While the Omicron variant of COVID-19 may have sullied the travel comeback for the first quarter of 2022, travel advisors and tour operators are betting on the spring.
Many believe that Omicron will have peaked and subsided by then, allowing travelers to act on their pent-up desire to travel.
And there is quite the demand: According to Destination Analysts data from December 2021, 81% of Americans are ready to travel in the next six months.
“People are trusting their immunity right now, betting that as March and April roll around, Omicron won't be a factor and their immunity will be strong,” said Sarah Fazendin, founder and director of travel design at Videre Travel in Denver. “As we have seen for the past year or so, travelers are not too worried about getting sick while traveling, but are concerned with testing positive and getting stuck in a quarantine situation in a foreign country. But having said that, we've only had one client reschedule a March 2022 trip to March 2023 and book a domestic alternative instead.”
People are trusting their immunity right now, betting that as March and April roll around, Omicron will not be a factor and their immunity will be strong.
Guy Young — president of guided vacation companies Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold — says that his companies are continuing to invest in domestic travel options, including two new itineraries to Hawaii and the introduction of limited-edition, Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van programs in California and U.S. national parks.
However, this spring, many clients will be traveling internationally, says Young, who is seeing an interest in Europe return, thanks to what he believes is a change in public attitude.
“Surveys and the attitude of elected officials are moving toward an understanding that COVID-19 is here to stay, we have excellent vaccines to significantly reduce the serious effects of COVID-19, and we need to learn to live with the virus,” he said. “We are seeing this mindset with a relaxing of restrictions in cities and states in the United States, as well international destinations including the U.K. and Ireland. This is an important progression for international tour operators as well as the many travel advisors who have clients looking to travel to Europe.”
Lauren Grubbs, travel advisor for Lauren Grubbs Travel Co. in Newport Beach, Calif., says that most of her clients feel comfortable traveling right now because of prior experience traveling during the pandemic, because they had COVID-19 recently, or because they are fully vaccinated and boosted.
Where to Go for Spring Break: The Top 2022 International Destinations
Videre Travel’s clients are opting to go to international destinations in spring, but their picks are a bit different than what topped the agency’s spring 2019 list, back when clients were booking Africa, Asia, South America and other far-flung, bucket-list family vacations.
“These destinations are definitely taking the longest to come back,” Fazendin said. “Our clients are still booking bucket-list trips and we're designing really spectacular itineraries, but at least for now it's all just a little closer to home.”
Now, they are going to Central America, with Costa Rica and Belize being two hot spots, Fazendin says. She is also recommending Colombia, Tahiti and Iceland because they are all relatively easy to travel to if clients are vaccinated and boosted.
Central and South America are also popular with Kensington Tours — which specializes in customized private-guided trips — with Costa Rica being especially hot in March.
Warm-weather destinations also dominate for advisor Grubbs, who says her East Coast-based clients are opting for Caribbean islands such as St. Barths and Turks and Caicos, while her West Coast clients are booking trips to Hawaii and Mexico.
According to Helen Giontsis, president of Kensington Tours, about two-thirds of bookings made in December and January were for Europe (usually it is half the operator’s total volume for those months). For spring, Kensington is seeing more demand for France and Italy, with Greece bookings creeping up in May and June. Clients who have traveled to Europe say they are taken aback by the lack of crowds.
“If you have the vaccine passport, you are fine and get into restaurants and attractions,” Giontsis said. “It’s been seamless.”
As we learn to manage our daily lives with COVID-19 and countries in Europe begin loosening travel restrictions and requirements, we are beginning to focus more of our messaging on Europe.
Young of Luxury Gold and Insight Vacations is also seeing the return of Italy, which is the tour operators’ No. 1 spring destination, as it was pre-pandemic. Other destinations in Europe are also making a comeback.
"A few notable trends have been an increase in bookings to Ireland, Spain and Portugal,” he said. “As we learn to manage our daily lives with COVID-19 and countries in Europe begin loosening travel restrictions and requirements, we are beginning to focus more of our messaging on Europe.”
Mexico Is Still King, Thanks to Easy Entry Requirements
Entry requirements are a major consideration for advisor Francisca Olopade, owner of Exploraytion Travels & Tours in Houston. Her top destinations — Cancun, Los Cabos, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen and Puerto Vallarta — all have one thing in common: They are in Mexico, which has topped international destination booking lists all throughout the pandemic due to its stable and relaxed entry requirements.
"Mexico is easy to travel to,” she said. “The country does not require a COVID-19 test to visit, and [some of ] the resorts will let you stay for free in the event you test positive and need to quarantine.”
Advisor Lauren Grubbs says that Mexico is a top spring choice for her clients as well, especially those who are unvaccinated.
Travel insurance provider Allianz Global Assistance has booking data that reflects this, finding that Cancun, Mexico City, Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta dominate Valentine’s Day bookings for 2022. The Mexican destinations were the top four booked international destinations, followed by Montego Bay, Jamaica; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; Aruba; Nassau, the Bahamas; Liberia, Costa Rica; and Providenciales, Turks and Caicos.
Spring 2022 Travel Trends
While the pandemic mindset toward travel is softening, there is no doubt that the experiences of the last two years continue to affect the psyches of burnt-out Americans and how they plan their vacations.
According to Giontsis of Kensington Tours, the company is seeing a swing toward single-destination trips due to the added complexity and stress of having to deal with multiple country requirements for vaccination and testing.
There is pent-up demand for travel, and we all need to be ready to accommodate what I believe will be a surge in booking requests, whether for the spring 2022 or later in the year.
And Grubbs of Lauren Grubbs Travel Co. says her clients are looking at 2022 holistically and booking trips for the entire year, all at once.
Booking windows are further out for Luxury Gold and Insight Vacations as well, but they are also closer in — particularly as countries open their borders or relax some of their testing and quarantine requirements.
"Both the longer term and shorter-term bookings reflect an undeniable opportunity for travel companies and travel advisors,” Young said. “There is pent-up demand for travel, and we all need to be ready to accommodate what I believe will be a surge in booking requests, whether for the spring 2022 or later in the year.”