When Kathy Sherman tries to envision traveling next year, she gets flashbacks to March 2020.
Now she has a decision to make.
“We recently received an email from South by Southwest telling us it’s time to confirm our reservation for 2022,” says Sherman, an attorney from Capitola, Calif. “We couldn’t imagine attending a crowded event in, of all places, Texas, next March. I don’t think the pandemic will be over by then.”
Mention travel in 2022 and it’s clear that Sherman’s reservations are widely shared. Many of us have planned trips that looked like a sure thing, only to have them disrupted by another surge or a dangerous variant. Travelers want more certainty, and they are planning their 2022 trips accordingly.
An October survey by Accenture, a multinational IT services and consulting company, ranks travel as one of the top spending priorities for the holidays. Among the survey group of more than 1,500 U.S. consumers, 40 percent selected saving for a vacation or trip away as a priority for the year ahead. More than half of the younger millennials surveyed say they plan to travel domestically during the holidays.
“The desire to travel is there for many and steadily returning for others,” says Emily Weiss, managing director at Accenture’s global travel industry practice. “But the pandemic fundamentally changed the priorities, values and behavior of travelers — whether by necessity or choice.”
Weiss says the emphasis will continue to be on health and safety in 2022.
It’s a strange time to be traveling. Americans are grappling with the unknowns of travel in 2022 while also managing the fallout from the past almost two years. For example, Sherman’s $400 Alaska Airlines ticket credits expire early next year. As for South by Southwest, she says, “it’s hard to imagine we will ever again feel comfortable about being in a crowd, even by 2023.” That means she may allow her $2,500 conference credit to expire.
It’s no wonder so many people are nervous about traveling. Yet the reluctance is tempered by the desire to experience the world again after nearly two years of staycationing. Anna Gladman, chief executive of travel insurance company World Nomads, reports that summer policy sales hit levels unseen since the start of the pandemic, while autumn sales are more than double what they were last year. “Travelers are taking precautions,” she says, “but that hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm.”
How are the professionals traveling? Carefully.
Eugene Delaune, an emergency medicine physician and expert on travel medicine based in Alexandria, Va., planned three trips for 2022. The first was a weekend ski trip in Whistler, British Columbia, in February.
But he decided to stick with domestic travel and switch the ski trip to Lake Tahoe instead. (His second trip, to France next spring, is still on, but only because his hotels and airline still offer flexible cancellation policies. And in the summer, he has a rescheduled cruise from last summer out of Amsterdam to Scotland, Norway and Iceland.)
Delaune regularly treats people with covid-19 and advises Allianz Travel Insurance on how to assist customers who have health issues while they’re traveling. He says the vaccinated don’t get as sick, and they recover faster. Delaune’s advice for anyone considering a trip is simple. “The most important advice I can give is to make sure you’re fully vaccinated,” he says.
Next year, more than ever, advance planning will be critical. “Plan, book early and get travel insurance,” says Michael Embrich, author of “March On: A Veterans Travel Guide.” “Booking early is the key.”
The reason: In 2022, demand will spike and prices will rise as we close in on spring break and the summer travel season. If you hesitate, you might get priced out of a vacation.
Brian Tan, chief executive and co-founder of luxury travel company Zicasso, says people are already spending more on their 2022 trips, particularly when they go abroad. The average international trip cost for next year has increased to $5,800 per person — up 38 percent from 2019, according to Zicasso’s internal booking numbers. Travelers also expect more, because it may be their first international trip in several years.
“They want upgraded services, such as staying at nicer hotels, taking private rather than group tours and taking trips that last longer,” Tan says.
By the way, if you think you can skip travel insurance, think again. Travel insurance used to be optional, but now it’s mandatory in some places, warns Karisa Cernera, senior manager of travel services for Redpoint Travel Protection.
“Many destinations are now requiring travelers to purchase travel insurance, which protects against covid-19-related losses and medical needs,” she says. These include popular winter vacation choices in the Caribbean, such as Aruba, the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands.
Despite all this, reluctance to travel is decreasing, at least in some quarters. Slightly more than half — 51 percent — of Global Rescue customers now say that by next March they’ll take their first multiday international trip since the pandemic started, the highest number ever, according to the company’s internal research.
“Travelers are not willing to let health and safety be a barrier,” says Dan Richards, chief executive of Global Rescue, a provider of medical and crisis response services.
Though they may not be an obstacle in 2022, health and safety concerns loom large over every trip you take. Ignore them at your peril.
Elliott is a consumer advocate, journalist and co-founder of the advocacy group Travelers United. Email him at email@example.com.
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