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In this time of uncertainty, there is at least one thing we know for sure: The summer of 2020 will be unlike any other in recent history.
With travel at a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers are now asking if they are ready and able to finally take a vacation this summer.
While the current Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines state that “staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick,” surveys show that demand for travel is on the rise, albeit slowly.
According to a tracking study of American travelers by Longwoods International conducted May 27, more than half (60%) of respondents are planning to travel by mid-July. The percentage of American travelers who say coronavirus will greatly impact their travel decisions in the next six months continues to decline, falling to 47% (down from a peak of 67% on April 1).
The research also shows that there is much more interest in domestic travel than international travel this summer. In the Longwoods study, only 1% of respondents said their first trip would be to an international destination.
In a normal year, June is way too late to be talking about planning a summer vacation. This year, however, there are undoubtedly plenty of clients still on the fence about traveling. For those clients and others, the following nine summer vacations are ideal for the current situation. These trips are all within the U.S., they avoid crowds and urban areas, and they take advantage of the outdoors. And they all offer travel advisors opportunities for commission.
Just be sure to check specific hotel, supplier and destination information before booking any trip, as the situation everywhere is in constant flux. But, as of press time, agents should feel confident in arranging any of the following getaways. After all, in the summer of 2020, everyone is going to need some rest and rejuvenation.
RELATED: When and How Will Domestic Destinations Reopen?
National ParksOn May 18, Yellowstone National Park made news with its reopening. Later that day, the park made headlines again when webcams showed hordes of crowds in the park — with hardly anyone social distancing or wearing masks.
While there has been talk about national parks being especially popular this summer, it is important to remember that not all parks offer wide-open spaces and few people.
With that in mind, advisors should consider sending clients to North Cascades National Park in Washington. This park, which is less than 100 miles from Seattle, is on the list of the 10 least-visited national parks in the country. It offers pristine Pacific Northwest forests, mountain peaks and even the opportunity to sample the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs through it.
“I love North Cascades because it ranges from accessible to extremely wild — there’s even a grizzly bear restoration plan in the park — and the farther north you go, the wilder it gets,” said Shannon Stowell, CEO of the Adventure Travel Trade Association and a Washington resident. “I also love it because it is comparatively uncrowded.”
Stowell says visitors should be sure to hike any trail over the North Cascades Highway for stunning views. Thunder Creek Trail and Cutthroat Pass Trail are standout routes, as well.
Clients can stay in the nearby towns of Mazama or Winthrop, which have a range of accommodation choices. Another option is booking a stay at Sun Mountain Lodge, which features outdoor activities such as mountain biking, fishing, hiking and more.
A great option for domestic travel this summer, Sun Mountain Lodge is near North Cascades National Park.Credit: 2020 Sun Mountain Lodge
Clients can stay at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island during a Great Lakes vacation.Credit: 2020 Grand Hotel
RV trips are expected to be popular this summer.Credit: 2020 National Parks Service_Neal Herbert
The Ranch at Rock Creek.Credit: 2020 The Ranch at Rock Creek
Houseboats offer privacy and a chance to get away from crowds.Credit: 2020 Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas
Guestrooms at Amangiri feature views of the desert.Credit: 2020 Aman Resorts
Rafting offers adventure while sticking with a self-contained group.Credit: 2020 OARS
Carneros Resort & Spa in Napa Valley, Calif., offers luxury and isolation.Credit: 2020 Carneros Resort & Spa
Western Pleasure Guest Ranch only hosts a small number of guests.Credit: 2020 Western Pleasure Guest Ranch
GlampingFor a less DIY experience, advisors can let someone else do the work by booking a glamping trip, which offers the chance to experience nature away from crowds and in total luxury.
Outfitter Under Canvas specializes in glamping trips near major national parks, such as Zion National Park and Yellowstone National Park. The company took its passion for luxurious African safaris and brought it to the U.S., giving clients a chance to experience nature in comfort.
For an even more over-the-top luxury glamping vacation, advisors can book The Resort at Paws Up in Montana. All the accommodations at Paws Up are individual and freestanding, and the resort has more than a dozen dining venues — including many that are outdoors. The property also offers 50 activities spread across 60 square miles of ranchland, which ensures that guests can remain comfortably distanced from other guests.
RELATED: Cow Croquet Is an Actual Thing at The Resort at Paws Up
“We offer all the adventures and acreage of a national park, including 100 miles of hiking trails, but it’s all on private land,” said Steve Hurst, general manager of Paws Up.
Hurst points out that the resort is an especially good choice for groups of family and friends.
