The Florida Panhandle
The Gulf Coast communities of Miramar Beach and Rosemary Beach, both currently trending high on Vrbo, also have short-term rentals aplenty, plus white-sand beaches made of pure quartz crystals. But Jamie Jackson, a travel advisor with Charleston-based Wanderlust Travel Boutique, is seeing an increased interest in these communities for yet another reason: “Everybody who wanted to go to the Caribbean and didn’t want to take a COVID-19 test now wants to go to Florida.”
Indeed, COVID concerns prompted Prya Vin, 50, to visit Rosemary Beach for the first time in spring 2020, along with her husband and their two children, then 17 and 19. The family typically travels internationally, but the pandemic prompted them to instead vacation in a destination drivable from their Plano, Texas, home. The Florida Panhandle community so charmed them that they have already returned twice, and Vin now dreams of owning a home there someday. “You feel like you’re in another world, like you’re in the Caribbean, with the style of houses. Everything just feels homey and safe,” she says.
Pedestrian-friendly Rosemary Beach feels so homey because it’s a New Urbanist planned community with cobblestone streets, upscale homes and cozy cottages just a short stroll from a private beach open only to homeowners and guests. Buildings are no more than 50 feet tall, and it offers many green spaces for community gatherings, as well as restaurants and small boutiques you can walk or bike to. The bucolic setting attracts affluent travelers looking for a laid-back beach getaway.
“It’s retro in a way, but with modern-day amenities,” says Lou Flowers, 60, a Memphis resident who has been making regular visits with family and friends since 1997. “People ride bikes, walk their dogs and walk to restaurants, the beach, to church. We park our car when we get there and never get back in it.”
Just 24 miles west, Miramar Beach, which is larger and more spread out (and therefore not as walkable), appeals to a different market: travelers wanting to kick back on the beach but also be active some of the time. It delivers on the latter with a bevy of water adventures not available in Rosemary Beach — Jet Skiing, paragliding, water-skiing and more — and two large shopping centers, one an outlet mall with more than 100 stores.
Another difference: Because Miramar Beach is not a planned community, and thus not as upscale as Rosemary Beach, its short-term vacation rentals (including some high-rises) and chain hotels have typically come with lower price points. But rates are rising. “In 2019, three-bedroom weekly rentals in Miramar Beach were available from $1,800,” Greene says. “Today prices start around $3,300 and are expected to continue to increase in the lead up to the summer months.”
Other travel trends for 2022
Taking Bucket List Trips: “People have survived COVID and are realizing time is precious, so they’re wanting to seize the moment,” says Brownell Travel’s Marion McDonald. As such, more of her clients are checking off bucket-list destinations. An 89-year-old client just booked a cruise on the Mississippi River, something he has always wanted to do.
Spending big on travel with grandchildren: McDonald is seeing more seniors traveling with their grandkids while they’re healthy enough to do so. One client in his late 60s who survived a health scare just booked a ski trip with his grandchildren. He’s getting back on skis for the first time in decades so he can ski with all of them, something he hasn’t done before, she says.
Wanting to do something special with her daughter and granddaughter, another client, who is in her late 70s and has multiple sclerosis, booked a $25,000 girls’ trip to St. Thomas for the three, staying at a Ritz-Carlton. “She feels that time is fleeting and she doesn’t have a lot left,” McDonald says.
Mixing cities with outdoor destinations: Wanderlust Travel Boutique’s Jamie Jackson is booking more trips in which clients fly into a city and perhaps spend a day or two, so they can enjoy all that a metropolitan area offers, but then move on to a more secluded destination for a few days. “They’re still keeping COVID in mind,” Jackson says.
As a luxury travel advisor, she has booked Scottsdale, Arizona, several times and then sent clients to Castle Hot Springs Resort, a high-end boutique property tucked into a remote valley in the mountains about 60 miles north of the city. “It’s a special place in the middle of nowhere,” Jackson says.
Visiting smaller, up-and-coming destinations: Vrbo reports a rising interest in emerging cities, with Cincinnati getting the most attention. It’s appealing because, even though it’s a smaller city, it offers so much of what travelers are looking for these days, including breweries, restaurants, water sports and hiking trails, says Alison Kwong, a Vrbo spokesperson. Yorktown, Virginia, and Niagara Falls, New York, are the other top attention-getters.
Taking big, bold trips: People are booking big-ticket trips with the money they saved from not traveling during the pandemic. McDonald just recently booked a $37,000 African cruise on Silversea for one couple, and another couple has booked a pricey safari in both East and South Africa.