After two years in which many travelers stayed home, 2022 was supposed to be the year of Big Travel, when trips were checked off bucket lists and the word “staycation” was retired forever.
Then came the spring’s rising Covid-19 numbers, record-high gas prices, rapidly escalating airfares — and the war in Ukraine. Plus, last year’s chaos of airline cancellations and delays persist. For some people, that made the idea of staying closer to home — whether truly staycationing in their own towns, or settling for scaled-back plans — more attractive. And suddenly, American travelers are once again racing to book local hotels, restaurants and activities.
Milan Jones and his girlfriend, Catherine Wilson, are among them. During 2020 and 2021, the couple made do with day trips to nature spots, museums and spas near their home in Georgia. This spring they had planned to go to the Maldives for their first blowout trip in more than two years.
Then came the constant feelings of uncertainty — what would happen if they got sick abroad, didn’t the world seem too unstable?
Out went the daylong flight to that remote archipelago. The new plan: a week at a local spa resort to take a mental and physical break from the past two years of accumulated stress.
“We would only decide to go on a big vacation in the future if we had some reassurances that it was thoroughly planned and safe,” said Mr. Jones, 24, a content writer and editor. “We probably wouldn’t plan anything more than three months in advance, and the more secluded the area we are traveling to is, the more at peace we would feel going there.” Their priorities: a stable region and a spot with less risk of a coronavirus outbreak.
They are hardly the only ones rethinking things.
An April study by Bankrate, a personal finance site, found that 69 percent of American adults who say they will vacation this summer anticipate making changes to their plans because of inflation, with 25 percent traveling shorter distances and 23 percent planning less-expensive activities. Among people planning to take time off, a staycation was the second most-popular option, behind heading to the beach.
A different report released in May by TripAdvisor, the travel review site, found that 74 percent of American travelers were “extremely concerned” about inflation; 32 percent were planning to take shorter trips this summer and 31 percent were planning to travel close to home.
While this doesn’t mean that travel is completely axed, it does reflect that, for the third summer in a row, staycations are expected to be a significant part of the mix, and “revenge travel” — an all-out trip to make up for lost time — may have to wait a little longer, said Amir Eylon, the president and chief executive of Longwoods International, a travel market research consultancy in Columbus, Ohio.
An optimistic May report from the Mastercard Economics Institute found that in the first quarter of 2022, Americans were booking domestic and shorter international flights above 2019 levels by about 25 percent, though long-haul flights were still depressed. But, the report warned, “While the tailwinds of Covid-related pent-up demand are pushing the travel recovery forward, the headwinds of inflation, supply chain constraints, geopolitical uncertainties and Covid infection rates are also shaping 2022.”
The impact of rising prices might be uneven, the report said: “More price-sensitive travelers may stick closer to home, while less price-sensitive travelers, who are more likely to have more excess savings, may be less concerned with higher prices and eager to travel.”
Domestic hotels booking up
For those who aren’t jumping on long-distance flights, the winners appear to be nearby vacation spots, where hotels and short-term rentals are booking up. Airbnb’s U.S. bookings from people staying within their own region were up 65 percent in the first quarter of 2022 over the first quarter in 2019, said Haven Thorn, an Airbnb spokesman.
“The demand for domestic leisure travel is higher than it’s ever been post-pandemic,” said Emily Seltzer, the marketing manager at River House at Odette’s, a small luxury hotel in New Hope, Penn., which draws most of its guests from Philadelphia and New York. “Rather than having to fly, guests are more inclined to hop in their cars and begin enjoying their vacation.”
Amanda Arling, the president of The Whaler’s Inn, a luxury hotel in downtown Mystic, Conn., said that the hotel is filling up quickly for summer, much faster than in prior years. Weekends are already almost entirely sold out through Labor Day, and she said she’s beginning to see midweek business pick up as well. Ms. Arling estimates that 20 percent of the bookings are locals from Connecticut and Rhode Island on staycations.
