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International travel is heating up. Here’s where Americans are going this summer

May 20, 2022, 11:41 AM UTC
After putting long-distance travel on hold for two years, American travelers are eager to return to Europe's top cities.
Martin Bureau—AFP/Getty Images

As President of American Express Travel, I’ve been fortunate enough to visit some incredible places around the world. Regardless of the destination, I’m always reminded of how good travel is for the soul.

From meeting new people and reconnecting with old friends to learning about and experiencing different cultures, there’s truly nothing like taking a trip. Like so many others, I had to put much of my usual business and leisure travel on hold during the pandemic. But today, travel is back.

With summer approaching, American tourists are eager to get out. It is not just sentiment and desire that is up. Our American Express Travel bookings have been gaining steam for several months now, and point to a busy summer travel season ahead.

During the first quarter of this year, global Card Member Travel and Entertainment spending grew 121% from 2021. In March, it hit pre-pandemic levels for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, propelled by a 56% year-on-year increase in Millennial and Gen-Z consumers’ total spending in the first quarter. March was also our busiest month ever, with a 61% uptick in bookings compared to pre-pandemic levels. In other words, our Card Members are logging more miles than they were before the pandemic.

Top European and U.S. cities beckon

With all this activity, we’re seeing that U.S. Card Members are planning for international trips. After a period of social distancing and dependence on domestic road trips, our latest booking data suggests a hankering to visit Europe’s great destination cities, along with the world-class cities in the U.S. Here are the top 10 destinations U.S. Card Members are traveling to this summer:

  1. London
  2. Paris
  3. New York
  4. Rome
  5. Atlanta
  6. Athens
  7. Orlando
  8. Seattle
  9. Miami
  10. Las Vegas

Family vacations are on the rise as parents become more comfortable traveling abroad with their kids. According to the American Express Travel: 2022 Global Travel Trends Report, 70% of parents surveyed said that 2022 will be the year they take their first international trip with their children since the pandemic started.

Survey respondents overwhelmingly showed a desire to book faraway trips and execute ambitious, meaningful, and scaled-up travel plans this year. This seize-the-day attitude means travelers are willing to spend more–on things like room upgrades, personalized travel experiences, and first-class airfare—to ensure those long-awaited trips are truly memorable.

Learning to adapt

As enticing as all these European city breaks sound, the travel landscape is still in flux. The ever-changing pandemic outlook, and more recently the tragic war in Ukraine, have made uncertainty the norm. It’s important to be flexible and to have contingency plans. The industry has also done its part to help travelers book with confidence in unsettled times.

Our Global Travel Trends Report shows that travelers are adapting to this new reality. Of those polled, 90% agreed that they understood that planning travel for this year requires flexibility. A resounding majority (72%) agreed that they have learned how to plan for the unexpected, and therefore feel more confident when making bookings, with 74% saying are willing to book a trip in 2022 even if it might later need to be canceled or modified.

As restrictions ease and we continue to feel optimistic about the future, the summer travel season is shaping up to be hotter than ever. My advice for those planning their summer getaways: Book early, make as many reservations as you can ahead of time, and be ready to pivot. Things may not always go as planned but if you go into it with an open mind and roll with the punches, I promise you the travel experience will be worth it.   

Audrey Hendley is the president of American Express Travel

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