Is the Summer of Revenge Travel Here? Businesses Hope So

The clock had not yet struck noon on a recent sunny day in Copenhagen, but the hour didn’t stop Hannah Jackson and her friends from ordering a bottle of Champagne. After the waiter at one of the outdoor restaurants that line the Danish capital’s colorful harbor popped the cork, the four women from Texas gleefully toasted to their European adventure. “This is my first trip in more than two years,” said Jackson, 32. “We are celebrating every moment we can.”

Because no phenomenon can be real until it can be hashtagged, the travel industry has been quick to brand the impulse driving Jackson and countless others this summer as “revenge travel.” Like revenge spending and even revenge bubble-tea drinking, the phrase refers to consumers’ increased willingness to cough up cash after 28 long months of lockdowns and restrictions. In travel’s case, that means a newly unbridled demand for vacations that are more frequent, more indulgent, and—more than anything—far from home. The U.S. no longer requires a negative COVID-19 score for entry on June 13. This boosted the demand. However, as the demand rises and surpasses prepandemic levels, many challenges face the industry, including war and inflation. The lingering threat COVID-19 also casts doubts on any optimistic forecasts of a rebound. Is this the summer when the travel industry gets its revenge on the pandemic? Will it be defeated once more?

Continue reading: Barcelona Can Its Relationship with Tourists after the Pandemic Be Repaired?

“The truth is that tourism is rebounding very, very quickly,” says Luís Araújo, president of the European Travel Commission (ETC), which represents the continent’s national tourism organizations. “It’s quite impressive.”

It looks like revenge travel is off to an excellent start at this point. According to ETC surveys, 73% of Europeans are looking into vacation travel between now and November. American travelers are nearly as enthusiastic, with almost 70% planning to travel within six months, according to MMGY Travel Intelligence. This global research and marketing company is based out of Kansas City. Mastercard claims that short- and long-haul bookings have increased by more than 80% since the start of the Pandemic. Google reports that travel searches in 2022’s first quarter were higher than those of 2019, while passport appointment searches soared 300% over the same period.

Heathrow security screenings in London are notoriously slow.

Carl Court—Getty Images

“Pent up demand is already delivering rapid growth,” says David Goodger, Europe director for Tourism Economics, a U.K.-based company that provides forecasting and analysis to the travel industry. It’s driven, he adds, “by excess savings accumulated during the period when people couldn’t spend or travel as usual.”

These savings can have a significant impact on not just the number of trips people take but also their choice of type and destination. European destinations that appealed to low-cost travelers for decades have begun to focus on luxury travel. “A lot of enterprises, big and small, have spent the past two years renovating their facilities, upgrading, investing in their hospitality—adapting to the new needs of the customer,” says Araújo of the ETC. “We also see a lot of countries adjusting their communication to high-end travel.”

Companies that focus on high-end luxury travel are seeing a surge in business. Black Tomato is a London-based luxury tour operator that offers guests the opportunity to island hop in Greece and make their own perfumes at home in Provence. This has led to record numbers of people interested in Black Tomato’s itineraries. “Demand for Europe is insane right now,” says Brendan Drewniany, director of communications. “We’re advising our clients that if they want to go to specific destinations in Europe at this point they’re going to have to be pretty open-minded about alternatives.”

On June 11, 2022, visitors took photos of sunsets in Chora (Mykonos), Greece.

Nick Paleologos—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Drewniany states that this is the year when travelers began to plan for the summer. Drewniany had its highest quarter at the end 2021 and its first quarter 2022 saw 31% higher average bookings. “We’re seeing a lot more multi-destination trips, and a lot more multi-generational ones,” he says. “People are traveling to celebrate milestones, and they want to bring the grandparents now.”

Travelers are looking for adventures after spending so much time at home watching Netflix and caring for their sourdough starters. “I prefer to call it ‘liberation travel,’ rather than revenge travel,” Araújo says with a chuckle. “But there’s an increase in people wanting to stay in independent hotels, partly because they care about sustainability. And they’re looking for more authentic experiences as well.”

