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The COVID Vaccine Travel Booking Spree Is On

Photo by Shutterstock Puerto Rico is among the destinations on travelers’ 2021 wish lists.
It was the year that time stood still, when we put all our plans on hold. With 2020 (finally) behind us and an end to the pandemic seeming plausible now that vaccine inoculations have begun, many travelers can wait no more. The time to start planning and booking some trips has come.

“January 4 came around and suddenly my phone started ringing,” says Renee Taylor, a travel advisor with Searcy, Arkansas–based Renee Taylor Travel, a luxury Travel Experts affiliate. Taylor says she had more requests for travel on the first Monday of 2021 than during an entire month after the COVID pandemic took hold in 2020.

Amy Ongaro who runs the San Rafael, California–based travel agency Journeys with Amy, says the same. Her “phone has been ringing steadily with clients asking for help planning trips for honeymoons, anniversaries, milestone birthdays, and multigenerational trips that have been on hold,” she says. “Enthusiasm is high for traveling.”

Taylor and Ongaro aren’t alone in their observations of a sudden uptick in travel bookings since the new year as U.S. citizens begin to schedule and receive their Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccine doses—or anticipate being able to do so in the coming weeks and months. Numerous travel advisors are reporting that calls to book travel have been coming in fast and furious since we turned the corner into 2021.

“For me it is like the faucet has been turned on,” says Lisa Hall, an advisor with Greenville, South Carolina–based Thornton-Hall Travel. Hall says she spent half of her first day back at her desk in 2021 on calls with all new clients. “Each of them has a desire for a vacation.”

While planning has begun, some still waiting to book

A recent survey conducted by travel booking site Kayak found that 66 percent of Americans want to travel in 2021—but only 11 percent have a trip booked for summer 2021. While interest in travel has definitely picked up since the news of the vaccines emerged and the start of the new year, many have reported that travelers are still making the actual bookings much closer to their potential departure date. That makes sense given the ongoing uncertainty of the pandemic—the positive vaccine news comes as we are in the midst of the pandemic’s worst surge to date, after all. Add to that last week’s political violence in Washington, D.C., which has also served as a distraction for travelers.

Eric Maryanov, president of Los Angeles–based All-Travel and a member of AFAR’s Travel Advisory Council (TAC), says he experienced an increase in calls from travelers after the new year—up until the unrest at the Capitol, after which the calls came to a halt again. He expects them to pick back up when the political news has quieted once again.

Gallery: Popular destinations for early 2021, per Priceline (USA TODAY)

Travel booking site Hopper analyzed searches and clicks for 2021 travel and found the biggest increase in searches to be for travel taking place in July and August 2021. Searches for flights departing the week of July 4, 2021, increased on average 9 percent in the past two weeks, Hopper reports.

“This trend suggests travelers may feel confident about the vaccine rollout by July 2021,” Hopper states in a release.

Where travelers are going in 2021

With many international destinations still off limits for U.S. travelers, Americans are still more focused on domestic travel as well as Mexico and the Caribbean at the moment—places where they are currently allowed to travel.

Domestic destinations getting the most search traction for spring 2021 travel on Hopper include Denver, Atlanta, Austin, and Puerto Rico. Actual bookings for spring travel are focused on Hawaii, Miami, Phoenix, and Denver, Hopper reports. But people are browsing international locales, too. Foreign destinations that travelers are searching the most on Hopper are Tokyo, London, Cancun, and Paris. 

Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg, copresident and owner of New York–based Valerie Wilson Travel (and another TAC member), says that she sees 2021 as a “rebuilding year” for travel and travel businesses, a year when people will start dipping their toes back into travel.

“We are definitely beginning to see an increase in both interest and new bookings, primarily on the leisure side,” says Wilson-Buttigieg. “Most travel is domestic, Caribbean, or Mexico right now, as so many other countries have re-entered lockdowns.”

Wilson-Buttigieg says that vaccine news and rollouts have prompted people to begin future travel planning again. “It is exciting to see travelers begin to think, believe, dream, hope, and plan to venture further afield again,” she adds.

While some may be ready to travel further afield, the trend in domestic travel is likely to remain strong for now, reports Holly Lombardo of Classic Travel Advisors in Atlanta, Georgia, who has also experienced more calls coming in since the start of the year.

According to Lombardo, the combination of the election being over and the vaccine announcements has resulted in a noticeable increase in travel inquiries and sales.

Travelers have been “kicking the tires for months, lamenting when and how they might travel,” she says. “Now that we have a vaccine, they can sense a timeline of when the population will get vaccinated in the coming months and it is much easier to define a departure date.”

>> Next: Where We’ll Go in 2021—When We Can

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