With the vaccine rollout picking up pace, Americans are starting to feel more cautiously optimistic about the prospect of traveling again.
Those in the travel industry are hoping for a surge in bookings in the coming months and years. A sense of wanderlust has been building, after all ― it’s only natural that we’ll want to explore new places after so much time at home. Many are calling this phenomenon “revenge travel.”
But what exactly does “revenge travel” mean and how might it manifest? HuffPost asked travel experts to share their thoughts about “revenge travel” and the future of Americans’ vacation plans.
What is ‘revenge travel’?
“While the term may sound silly, ‘revenge travel’ refers to the idea that there will be a huge increase in travel as it becomes safer and things open back up,” said Eric Jones, co-founder of The Vacationer travel journal and planning guide. “Many Americans and those around the world had their vacations altered or outright canceled last year, so they are all looking to satisfy their travel itch at the same time. The term is also retribution against COVID-19 and how it is losing its power to control our lives, including canceling travel plans.”
If vaccination rates continue to increase and case counts decline, many travel experts predict many Americans will book more trips than they did before the coronavirus era to make up for lost time and to reconnect with friends and family.
“After being confined for a year, ‘revenge travel’ is essentially a slingshot back into the world. It’s a visceral response to pent-up travel demand,” said Mike Kennedy, co-founder of the travel marketplace KOALA.
“While ‘revenge travel’ is the hot new term, it explains exactly what travelers have been saying since the pandemic started,” noted Konrad Waliszewski, co-founder and CEO of the travel app Tripscout. “We are no longer going to take for granted that there will always be a flight tomorrow and an open border waiting to greet us. We will make up for the lost time and experiences with a vengeance.”
Experts are expecting a boom.
“After all the trauma, frustrations and sacrifices made by so many people throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the sudden surge in vaccinations across the country is trailblazing a sense of urgency, and impatience, to travel once again,” Fyall said.
He noted that there’s already a boom in travel bookings, as people are eager to spend the miles, points and vouchers that have accumulated and gone unused over the past year.
“We’re already seeing a surge in ‘revenge travel,’ as the vaccine becomes more widely distributed and as people become more comfortable with traveling,” said Carolyne Doyon, president and CEO of Club Med North America and the Caribbean. “Since the end of 2020, we were seeing a large increase in family reunion bookings for the 2021–2022 holiday season, with a 17% increase compared to the 2019 holiday season. This shows us that families are really looking forward to reconnecting after so much time spent apart and coming together for the holidays, as so many plans were canceled in 2020.”
Jones noted that the TSA has been screening over 1 million passengers most days since mid-February, an uptick from the general pandemic lows.
“Additionally, the TSA is looking to hire over 6,000 screening officers for the anticipated summer rush,” he added. ”The Vacationer’s recent survey also supports the idea of travel picking up. After being largely confined to their homes for an entire year, Americans are ready to experience new places, food, and activities again as it is finally becoming safe to do so.”
People will want relaxation and time outdoors.
“We’re seeing the biggest excitement for post-pandemic revenge travel initially to the sun and sand destinations,” Waliszewski said. “Everyone has had a hard year, so while they’re craving new cultures and adventures, they want to give themselves a much-needed break first. They want to sit on a beach and give a cold cheers to the people they missed most during the pandemic.”
Time on the beach is consistent with another travel trend prediction: continued interest in outdoor adventures due to their safety.
“People are most excited to revenge travel to places where they can spend a lot of time outdoors without a mask,” Jones said. “This includes beaches, places with a lot of hiking such as national and state parks, and camping destinations. COVID-19 is thought to spread far less outside compared to indoors, so a beach vacation or camping trip still allows for adequate social distancing. While it is thought that the COVID-19 vaccines also prevent infection and spreading to others, some people still like the added security that the outdoors provide.” There is some promising early data that suggests COVID-19 vaccines can reduce transmission of the coronavirus, but research is still ongoing.
They will play it safe with their initial destinations.
“Most of the revenge travel in the next few months will likely take place in the United States,” Jones said. “Of the limited number of foreign countries that are permitting United States citizens, many of them have COVID-19 testing requirements that can be quite extensive.”
Alan Fyall, the interim chair for the tourism, events and attractions department at the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management, believes focus will still be on driving destinations like state and national parks and coastlines. However, he added, “The desire to visit friends and relatives will drive traffic to all destinations as families and loved ones reconnect.”
Even those who are interested in going beyond the continental U.S. will probably play it safe.
“For American travelers, the deep desire to get away combined with the looming uncertainty is causing a surge in planning trips to destinations like Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands,” Waliszewski said. “People want to go as far away as they can get without actually leaving the country.”
Kennedy echoed this sentiment, predicting that people yearning for true international travel will likely turn to Mexico and the Caribbean.
“It reconciles that sense of wanderlust we’re all feeling without taking too much risk. Flights that aren’t much longer ― or in some cases shorter ― than domestic flights,” he said.
Travelers may feel more inclined to splurge.
After more than a year of restrictions, many “vengeful” travelers may feel more inclined to splurge and treat themselves when leisure travel becomes an option again.
“With so much pent up demand around, all indications are that people are prepared to spend more on their travel experiences than would have been the case pre-COVID. Hence, upgrades will be the norm with travelers determined to compensate for ‘lost time’ over the past year,” said Fyall.
As vaccination rates vary across different countries, he believes trips across the U.S. will take precedence over international travel, but that travelers still will opt for premium domestic experiences like longer vacations and with upgraded airfare.
“It has been a really hard year for most Americans, and we know that our travelers are keen to treat themselves and their loved ones to special trips once they are able to,” said Skyscanner global travel expert Laura Lindsay.
There’s hope for international travel.
Travelers treating themselves to upgraded experiences in the U.S. may well evolve into trips abroad if the public health situation improves and vaccination rates rise.
“Although the domestic travel trend should continue well into this year, we are already seeing some far-flung, bucket-list hotspots creep up our top searched destinations,” said Lindsay. “While travel has changed, it is clear that the desire to discover will endure. Time spent under severe travel restrictions appears to have increased the value of travel in people’s minds, with a greater appreciation of the ability to get away.”
She noted that popular international destination searches from U.S. travelers on Skyscanner in the last month include Singapore, Tokyo, London and Madrid. The company believes this indicates an eagerness among Americans to plan long-haul travel and a rapid return to pre-COVID international travel rates if the pandemic recovery process allows it.
“Of course, all of this depends on rules and regulations relaxing to allow safe travel,” Lindsay added. “In a recent survey we did of over 1,000 Americans, a third said they would be more confident about travel if their destination required all travelers and or guests to be vaccinated. Where people go will also depend on the destinations and airlines that provide simple information relating to quarantines, vaccine roll-outs, digital health passes and pre-departure testing.”
But there are more immediate priorities.
While it’s fun to fantasize about traveling the world again or for the first time, it’s important to consider more immediate priorities like health, safety and financial wellbeing as we continue to navigate the pandemic.
“With so many people still furloughed or unemployed, and with so many experiencing financial challenges at some point throughout the past year, for many ‘revenge travel’ is but a distant dream with job and food security a more real and urgent priority!” Fyall said.
If you do find yourself in a position to take an excursion. Kennedy emphasized being mindful of health and safety measures and price efficiency when choosing a destination. Careful planning and budgeting go a long way.
“We all want to travel as soon as humanly possible,” he noted. “That said, travel safely.”