Pent-up demand fuels what is predicted to be huge summer for travel
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — After one of the worst summers for travel in nearly two decades, the demand to get out of the house that many have spent the last year tethered to has some saying this could be one of the biggest summers for travel ever.
“We hear a lot of hyperbole like that, and it is a nice marketing line,” said Skyler McKinley, spokesperson for AAA Colorado. “I actually think it undersells what is going to be happening. This is going to be a huge summer for travel.”
As vaccination rates climb, consumers are getting more confident, and they may have money saved up for a trip because they have not been able to take one in a year.
Colorado has been a particularly popular destination, McKinley said, because people want to travel to open spaces with a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities. Denver was the number one searched destination for AAA members for most of last year, he said.
“They may not plan a trip to Disneyland, they might not go to a crowded Florida beach, but will they go hiking in Stagecoach State Park? Absolutely,” McKinley said. “Folks have been cooped up for a year, and the dam is ready to burst on this.”
Yampa Valley Regional Airport Director Kevin Booth said there are clear indications of pent-up demand for travel, especially to destinations like Steamboat Springs.
“I think that is why we are seeing a couple of our airlines initiating summer service or increasing summer service,” Booth said.
United Airlines has increased the number of seats to the airport in Hayden by 40% when compared to summer 2019 and will be flying a larger plane than they have in the past, Booth said. Southwest Airlines also will be operating summer flights out of Hayden for the first time.
“There is so much demand and so little supply that this hotness is going to extend into 2022 and 2023,” McKinley said. “It is going to be a hot, three years for travel by our estimation.”
What could make or break this travel season is how many COVID-19-related restrictions are in place, said Heidi Theis, owner at Steamboat Springs-based Benvenuto Travel Design Firm. Theis said navigating various levels of restrictions can be particularly difficult, because they can be vastly different from place to place.
“If the restrictions go away or are substantially loosened up, this will be the busiest summer of travel that the world has seen,” Theis said.
For Theis, the top five destination states have been Florida, Hawaii, Texas, California and Georgia, all states with ocean coastlines. Internationally, Mexico has been popular as well as Croatia, one of the few European countries allowing American travelers right now, she said.
Many travel operators went under in the past year, McKinley said, which has caused some problems in the industry. Many rental car companies opted to sell off their fleets when demand was low last year, which has led to less supply now.
“It is going to take some time for the travel environment to ever look like it did in 2019 when it came to ease of use,” McKinley said. “You are going to pay a lot more to get a rental car, because many of the rental car companies barely survived, and many didn’t.”
While the travel industry has faced devastating disruption before, with one example being the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Theis said this time around is different because there is so much demand to travel, where in summer 2002, there really was not. That summer there were lot of deals, Theis said, but they are not seeing the same thing this time around.
“Ironically, I think the travel agents that you might think of 50 years ago, that is where people are going to be turning,” McKinley said.
Theis agreed, saying that people like her have the long-term contacts with resorts and other amenities in these places, which could result in better deals. For example, Theis said she has not had a problem getting a rental car for a reasonable rate.
Getting travel insurance is a smart idea, too, Theis said, because it could come in handy if someone tests positive for COVID-19 overseas.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends that people do not travel but gives tips for traveling safely. To get back into the United States, people need to provide a negative COVID-19 test or evidence of recovery from the virus before boarding a plane.
If traveling, McKinley said people should still expect to wear a mask, carry hand sanitizer and take other precautions because of the virus. They shouldn’t expect to go on cruise ships or eat at a buffet, but instead, they need to travel thoughtfully.
“The virus is still out there,” Mckinley said. “Don’t act as if the virus is gone — that is not the way to travel.”
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