Does Summer of Revenge travel here? Companies hope so

THis watch hadn’t hit noon on a recent sunny Copenhagen day, but this watch didn’t stop Hannah Jackson and her friends from ordering a bottle of champagne. After a waiter at one of the outdoor restaurants lining the Danish capital’s colorful harbor blasts a cork, the four Texan women are blissfully excited about their European adventure. Jackson, 32, said, “This is my first ride in over two years. We are celebrating every possible moment.”

With no phenomenon that could even be real to discern, the travel industry was quick to describe the impulse driving Jackson and countless others this summer as “revenge travel.” Like spending on revenge and even revenge drinking bubble tea, the phrase refers to consumers’ growing desire for cash after 28 long months of lockdown and restrictions. In the case of travel, that means a new, unbridled demand for vacations that are more frequent, more indulgent, and — more than anything else — away from home. This request got a boost on June 13 when the US stopped requiring a negative COVID-19 test for entry. But as they rise to pre-pandemic levels and even beyond, a host of challenges, from inflation to war to the ongoing threat of COVID-19, are casting a shadow over rosy predictions of recovery. Will this be the summer the travel industry actually takes revenge on the pandemic? Or will her hopes be dashed again?

Read more: Can Barcelona repair its relationship with tourists after the epidemic?

“The reality is that tourism is picking up very quickly,” says Luis Araujo, president of the European Travel Commission (ETC), which represents the continent’s national tourism organizations. “It’s impressive.”

At this juncture, revenge travel appears to be off to a good start. Among Europeans, 70% are planning vacation trips between now and November, according to an ETC survey. The numbers are almost as strong among Americans, with 65% planning leisure trips over the next six months according to MMGY Travel Intelligence, a global marketing and research firm based in Kansas City. According to Mastercard, bookings for short and medium-haul flights have exceeded pre-pandemic levels. Travel searches in the first quarter of 2022 were higher than their 2019 levels, according to Google, while searches for passport dates jumped 300% in the first three months of this year.

Passengers wait in a long line to pass security screening at London’s Heathrow Airport, on June 1, 2022.

Carl Kurt – Getty Images

“Pulled demand is already delivering rapid growth,” says David Goodger, Europe director at Tourism Economics, a UK-based company that provides forecasting and analysis to the travel industry. This, he adds, is driven by “excess savings accumulated during the period when people were unable to spend or travel as usual”.

These additional savings affect not only the amount of travel people take but also the type of travel. After decades of attracting budget travelers with low-cost flights and party buses, many European destinations are emerging from the pandemic with a new focus on upscale travel. “A lot of companies, large and small, have spent the past two years renovating their facilities, upgrading, and investing in their hospitality – to adapt to the new needs of customers,” says ETC’s Araujo. “We’re also seeing a lot of countries adjust their communications with high-end travel.”

Certainly companies specializing in high-end travel are experiencing a boom. At Black Tomato, a luxury tour operator headquartered in London, interest in itineraries that take guests between islands in Greece or bottle their own perfume in Provence has reached record levels. “The demand for Europe is crazy right now,” says Brendan Druniani, Director of Communications. “We advise our clients that if they want to go to certain destinations in Europe at this point, they will have to be very open about alternatives.”

Visitors take pictures of the sunset in Chora, Mykonos, Greece, on June 11, 2022.

Nick Paleologos-Bloomberg / Getty Images

Drioniani says travelers started planning for this summer early: The company had its best quarter ever at the end of 2021, and in the first quarter of 2022, its customers spend an average of 31% more per booking. “We’re seeing a lot of multi-destination flights, and more multi-generational flights,” he says. “People travel to celebrate milestones, and they want to bring grandparents now.”

And after all that time spent at home with nothing to do but stream Netflix and take care of fermented starters, travelers are eager for the experiences. “I prefer to call it ‘liberation travel,’ rather than revenge travel,” Araujo says with a chuckle. “But there is an increase in people wanting to stay in independent hotels, in part because of their interest in sustainability. They are also looking for more authentic experiences.”

