglewski and his wife.
“We are making up for lost time and taking these trips that we have postponed,” he says.
For Christmas, they will fly to Florida for a 10-day stay. In the New Year, the couple plan to travel to Yellowstone for a delayed anniversary trip.
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