Amy and Peter Lyle, who live in Georgia, have booked and canceled three trips since the start of the pandemic, choosing to staycation instead. Credit…Kelly Blackmon for The New York Times
“Domestic travel and staycations seem to satisfy a desire to explore new places,” she said.
“Staycations have opened a new offering for the travel industry, and going forward, we will see an industry rise to offering staycations in major metropolitan areas,” said Peter Vlitas, the executive vice president of partner relations for Internova Travel Group, which represents more than 70,000 travel advisers worldwide.
Some have already started. Virgin Hotels in Chicago offers up to 30 percent off hotel stays for Illinois residents, for example.
Amy Lyle, 51, an author, and her husband, Peter Lyle, 56, a health systems consultant, who live near Atlanta, are looking at what may be their third year of staycationing. Their first planned trip, to the Amalfi Coast, was booked to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary in April 2020.
Ms. Lyle canceled it when international travel all but shut down at the start of the pandemic. Instead, the couple took a staycation 30 minutes north of their home, enjoying time on Lake Lanier.
Then, in April 2021, they tried again, booking a vacation with friends to Greece, Egypt and Israel. But in March, a month before they were set to depart, the travel agent informed them that Israel was cut from the itinerary because of an uptick in violence there.
The Lyles went back to the lake.
They’ve already canceled one trip this year, to Rome and Nice, because of worries over the war in Ukraine. But they are hoping to go to Greece this month to finally celebrate their 10th anniversary. If that gets canceled, they will settle for a staycation in Darien, Ga., a tiny fishing village on the coast.
“I’m an author of ‘The Book of Failures,’ so getting three European vacations canceled is the story of my life,” Ms. Lyle said.
Meaghan Thomas, 29, of Louisville, Ky., will be having a staycation after she canceled her May trip to London, which she planned more than a year ago.
“We were hopeful that Covid would be simmered down by then,” said Ms. Thomas, who canceled the trip in April after the numbers spiked there in March. Instead, she’ll take a road trip to visit a friend in Asheville, N.C.
Ms. Thomas owns an organic spice company and more upsetting to her than canceling her trip to the United Kingdom is the further delay of her business travel, which was planned this year for Tunisia, India and Sri Lanka, to meet with spice farmers.
“I’m really hoping for a late summer trip, but my confidence in flying and keeping safe from Covid has dropped significantly,” she said.
Wherever you go, it’s a vacation
But for many people, even a second choice vacation is better than no vacation, and they are just grateful that they’ll be leaving their homes, said Brian Hoyt, the head of global communications and industry affairs for TripAdvisor.
“Travelers overwhelmingly said that they have been stuck in their homes for 24 months, and they will be getting out there this summer,” Mr. Hoyt said, referring to the report released in May.
And the staycation isn’t truly so bad. Especially, some travelers say, when you factor in things like the seemingly ubiquitous flight delays and cancellations, long flights that may no longer require masks and Covid regulations that come with international travel, like having to test negative to return to the United States.
Heather Fremling, 55, a self-employed financial consultant in Merritt Island, Fla., had traveled throughout her life for work, family and pleasure. But during the pandemic, when Ms. Fremling drove cross-country to help her older parents, she realized how much less stress she felt driving rather than flying.
“I was reminded, during a pretty bad time, of the freedom and happiness of controlling your own travel,” she said.
Now, Ms. Fremling is sticking with staycations, relying on resort passes and same-day hotel bookings to take advantage of luxury destinations without the stress and hassle of actual travel.
Steve Schwab, 49, the chief executive of Casago, a vacation rental company, said he typically travels someplace new every summer, but this year, with rising gas prices and inflation, he couldn’t justify the cost. So he and his family are doing a staycation in Scottsdale, Ariz., where they live, for a week.
“We spent some time writing down our top preferred activities,” Mr. Schwab said. “And just listing them and thinking about what we want to do made me far more excited for this than I had been. Sometimes, all it takes is a little planning to make you feel excited about what’s to come.”
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