Travel bookings are on the rise as the feeling of missing out and the rescheduling of special events is pushing industry spending to near pre-pandemic levels.
According to the US Travel Association, total travel spending for December 2021 was $92 billion, just 2% lower than in December 2019.
Industry experts across the country and in Norman say the travel landscape will look very different in 2022 as people start planning trips again.
According to Destination Analysts, more than 70% of US travelers have engaged in travel planning in the past week, a 7% increase from the past month.
Brenda Hunsberger, senior vice president of travel services for AAA Club Alliance, said the agency saw a significant increase in new bookings in January 2022.
“People show an interest and willingness to talk about travel that they may not have felt before,” Hunsberger said.
Hunsberger cited pent-up demand and the desire to escape pandemic stressors as the main reasons for the recent increase in travel planning and booking.
Shelly Ramirez, owner of Michelle’s Destinations, said her Normandy travel agency began to see an increase in travel interest last summer.
“We’ve been booking travel all the time whether it’s domestic or international, we’re just being very careful and making sure customers know what to expect because traveling during COVID is a different travel experience,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez said businesses are scarce at home and abroad, so traveling with patience is paramount.
The most common questions for Ramirez and many other travel agents are: where is it safe to travel and what is the best price? The answer to that may change, and Ramirez advises potential travelers to consider talking to an agent to help navigate the new travel landscape.
“We have a lot of uncertainty in general right now and we’re working really hard to make sure our customers are comfortable with travel, and a lot of that is education,” said Ramirez.
Hunsberger said cruising has been affected more than any other mode of travel since the onset of COVID-19, but cruise lines continue to work closely with the CDC to ensure that cruising is resumed responsibly.
A popular concern among cruise travelers is ensuring that documentation is in order prior to the cruise. Hunsberger, who was on a cruise in the Caribbean last week, said passengers were required to pass home screened tests and got a negative result.
“We had to show our vaccination status and those test results to get on board,” Hunsberger said.
The ship’s capacity was reduced from 2,700 to less than 900.
Hunsberger said some positives that came from the capacity limitation were no lines or reservation issues with enough space for social distancing. Masks were mandatory on the ship, except when actively eating and drinking, she said.
“We felt very safe,” Hunsberger said. “I would say if you go cruising now expect a great experience, but be flexible.”
Hunsberger said in recent weeks that the CDC has warned travelers about cruising; however, many choose to regardless of that advice.
According to the Cruise Lines International Association’s industry forecast for 2022, seagoing memberships will launch 16 new cruise ships this year. The association reports that more than 75% of cruise ships are back in service and nearly 100% of ships will be in service by August.
While some still hesitate to board a ship or plane, Amy Short, director of travel, strategic partnership and online sales at AAA Club Alliance, said the agency has seen an increase in people taking the “Great American Road Trip.” to do.
Short said two-thirds of travelers say they look forward to traveling as a family, including family reunions, romantic getaways and destination weddings. She also sees a rise in what industry experts call revenge spending.
“People are spending more money and taking longer vacations to make up for what they’ve missed lately [two] years,” said Short.
If one chooses to travel in 2022, Hunsburger said, “don’t forget to pack your patience.”