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Whether, how and where Americans start traveling again after the Covid-19 pandemic remains literally up in the air.
However, some industry experts are seeing signs that at least some travelers — in particular, wealthier ones — expect to start going on vacation again during the year-end holiday season. And the well-off who will be willing to fly are headed, largely, to warm-weather spots overseas, it seems.
“While summer travel possibilities are still too early to call, attention is now turning to the holidays,” said Misty Belles, managing director at Virtuoso, a global network of 1,100 travel agencies and more than 22,000 travel advisors specializing in luxury and experiential travel.
“For many, spending the festive season with friends and family somewhere other than home is a tradition they intend to keep, especially this year,” she said.
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Recent data from Guesty, Israeli-founded property management software, backs up Virtuoso’s assertion. Current reservations for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s stays are up 38%, 40% and 23%, respectively, compared to this time in 2019, according to Omer Rabin, Guesty’s managing director, Americas.
That could be due to pent-up demand after stay-at-home orders and canceled summer plans.
“After sheltering in place for weeks and months, people who have been dreaming about travel are ready to grab their passport and go,” Belles said.
Virtuoso looked at airline sales data for the upcoming 2020 holiday season to compile its list of the top 10 destinations now being booked. Temperate and tropical climes close to the mainland U.S. such as Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean are “pacing well,” it found, as are farther-flung spots in Africa and the Middle East.
George Town, Grand Cayman
Here’s Virtuoso’s list:
- Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
- Dubai, United Arab Emirates
- Saint Martin, French West Indies
- Los Angeles
- Maui, Hawaii
- Nairobi, Kenya
- Montego Bay, Jamaica
- Cape Town, South Africa
- Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Saint Martin and Los Angeles likely made the list as flight transfer locations, a Virtuoso spokesperson said. The flight portion of travel to tiny high-end Caribbean getaway St. Barth’s, for example, often ends in Saint Martin.
African destinations Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa could be appearing because they are destinations for costly safari vacations that require a lot of time, planning and expense. Thus, existing reservations might not have been canceled and new ones may be going on the books now.
“Safaris, especially during popular times of the year, require a year or more in advance of booking,” explained Erika Richter, senior director of communications at the American Society of Travel Advisors. “So those are the types of planning discussions that travel advisors are having with some of their clients.”
Masai Mara, Kenya.
The Virtuoso findings stand in contrast to other research that suggests initial post-pandemic travel by the average American will likely be road trips within home or nearby states. (Granted, Virtuoso only analyzed air bookings data.)
For her part, Jessica Griscavage, director of marketing at McCabe World Travel, a Virtuoso-affiliated agency in McLean, Virginia, recently said she’s not yet seen an uptick in holiday bookings.
“I’m personally not seeing a surge in [holiday] travel bookings just yet though I think that can change very quickly as states are starting to open up,” she told CNBC prior to the release of the Virtuoso findings.