Katie Parla is a testament to this. She is the author of many books about Italian cuisine and leads tours through Rome. Her bookings have increased 200% over the past few months, compared with the same time in 2019. “People are just so grateful to be having these experiences,” Parla says. “Often they’re doing trips that they had planned to do in 2020, so even then something is closed or things don’t go as planned, they’re tolerant and understanding. They’re just so happy to be there.”

Tourists who visit the Pantheon in Rome stand before the projection of light on the marble flooring. This was June 17, 2022.

Alessandra Tarantino—AP

We have been there before. Actually, revenge travel originated before the summer of 2021. Everyone thought that all was well and that there would soon be a new world. This was true in many aspects. Domestic travel in many places surged to nearly 90% of its 2019 rates that summer, and, as MMGY senior analyst Leanne Hill points out, tourists spent unusually high amounts that were, she says, “largely revenge-travel oriented.” But slow vaccine rollouts and adoption rates, coupled with the slew of ever-changing travel restrictions and newly emerging virus variants ultimately stymied expectations. In July 2021, international tourism rates were 67% lower than in the same month of 2019.

These obstacles are not as much about the virus. All of the TIME experts who consulted said that the virus was not a problem and that they were more concerned with other issues that have arisen. “Inflation and staff shortages is the twin-headed monster threatening the travel recovery this summer,” says Tourism Economics’ Goodger.

Europe’s staffing crisis is affecting the quality of service. Many hotels are responding by automating check-in, as well as trimming routine benefits such daily cleaning. Many restaurants from Copenhagen to Madrid have reduced or even stopped operating. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than at the airport scenes in America and Europe. You can see the chaos from both the United States and Europe. Flight cancellations are common, along with long waiting times for bags that sometimes don’t arrive on time, and lengthy lines to get through security. “Demand is ramping up much more quickly than businesses, having shed workers during the pandemic, have been able to recruit for,” says Goodger.

Two tourists sunbathe in Cais Das Colunas, Lisbon on May 19, 2022.

Horacio Villalobos—Corbis/Getty Images

And although American travelers are, according to MMGY estimates, planning on spending an average of $600 more per trip than they did a year ago, it’s unclear, analyst Hill says, “whether that’s because of increased costs or overall willingness to spend more.” There are clear signs, she adds, inflation is definitely starting to bite. “We’re beginning to see travel intentions start to erode slightly, particularly among travelers making less than $100,000.” Those concerns are echoed among Europeans travelers, according to the ETC, which found that while only 7% of travelers expressed concern about inflation and costs affecting their vacations in 2021, 13% do so now. At the high end too, pricing is “definitely a real challenge,” says Black Tomato’s Drewniany. “Hotel properties are all still recouping and it’s not that they’re trying to be extortionist, but prices are definitely worse. So it’s a challenge to explain and translate that to clients.”

Even though they are not major tourist destinations, the war in Ukraine has had an effect on countries near the border. “These countries are running as smoothly as in any other country, but we’ve seen that they’ve had a hard time getting that message across to travelers,” says Araújo, especially when compared to the rapidly rebounding Mediterranean area. Inside Europe, he adds, the recovery has “two velocities.”

An tourist poses in front the Louvre pyramid, Paris, France. It is June 15, 2022.

Sarah Meyssonnier—Reuters

That, plus the uncertainity of COVID-19. On June 12, the U.S. relaxed the requirements for entry to the country by removing the need for negative testing. This spurred a boomlet in American travel plans. According to MMGY, one global tour operator, Explore saw an immediate 12% rise in web traffic after the news. However, there are still restrictions within Europe and this has led to a decline in long-haul flight from America to Europe. These numbers will not return to their 2019 level until 2024, according to MMGY.

Industry insiders still feel optimistic about this summer. That may also be due to resilience, a pandemic-generated emotion. “You hear things like, oh, people are valuing experiences over Rolexes, and I think that is the reality right now: people are putting their money into experiences,” says Drewniany. But, he adds, there’s something else in play. “After everything everyone’s been through, there’s not a ton of fear about the unknown anymore. People know that if they’re scheduled to go to London in October and for some reason, London locks down or something, they know that we’ll figure it out. What you’re seeing renewed right now is this sort of inherent mindset of flexibility.”

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