Katie Parla can attest to that. The author of several books on Italian food, she leads culinary tours in Rome, and she has seen her bookings rise 200% in the past several months compared to the same period in 2019. “People are very grateful to have these experiences,” Parla says. “They often take trips they planned to take in 2020, so even in this case something is shutting down or things don’t go as planned, they are tolerant and understanding. They are very happy to be there.”

Tourists visiting the interior of the Pantheon in Rome stand in the spotlight projected onto the marble floor, on June 17, 2022.

Alessandra Tarantino – AP

But we’ve been here before. In fact, the idea of ​​revenge travel first appeared before the summer of 2021, when everyone thought the worst was over and the world would open up again soon. In many ways, I did. Domestic travel in many places rose to nearly 90% of its 2019 rates that summer, and as MMGY senior analyst Leanne Hill noted, tourists spent unusually large sums that were, she says, “largely targeted for revenge.” But slow vaccine release and adoption rates, along with a large number of ever-changing travel restrictions and newly emerging virus variants, ultimately hampered expectations. International tourism was 67% lower in July 2021 than in the same month in 2019.

This time around, the obstacles to realizing travel fantasies, revenge and otherwise, aren’t related to the virus (all experts consulted with TIME agreed there was less tolerance for more shutdowns and restrictions) than the other ills featured in Awake. “Inflation and understaffing are the two-headed monster threatening the travel revival this summer,” says Goodger of Tourism Economics.

Staff shortages began in service across Europe. Many hotels have responded by automating aspects such as check-in, and cutting back on once-routine benefits such as daily room cleaning. Restaurants from Copenhagen to Madrid have reduced their opening hours, and in some cases closed their doors completely. But perhaps the impact of shortages on travelers is not most evident in the scenes of chaos emerging from airports across Europe and the US: flight cancellations, long waits for baggage that often never quite show up, leading to agonizing queues through security. “Demand is growing much faster than companies, having laid off workers during the pandemic, have been able to hire for it,” Goodger says.

A couple sunbathe as tourists watch in the background at Cais das Colunas in Lisbon, Portugal on May 19, 2022.

Horacio Villalobos — Corbis / Getty Images

And although American travelers, according to MMGY estimates, plan to spend an average of $600 more per trip than they did a year ago, it’s unclear, says analyst Hill, “whether this is due to increased costs or a general desire to spend more.” . She adds that there are clear indications that inflation is starting to hurt. “We’re starting to see travel intentions erode a little bit, particularly among travelers who make less than $100,000.” These concerns resonate among European travelers, according to ETC, which found that while only 7% of travelers expressed concern about inflation and costs affecting their vacations in 2021, 13% now do so. On the high end too, pricing is “definitely a real challenge,” says Drioniani of Black Tomato. “All hotel properties are still recovering and it’s not that they are trying to blackmail, but the prices are definitely worse. So it’s hard to explain and translate to clients.”

The war in Ukraine has had an effect as well, at least in countries close to the borders that, although they may not be major destinations, experienced tourism growth before the pandemic. “These countries run as smoothly as in any other country, but we saw that they had a hard time getting that message across to travelers,” says Araujo, especially when compared to the Mediterranean region which is experiencing a rapid recovery. Within Europe, he adds, recovery has “two speeds”.

A tourist stands in front of the glass pyramid of the Louvre Museum in Paris, France, June 15, 2022.

Sarah Messonnier/Reuters

All of that, and the uncertainty of COVID-19 to boot. When the US lifted the requirement for a negative test to enter the country on June 12, it spurred an immediate boom within the larger boom of US travel plans. According to MMGY, one global tour operator, Explore, saw a 12% increase in site traffic right after the news. However, within Europe, some countries still impose some restrictions, and the lack of clarity, according to ETC, has led to a weaker return of long-haul flights to Europe, including from the US; These numbers are not expected to return to 2019 levels until 2024.

However, most industry insiders are optimistic about the summer ahead. And even more than revenge, it may be due to another emotion generated by the pandemic: resilience. “You hear things like, ‘Oh, people value experiments on Rolex watches, and I think that’s the reality now: people put their money into experiments,'” Droniani says. But, he adds, there’s something else at play. “After everything everyone has been through, there is not so much fear about the unknown anymore. People know that if they are due to go to London in October and for some reason London is closed or something, they know we will find out. What you see. Renewed now is that kind of inherent resilience.”

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