Post-Omicron Travel Trends Reveal Major Shifts in Pandemic Attitudes
After weathering another winter spike in COVID cases, travelers are planning trips in 2022 with a fervor not seen since the pandemic began.
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LLast month, like countless Americans, my family finally received the dreaded and unwanted guest in our house: COVID came for a visit. My three-year-old daughter who attends kindergarten tested positive first, followed by my husband, then me. Four of us (including our vaccinated five-year-old son, who never tested positive) went into home quarantine for two weeks, thanks to a very troublesome domino effect of cases. The kids remained healthy and full of toddler energy, while my husband and I, both boosted, hobbled with a patchwork of cold symptoms, fatigue and brain fog. Some days were easier than others.
I am not sure when Exactly during quarantine this happened, but there was a point where I became rather obsessed (possessed?) with the idea of a truly amazing getaway for our family once this debacle was over. The light at the end of our COVID tunnel would be a thrice-postponed trip to Hawai’i during my son’s February school vacation. The idea of exploring the North Shore of Oʻahu and the beautiful beaches of Maui with them, taking sunset walks along the coast, and disconnecting from our family life as we immerse ourselves in our home temporary Hawaiian, totally stunned me.
Turns out I wasn’t the only one feeling this.
“The American travel sentiment has. . . has soared to levels not seen since the vaccine was rolled out in the summer of 2021,” travel and tourism market research firm Destination Analysts reported on January 31.
According to Destination Analysts’ independent survey of more than 1,200 U.S. travelers, 81.5% are in a travel-ready mindset, “among the highest levels ever in the pandemic era,” depending on the firm. Additionally, nearly 77% of respondents said they were very excited about traveling in the next 12 months, including overseas.
More than three-quarters of respondents have dreamed up and planned a trip in the past week alone, the company said.
Sound familiar? This is the case of Brooke Lavery, partner of the luxury travel consultancy Local Foreigner, based in New York.
“Historically, people return from vacation trips eager to chart their year. But this year, the first three weeks of January were very quiet and frankly, a lot of our customers – and our team – had COVID,” says Lavery.
There was a sea change after that initial three-week lull. “Since then, there has been a flurry of inquiries, both from former customers who haven’t traveled much during COVID and from many new customers,” she says.
Lavery says that after the rise of Omicron, many of its customers are scrambling to plan a last-minute trip at the moment, followed by another trip later in the year. With some international destinations still closed or just starting to reopen, its customers are booking many domestic and Caribbean trips, but also Africa and increasingly Europe.
She adds that as 2022 approaches, travelers now have a much more relaxed attitude towards COVID than before. “It is no longer a factor that prevents them from travelling. I think people are more nervous about getting stuck somewhere than about catching COVID,” says Lavery, whose consultancy is a member of the largest consortium of luxury travel advisers. Virtuoso.
William Kiburz, Vice President of Coronet Travel Ltd. and a member of AFAR’s Travel Advisory Council, says his clients are also suffering from pandemic-related fatigue and they “just want to get away” – far away. “People are canceling their domestic plans and considering longer trips,” he says, noting his customers are tired of waiting or putting their plans on hold.
Global tour operator G Adventures said its bookings have also rebounded significantly.
“January was one of the most important months for G Adventures since the start of the pandemic, with a huge increase in bookings for trips departing within three months, indicating the recovery of Omicron cases or simply pandemic fatigue in general,” says Steve Lima, director of marketing for G Adventures in the United States.
Popular destinations for G Adventures travelers include Peru, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Egypt. Customers are booking bigger and longer trips, Lima notes: “In the case of those who have had Omicron, it is highly likely that they will be eager to start traveling again due to the increase in post-infection antibodies and [want to] embark on this great journey as soon as possible.
Lima and others have reported that while travelers are eager to get back there, they remain focused on being outdoors and being outdoors as much as possible. Many travelers still want to stay with their pod (meaning family or a close group of friends), according to luxury tour operator Abercrombie & Kent.
After some disappointing cancellations and disruptions caused by the Omicron variant, A&K is now seeing customers planning bigger, more splurge-worthy trips, according to founder Geoffrey Kent.
Private flights and villa stays are always in high demand, Kent says. He adds that among the many changes wrought by the pandemic is a growing interest in slow travel and more immersive region-focused experiences.
Remaining cautious optimism as we wait for the end (emic)
The fact that travelers are planning and booking ambitious trips for 2022 indicates a high level of hope that the circumstances of the pandemic will continue to improve. But will they really? (We’ve been down this road before, ahem: mid-2021, when we thought vaccine rollouts would lead us to COVID-free.)
When asked if the United States is gradually transitioning from a pandemic to an endemic COVID, Dr. William Schaffner, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Division of Infectious Diseases, said: “I would think . . . Yes.”
He explains, “Omicron spreads so widely that it leaves natural protection in its wake. Once out of your body, it will protect you for a while, we don’t know how long.
Between the protection that comes from the highly contagious variant of Omicron, as well as the vaccine and booster campaigns, “I think our population is getting more and more protected and that will take us from pandemic to endemic” .
Of course, there are some caveats.
“As we move the United States from pandemic to endemic, we will obviously be easing our restrictions. However, much of the world is experiencing a lot of COVID transmission [and] this is a circumstance where another variant could appear,” says Dr. Schaffner. “We don’t know if that will be the case. If a disturbing variant appears, then we should respond to it and find out what it is about this variant that again requires us to do certain things differently.
As Omicron’s surge begins to recede and people begin to feel more jubilant, he recognizes that no one wants to hear that right now. But for travelers taking trips near and far, he urges them to continue wearing their masks while travelling, especially when in public spaces and indoors. “It is important to understand that the virus will not go away,” he adds. “It will be with us.”
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