In the blissful days before coronavirus, Lisa Gardner-Springer of Minneapolis hatched a plan for a summer vacation. While their oldest daughter would be exploring Europe with friends, she, her husband, Colin, and their younger daughter would head to Quebec.
Then the pandemic changed everything — for the Gardner-Springer family and the entire travel industry.
With stay-at-home orders in place and a novel coronavirus sweeping across the nation, planes stopped flying. Hotels emptied. Rental cars sat in undisturbed rows. Cruise ships eventually, mercifully, docked. Amid a global health crisis, tourism has tanked. The World Travel and Tourism Council estimated in April that the tourism sector worldwide lost more than 100 million jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic, the result of would-be travelers holed up at home.
But eventually, people began exploring again, slowly and carefully.
In September, Gardner-Springer will embark on her first vacation since the pandemic was declared. Her family will relish a long weekend in a cabin at Sleeping Fawn Resort near Park Rapids, Minn. They will kayak, bike and enjoy a view of a quiet lake and woods instead of their own backyard.
In that small family trip lies a larger reality: As travel returns, vacations look different.
Travelers now engage in more outdoor activities, head to destinations that can be reached by car, keep it brief and book shortly before departure.
These new trends derive from the obvious motivation to stay healthy. Other forces are also at play. Leaders and health experts have admonished travelers to avoid unnecessary trips or at least stay close to home. The European Union, Canada, Mexico, Japan and other countries have rolled up their welcome mats for Americans. Some states also began requiring quarantines for visitors from states with high numbers of coronavirus infections, adding uncertainty even within the U.S. Meanwhile, we have learned that outdoors is safer than indoors when it comes to the virus.
A recent poll from Morning Consult for the U.S. Travel Association found that only 44% of Americans plan to travel in 2020, the majority via short car trips. The same poll found that travelers are dipping their toes rather than plunging into the experience, as 78% are planning trips of four nights or fewer.
According to a webinar hosted by Angie Briggs of the U.S. Travel Association, 60% of Americans consider outdoor recreational activities safe. The group’s online tool that monitors national park attendance shows visits have been rising through the summer.
Once the coronavirus is mostly in the rearview mirror, avid travelers will likely act on delayed plans and pent-up desires to see the world. According to the U.S. Travel Association and Oxford Economics, travel spending in the U.S. will fall from $1.13 trillion in 2019 to a projected $622 billion in 2020. But spending is expected to rebound to $855 billion in 2021 and $976 billion in 2022.
As Gardner-Springer said, “We’re all itching for the day, making our fantasy plans.”