Winter travel, at the moment, is taking a bit of a hit amid the latest surge in positive COVID-19 cases due to the arrival of the new Omicron variant in the United States and Europe. That has a lot of people rethinking their upcoming travel plans, both for business and pleasure, which is especially disheartening for many after last year’s dismal holiday season.
But many travelers and travel industry professionals are looking forward to brighter days in the spring and summer of 2022. Here’s a glance at some of the travel trends to expect next year to help you plan accordingly.
Back to nature, again
Being outdoors was all the rage (and the only option) in the pre-vaccinated days of the pandemic in 2020. Travelers began to make their way back to urban centers—craving more socialization, nightlife, and simply being indoors in winter—starting in the summer of 2021. But that renewed interest in the great outdoors hasn’t died out just yet—and it might be getting bigger than ever. Club Wyndham and WorldMark by Wyndham time-share properties near U.S. national parks, for example, have seen a 71% uptick in bookings.
Outdoorsy destinations are dominating Kayak’s top-trending list at the tail end of 2021, with Colorado and Montana making up four of the top 10 trending destinations for 2022, with an increase in search share of at least 46% compared to 2019. And while it’s typically filled with cities like New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Atlanta, Kayak’s most popular destinations list is seeing these destinations replaced by outdoor beach towns like Cancun, Honolulu, and Maui. This is the first time in years that New York City has not been among the top 10.
“We always see beach towns in Mexico and Florida trend for American tourists, but what’s more interesting are the new cities we’re seeing pop like Kalispell, Bozeman, and Steamboat Springs,” Kayak CEO Steve Hafner tells Fortune. “Destinations that offer quick flights, little to no restrictions, and provide a good combination of indoor and outdoor activities appear to be the preference amongst American travelers these days.”
But it’s not all about just going camping or glamping. The Greek islands are Contiki’s top booked destination for 2022. Likewise, the tour company, which typically attracts travelers between the ages of 18 and 35, says Costa Rica is one of its top booked, with a 375% increase year over year. According to a recent survey conducted by Contiki, younger travelers are especially interested in beach vacations in 2022, nearly 70% opting for “beachscapes over mountainscapes.” And Wyndham has seen a 69% increase for bookings to Hawaii.
The booking window for flights is shrinking when compared to two years prior, according to travel search engine Kayak. And this is especially the case for international travel: Searches for flights within seven days have increased 50% as travelers become increasingly more flexible in their travel plans. (Kayak also has a flexible cancellation filter that helps travelers determine which airlines and hotels are waiving change or cancellation fees.)
“The demand is there. People want to travel again and they are becoming more flexible and spontaneous in their planning,” says Hafner. “We’re seeing more people book last minute, especially for international trips, due to the unpredictability of COVID-19, which will likely continue through the first half of next year.”
Anyone who has ever watched the Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet film The Holiday has long dreamed about the ideal home-swapping scenario. And like everything else that is popular on the Internet, TikTok is making it hot again. The hashtag “#houseswap” has generated approximately 10 million views and viral videos of users swapping houses on the social app.
And global home-swapping platform Love Home Swap, which has homes in more than 110 countries, saw a nearly 300% increase in member sign-ups last year, compared to 2019, and new sign-ups are currently surpassing pre-COVID levels this year. The company says these staycation arrangements help offset the increased costs of traveling, saving members on average $3,500 per year on accommodations through Love Home Swap. (Membership starts at $11 per month.)
“When our members begin home-swapping, they are surprised how much money they are actually saving,” says Celia Pronto, managing director of Love Home Swap. “Not only does home-swapping give you access to an entire property, but it frequently comes with added benefits—whether using each other’s cars, children’s toys, or even gym memberships and ski equipment. With 36% of our members traveling four-plus times per year and 85% looking for new travel experiences, home-swapping really does tick all the boxes. We’ve found it quickly becomes a lifestyle choice for our members, with the most popular destinations in the U.S. being New York, California, Florida, and Colorado.”
With a growing demand for blending the flexibility of remote work with leisure travel, more than 40% of Gen Z employees plan to take a “workcation” (essentially, working while traveling—but not traveling for work and not taking PTO days for it) in 2022, according to data provided by Kayak.
“Younger generations like Gen Z likely live a more flexible lifestyle (i.e., no kids, pets, etc. just yet) that makes it easier to travel (and work) for weeks at a time from different locations, [which] gets more complicated when you have to move the whole family,” Kayak’s Hafner says. “Once people can really start traveling more freely again, we’ll start to see people squeeze in extra trips that double as work. Companies that support blending business with leisure travel will have a competitive advantage with talent. Many people want a change of scenery right now.”
And it’s something Kayak is seeing in-house as well, Hafner notes. This past September, Kayak launched a “Work from Almost Anywhere” policy, which lets employees choose how often they work from the office—if at all. “We’re a travel company, so we want our employees to feel comfortable working from different cities, countries, etc., as much or little as they’d like,” Hafner says.
Trip-stacking—the practice of booking multiple trips back-to-back—really took off during the summer of 2021. There are multiple reasons for this: People wanted to maximize their trips abroad (especially while international borders are open); it can be more budget-friendly on the airfare if going a long distance from home; and many people simply wanted to make up for lost time after spending more than a year at home.
Contiki CEO Adam Armstrong says Gen Z and younger millennials are trip-stacking frequently with the company, booking multiple trips back-to-back. And young professionals are taking more PTO days, with an average trip length of nine to 11 days.
“They are traveling for longer periods of time—some exploring the world for months on end, flexing their remote work perks, taking advantage of the freedom that comes with being in between jobs or seizing the gap year in between college and career life,” explains Armstrong. “We’ve analyzed 2022 preliminary booking patterns, which demonstrate 18- to 35-year-olds are heading to Greece, Italy, Egypt, and Costa Rica—which is up 375% compared to last year—and booking these trips back-to-back to really stretch their travel wings again.”
This is one to watch for the long term. All-inclusive resorts have the reputation for being convenient and family friendly, but the amenities aren’t always high-end. But pandemic travel changed all that as measures implemented in the age of COVID are becoming mainstays, like mobile payments or simply paying for everything in one go so as not to have to swap cards or touch point-of-sale checkpoints frequently.
Many hotel companies, such as Marriott and Hilton, are taking part in the ongoing evolution of luxury in the all-inclusive space, notes Brian Kelly, founder and CEO of The Points Guy.
“Luxury travelers are yearning for all-inclusives post-pandemic as they provide guests with security from both a health and safety standpoint,” Kelly tells Fortune. “Guests don’t have to risk exposing themselves outside the resort and are spread out enough, which makes social distancing easier.”
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