Trending on the internet lately is the newly coined buzzword “revenge travel.”
Revenge on whom, exactly? COVID-19 and the lost year of 2020, of course.
Honeymoons and family trips postponed, adventurous excursions canceled. Funerals and births a plane ride away left unattended. People want revenge. And it looks like they might get it on Caribbean beaches, by the Eiffel Tower, or in trekking through a mountain range several countries away.
“People feel like their travel wings were clipped,” said Cyndi Zesk, vice president of travel services at AAA Northeast. “Now it’s like, ‘I have the right to roam again, so I’m going to make it matter.'”
Vaccination rates are increasing, and states and countries have begun to relax their travel restrictions. The European Union, for example, just announced this week that fully vaccinated Americans may be able to travel across the pond this summer.
As a result, the coming months and years will likely see a major surge in travel – first domestically and then internationally – as people try to make up for lost time.
Holly Shulman, for example, of Concord, New Hampshire, has a trip planned every month for the next year, with destinations including Iceland, Japan, Portugal, San Francisco and Cape Cod. She and her husband were big travelers pre-COVID, she said, but this time, they’ll bring a newborn baby along.
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“During the pandemic, we’ve transitioned to jobs that allow us to work from anywhere, making the travel life we want possible,” said Shulman, adding that much of their travel will include introducing their infant to family and friends for the first time.
What does ‘revenge travel’ mean?
The term “revenge spending” was used in China early on in the pandemic as those flush with cash came out of COVID lockdowns ready to spend money, and then some. It was anticipated that this movement could drive luxury recovery.
Last March, in an article published by Travel Daily Media, Anita Chan, CEO of hospitality-branding company Compass Edge, predicted revenge travel as the next pandemic-related phenomenon to hit.
‘Surge’ in vacation bookings
Travel bookings are surging, Zesk said, “and it’s probably been happening for the last four-to-six weeks.”
“Does that surge mean we’re back at 2019 levels of travel? No, however, it is really encouraging to see the green sprouts in the growth of bookings. We’re seeing about 80% of what we had on the books in 2019 as of this point now. In January, that was probably around 30-40%.”
Zesk said people are booking multiple trips at once, “a shorter trip for summer of 2021, but a river cruise in Europe in 2022,” for example.
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“We’ve had a sentiment shift from what we all took for granted, which was we all believed that travel is a right and a guarantee,” she said. “And suddenly it was pulled out from underneath us. People have always had a ‘someday’ trip list, and now they’re saying, ‘Forget about someday. I’m going as soon as I can.'”
Recent booking trends, Zesk noted, include outdoor and nature-focused trips, iconic road trips for people wanting to “rediscover America,” dude ranches, national parks, and world cruises.
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She forecasts that the anticipated explosion in travel will not be a short-lived phenomenon, but rather a sustained societal change because people have a renewed appreciation for it.
“Travel agents are having a huge resurgence. I laugh that if travel agents were a stock, I would invest in them now.”
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“Revenge travelers” are coming out in troves around New England, though many of them say it isn’t as much about revenge as it is release.
Dillon Guyer, who runs an online travel agency called Guyer Travel servicing the Seacoast New Hampshire area, is headed to the Maldives in May, and has several other trips in the pipeline, including a Grand Classica cruise booked for July. As of now, it’s the first ocean cruise sailing out of the U.S. since the pandemic began, he said.
Guyer is also planning an itinerary for South Africa, “to see the sharks jump and catch their meal like you see during Shark Week.”
And his customers are following suit, as booking rates are currently in their favor. He noted his Maldives trip would typically sell as an $8,000-per-person package, and right now it’s less than $2,000 per person.
“It has resulted in an overall boom of people booking, ever since the beginning of the new year,” Guyer said. “March 2021 was almost identical in sales to March 2018 pre-pandemic.”
Wendy O’Brien, of Eastford, Connecticut, said she and her husband haven’t seen their son since December 2019 because he lives in San Francisco. So they’ve planned two trips to visit him in the coming months, as well as two more-local trips to Maine this summer.
“We will be staying in the San Francisco Bay Area for the July trip, and in November we’ll stay in the Bay Area again with a few days in Napa Valley to visit vineyards and take a hot air balloon ride at dawn,” O’Brien said.
Kirsten and Jason Barton are currently in Palm Springs, California celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. The Portsmouth, New Hampshire couple also has a trip scheduled to the United Kingdom and southern France in July, which they hope they won’t have to cancel.
“We miss the cross-cultural experiences of traveling to new places and the break of routine that travel provides,” said Kirsten Barton, adding that traveling feels “different,” though, considering the service and hotel industry was hit so hard by COVID-19. They feel lucky to be guests, she said, and are aware of the efforts by so many to keep travel open and safe.
Kerri Garvey and her three children – ages 24, 23, and 22 – are taking a Norwegian Cruise to the Greek islands in August. Despite being quarantined together all pandemic, they had a “great time” and haven’t had enough of each other just yet.
“We are hoping it will be an end-of-quarantine celebration,” said Garvey, of Melrose, Massachusetts. “This will probably be our last family vacation before they go off and live their adult lives.”
Will people spend more money on their vacations now?
It’s possible that these travelers seeking “revenge” will splurge in ways they never did before the pandemic, and some have already begun to demonstrate that.
An April analysis by Club Med, a Europe-based company specializing in all-inclusive trips, showed travelers are spending up to 20% more on their vacation bookings. Recently, Club Med’s most popular booking destinations have been Greece, Turkey and Portugal.
Zesk said AAA Northeast is seeing people book “a little more upscale than they would before.” She noted one of their agents last week sold a 111-day world cruise.
That trend is likely attributable to vacation credits from canceled trips in 2020, or frequent flyer miles that have piled up.