“We have six luxury camps housing six tents each, ranging from one to three bedrooms, all of which are available for full buyouts,” Hurst said. “There’s a central outdoor dining pavilion in each camp, which is the perfect place for guests to regroup during meals.”
RV RentalsIf your clients are concerned about the safety and cleanliness of accommodations, a recreational vehicle (RV) rental might be a good option. This choice allows travelers to control who comes and goes from their accommodations, and how much interaction they want to have with people outside their group.
Renting an RV is a hot topic on social media and throughout the industry, and one company with experience in this field is Overseas Leisure Group. This operator may be relatively new to U.S. travel advisors, but they have been arranging RV rentals for inbound European travelers for years, and they are now promoting their services directly to the U.S. market.
RELATED: How to Qualify Clients for an RV Trip
Another supplier in this market is Colorado-based Tracks & Trails. Dan Wulfman, the company’s founder and president, says it specializes in self-guided and self-drive trips with optional activities, such as a full day of canyoneering in Utah.
“It really is kind of daunting if you try to take one of these trips on your own,” Wulfman said. “Our stock-in-trade has been making sure trips go right for people who are new to RV-ing.”
Most of Tracks & Trails customers fly into a major hub and then do a one- to two-week completely coordinated, pre-planned trip.
“The booking usually includes the RV rental; a first night in a hotel and all the campsites; and activities such as horseback riding, rafting and guided hikes,” Wulfman said.
Wulfman cautions advisors that the company has been making a lot of bookings recently, so they should act soon for 2020 trips or start thinking about 2021.
Houseboat RentalsIf your clients like the idea of an RV but are reluctant to take to the road, they might be interested in a water-based vacation instead. A houseboat rental is similar to an RV in that a family or group of friends can travel together in their own safe space away from outsiders. A houseboat vacation, however, offers the opportunity to enjoy plenty of aquatic activities.
Dave Holman, a travel advisor and partner at Bridges & Holman Travel in Hesperia, Calif., booked a houseboat trip for his family on Utah’s Lake Powell through Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas, an Aramark concession.
“Once we were out on the lake, it’s nothing but gorgeous scenery,” he said. “It was easy to find a private stretch of beach where kids could play on the boat’s waterslide or with their water toys, and we could hike up a canyon or do a little fishing.”
Holman says that this kind of trip is ideal for clients nervous about the coronavirus.
“Other than a potential crowd at check-in — which could be avoided by doing a mid-week rental or late-night check-in — you are isolated in your own little bubble,” Holman said. “There are miles of empty shoreline to beach the boat for the night. You won’t have to get within 100 feet of a stranger.”
Beach VacationsNothing says summer more than a beach getaway. Unfortunately, weeks of being stuck indoors seems to have led to massive crowds at many of the nation’s most popular beaches.
Though it may not have the cache — or the crowds — of Miami Beach or Santa Monica, Calif., another option is a vacation on the Great Lakes. Michigan alone has 3,300 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, which is more coastline than you’ll find in Florida, California, Maryland and South Carolina combined.
Grand Rapids, Mich.-based travel advisor JoAnne Verboom of Travel By Gagnon (and president of the Great Lakes Chapter of the American Society of Travel Advisors) says there are several beaches for people who want a more secluded — and safe — beach experience.
One of her top choices is Oval Beach in Saugatuck, Mich., which was ranked one of the top 25 beaches in the world by Conde Nast Traveler and one of the top two freshwater beaches in the U.S. by National Geographic Traveler.
“It’s a beautiful beach and very close to the town of Saugatuck, which is a quirky spot where visitors can walk and explore,” Verboom said.
She also suggests Petoskey State Park in Petoskey, Mich., which has plenty of shoreline to enjoy and is a great area to search for Petoskey stones — a prehistoric fossil that is unique to the area and Michigan’s official state stone.
“These are fun to find, especially as a family activity,” she said.
Petoskey State Park is also an easy drive to Mackinaw City, where clients can then take a ferry ride to the car-less Mackinac Island. Here, guests can stay at the famous Grand Hotel to explore this unique island.
OARS Rafting TripsAnother option for clients looking for wet and wild summer fun is a small-group trip with outfitter OARS, which provides a wide range of rafting excursions all over the West. Plus, groups of families or friends with 12-15 people can often charter their own departure.
“For 50 years, OARS has been leading travelers away from the crowds and into the most rugged and pristine landscapes in the West,” said Steve Markle, vice president of sales and marketing for OARS. “And now, perhaps more than ever, we could all use some time outside for our physical and mental health.”
