Mount Fuji, Japan.
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Americans are poised to travel overseas in a big way in 2023.
Households continue to unleash two or three years of pent-up demand as Covid-19 fears ease and the last vestiges of pandemic-era border restrictions have eased.
The US dollar also remains relatively strong against currencies like the euro, hybrid operations offer more flexibility for large trips and some airlines have added new long-haul routes to overseas destinations, according to travel experts.
“The travel industry is going crazy,” said Erin Florio, editor-in-chief of Condé Nast Traveler.
Why Travel Abroad is Poised “for a Big Comeback”.
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According to a recent survey by tourism market research firm Destination Analysts, 31 percent of Americans are more interested in international than domestic travel. That was a six-point increase from February and a year-high, according to the survey released in November.
International destinations accounted for 62% of flight searches for 2023 in the first week of December, up from 55% at the same time last year, according to a recent Hopper report. International travel was named among the top three trends for 2023 and said it was “before a big comeback”.
According to company data as of Dec. 18, searches on Kayak for international flights are up 1.3% year-on-year. Searches for domestic flights fell by 13%.
In 2022, the proportion of international trips for which Americans purchased travel insurance was at 2019 levels, the first time in the pandemic era, according to data from online travel insurance marketplace Squaremouth. The trend has continued for trips booked for 2023.
American travelers largely stayed within US borders in 2020 and 2021 due to health concerns and Covid-related restrictions abroad such as testing requirements, mandatory quarantines or outright bans on foreign tourists. Visits to US national parks boomed and RV rentals skyrocketed as outdoor vacations offered the dual benefits of travel and relative virus safety.
Now the fear of the virus has disappeared. According to Destination Analysts, in September the proportion of travelers not worried about contracting Covid surpassed those who were worried for the first time in the pandemic era.
“There is a lot of catching up to do when it comes to travel”
Tower Bridge, London.
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2022 was also a year for more major international travel – but a spike in virus cases towards the end of 2021 and into the new year, fueled by the highly contagious Omicron variant, dampened enthusiasm somewhat, experts said.
“There’s a lot of catching up to do when it comes to travel,” said Jessica Griscavage, travel consultant and CEO of Runway Travel. “We missed traveling for two to three years.”
This so-called “revenge trip” trend – a term recently coined to describe burgeoning, pent-up wanderlust – coincides with looser health regulations abroad and at home.
The US dropped a Covid testing requirement for incoming air travelers from abroad in June. This rule, which also applied to US citizens, required a negative test within one flight day.
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Many countries had also completely closed their borders to foreign tourists. Now most are welcoming visitors again – especially those with a Covid vaccine.
Fully vaccinated tourists can enter 197 countries without Covid-19 testing or quarantine, and another 16 are open but require testing, Kayak data says.
“We’re pretty much in a place where we can go anywhere,” Florio said.
According to Kayak, only 12 countries, including China, Libya, Turkmenistan and Yemen, remain closed to vaccinated Americans.
Many countries have introduced further restrictions on the unvaccinated. About 69% of Americans are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC recommends keeping up to date on immunizations before traveling internationally.
Many nations – including Australia, Bhutan, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Morocco, New Zealand, the Philippines and Singapore – eased border closures in 2022. Many European nations have also dropped testing requirements for Americans. (Travellers should consult the US Department of State’s website for country-specific Covid restrictions.)
Additionally, the surge in remote working in the pandemic era has “turned travel from the wish list to an achievable reality,” said Nitya Chambers, editor-in-chief and senior vice president of content at Lonely Planet.
In fact, Hopper found that 67% of travelers travel more frequently and 20% travel further afield because of the flexibility of remote work.
Where travel is growing the most
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
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The Asia-Pacific region is poised for the biggest rebound in 2023 due to its broad reopening in the second half of 2022, travel experts said.
Japan has perhaps seen the biggest surge in interest, they said. The country reopened its borders to travelers on October 11, with some restrictions remaining.
“One almost cannot talk about travel without mentioning the country of Japan for 2023,” Florio said, adding that Australia and New Zealand are also “massive”.
According to Hopper data, demand has grown the most in Asia, showing that 27% of international flight searches are to Asian cities, up from 19% last year.
In fact, eight of the top 10 trending international flight destinations as of early December were in Asia and Oceania, Hopper said. Tokyo; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; and Bangkok were the top three, with airfares averaging around $1,200 per round-trip ticket.
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G Adventures, an international tour operator, saw its largest sales growth in Japan, Thailand and Vietnam in 2023, said CEO Ben Perlo. Overall, November was a record month for the company; Sales for the three Asian nations each topped their November 2019 numbers, he said.
However, Europe has remained the most popular destination in terms of total volume, with European cities capturing a third of all international flight searches, about as much as in 2021, Hopper said.
Long-term rentals (28 days or more) have become “significantly more popular in Asia Pacific compared to a year ago,” according to an AirBnb spokesman. However, most long-term stays are in Europe and North America.
Major European hubs were among the most searched for this year through September 30, according to Google Flights data. London ranks first, followed by Paris (3rd), Rome (6th) and Lisbon (9th). Ho Chi Minh City was No. 2, while other Asian cities like Delhi and Mumbai also ranked high (No. 4 and No. 7, respectively).
We’re pretty much in a place where we can go anywhere.
Editor-in-Chief of Condé Nast Traveler
Italy, the United Kingdom and France ranked first, third and fifth among the best foreign travel destinations in 2023, according to a recent survey by Destination Analysts. (Canada, Mexico, and Japan took second, fourth, and sixth, respectively.)
“Everyone wants to go to Europe,” said Griscavage. “It was a goal that everyone missed during the pandemic.”
Due to demand, people have become more “creative” about how to travel to Europe, she added. Many are opting for the typically less busy (and less costly) off-season, perhaps as early as March or late fall, Griscavage said.
Global travel demand has been similar, with the greatest interest in Europe and Asia, according to Expedia data. Edinburgh, Scotland, and Sydney, Australia rank #1 and #6, in part due to corresponding major events like Fringe, the world’s largest arts and media festival, and WorldPride, according to Expedia.
Economic concerns, inflation ‘doesn’t stop people’
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That doesn’t mean travel is without headwinds, however. The value was of particular importance to travelers whose budgets were being weighed down by high inflation. According to the Consumer Price Index, total prices for airline tickets and hotels increased by 36% and 3% respectively last year.
International travel is likely to get more expensive next year, Hopper said, despite CPI signals that air, hotel and rental car prices have been trending downwards in recent months. Despite these economic worries, the desire to travel abroad has grown into 2022, according to Destination Analysts.
The euro has traded at historically weak levels against the US dollar, meaning Americans have been able to make bargains booking travel to countries like France, Germany, Italy and Portugal. That dynamic is likely driving at least some of the popularity, Perlo said. (However, the euro has appreciated somewhat in recent weeks.)
“The current economy and prices are not stopping people from traveling,” Chambers said. “People have been home, they want to get out, they have a list of things they want to experience, and they’re doing it.”