RELATED: Whitewater Rafting Class IV Rapids With OARS
This summer, Markle suggests a “short and sweet” whitewater rafting adventure on California’s Tuolumne River, outside Yosemite National Park, or a longer four- to six-day trip on the Colorado River through Cataract Canyon in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park.
Markle also says that, although procedures at OARS have long featured vigilant adherence to best practices for sanitation, disinfection of communal surfaces and availability of hand-washing stations, the company has developed an even more in-depth cleaning plan that follows the CDC’s protocols, as well as state and local guidelines.
“In many cases, we may need to stick to one family or household unit per boat,” Markle said. “On some rivers, one- and two-person inflatable kayaks and stand-up paddleboards will also be an option for guests.”
Tour Operator ItinerariesOne of the easiest ways to provide clients with a successful vacation is to book through a tour operator, and many companies are adding domestic trips to their offerings.
Authentic Vacations recently launched Authentic America, which is focused on hidden gems across the country. An advantage of these tours is that they pay advisor commission in advance on trips booked and paid in full before July 31.
Meanwhile, Abercrombie & Kent (A&K) just announced six new Tailor Made adventures across the American West and Alaska, as well as two new Great American Road Trips, each with private guides and carefully vetted accommodations that offer added space and privacy.
“As domestic travel restarts,” said Keith Baron, president of Abercrombie & Kent USA, “we are hearing from luxury travel advisors who are looking to provide their clients with the same expert, on-the-ground knowledge that A&K offers in exotic, far-flung destinations in places closer to home.”
Dude RanchesClients looking for land-based adventures should check out some of the top dude ranches in the West, such as Western Pleasure Guest Ranch in Sandpoint, Idaho.
Janice Schoonover owns the ranch, and she is the third generation to live on the property.
“We believe that visiting a guest ranch this summer, and more specifically the Western Pleasure Guest Ranch, is a perfect option for vacationers during the COVID-19 era,” Schoonover said. “We offer an environment with fresh air, natural space and a lot of outdoor activities — all the things you should be doing during this time.”
RELATED: Why Your Next Vacation Should Be at a Dude Ranch
One of the benefits of booking at Western Pleasure Guest Ranch is that the ranch only takes 20 guests per week. Plus, they have a large dining area, so distancing table groups is not a problem.
For those looking for a safer and more secluded experience, lodging options include four separate cabins and six rooms in the lodge that are distanced from each other. Clients can also consider a full ranch buyout, or groups of 10-12 can arrange to have their accommodations near each other and work out a schedule so they go on horseback rides together and have their own table for meals.
“Because we already have smaller guest numbers, we are in a position to help visitors feel comfortable at the ranch during this interesting time,” Schoonover said.
Boutique PropertiesThere are going to be plenty of clients who just want to keep things simple and isolate in comfort at a small, luxury property surrounded by nature. Ignacio Maza, executive vice president at Signature Travel Network, is an expert on these accommodations.
One of his top choices is The Ranch at Rock Creek, in Philipsburg, Mont., about an hour’s drive from Butte. This is a Relais & Chateaux Property and a founding member of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World collection. Overall, the property covers more than 6,600 acres, with mountains, valleys and a river running through the estate. The ranch has a total of 29 guestrooms and suites, as well as freestanding tented cabins, cottages and one- to five-bedroom homes, spread out over the property.
“The setting is magical,” Maza said. “And because the property is so vast, you could easily spend a week there and never run out of things to do.”
Maza also suggests Carneros Resort & Spa in Napa Valley, Calif., about an hour’s drive from either Oakland, San Francisco or Sacramento. This estate is made up of modern ranchers’ cottages, silos and barns in the heart of California wine country. The resort, which is a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts, is set on 28 acres and surrounded by vineyards.
Carneros provides many choices, including freestanding cottages that range from 400 to 800 square feet with outdoor patios; spacious suites with one or two bedrooms; or two- or three-bedroom homes offering up to 4,000 square feet.
“All room types have fireplaces and outdoor showers,” Maza said. “Of course, these are much appreciated by guests.”
Finally, Maza recommends Amangiri, a luxury retreat located in Canyon Point, Utah, about 4½ hours by car from either Phoenix or Las Vegas.
Aman Resorts’ Amangiri is set on a 600-acre property with views of the surrounding desert and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Guests have a choice of staying near the main building in one of the spacious suites (some with plunge pools and sky beds); at the four-bedroom villa on property; or at the new luxury tented pavilion at Camp Sarika.
“When you are in your guestroom, all you see is the desert landscape, which gives you a phenomenal sense of place,” Maza said.