Travel in 2022 has been something else. After pandemic restrictions that kept international travel down for two years, people were willing to put up with just anything to satisfy their wanderlust. And boy, did they. So many people tried to fit their revenge travel in that airlines and airports still short-staffed from pandemic-related layoffs and early retirements were overwhelmed. Flights were canceled by the hundreds, luggage was lost at an astounding rate, and the Transportation Department designed a new rule to compensate passengers who experience cancellations or lengthy delays. Amid inflation and huge demand, prices were at record levels. Things got so crazy at London’s Heathrow airport that they had to cap the number of travelers coming through each day, and the CEO told Forbes that disruptions could continue through next summer. Things aren’t all the way back to the way they were in 2019, but the 2023 travel outlook is much rosier. There are still some things to watch out for, however.
Just like with everything else these days, prices for things like flights, hotel rooms, and short-term rentals are high.
Yet, “If you complain that the rate is too high, there’s three people waiting to take that room or that suite,” Matthew D. Upchurch, chairman and CEO of Virtuoso said.
No matter the price, someone is willing to pay it. A corollary to that is travelers are planning their vacations further out than they did in the pre-pandemic era. It’s not so easy to wing off to Europe with just a couple weeks’ notice. People have had their summer vacations in the works for months, and if you wait too long to get started on yours, you may find there’s no room at the inn. With the most popular places filling up, travelers are flocking to South America, South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, and other destinations in the Global South.
There’s plenty of good news for travel in 2023. The strong dollar has made exchange rates with the euro and the pound much more favorable to American travelers headed to Europe and the U.K., where inflation is offset by what amounts to discounts of 15-20% thanks to the currency drops. The dollar’s strength is also discouraging visitors to the U.S., meaning domestic travel is a bit less crowded. There are areas of Asia that have not seen the great surge of demand, and destinations such as Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and India have good pricing and availability, making them attractive options. Summer filling up so fast in popular destinations has caused more people to travel during off-peak shoulder seasons, which offer milder weather, smaller crowds, local festivals, and other unique charms.
They might still be expensive, but at least there will be more options for international flights. Airlines, particularly the U.S. big three of United, Delta, and American, are reinstating routes they cut during the pandemic and adding more weekly flights to popular destinations. They’re also reinstating routes they haven’t flown in decades, such as Delta’s nonstop from New York’s JFK to Geneva, which last flew in 1993.
“Next summer, Delta will give customers expanded access to popular destinations across the trans-Atlantic,” senior vice president of network planning Joe Esposito said. “With nearly 620 weekly flights and connectivity to 32 destinations in Europe and beyond, customers will have a wealth of iconic destinations to explore and an unmatched journey to enjoy across the pond.”
Once travelers arrive, they can expect a warmer welcome than they received in 2022. After laying off many workers during the long lull, hospitality businesses found themselves scrambling to hire and train new staff to keep up with a huge surge in demand last year. Things didn’t always go so well, but those new hires are well-seasoned now, making the 2023 travel outlook friendlier.
Most destinations have ended or drastically loosened their entry protocols, dropping required COVID testing for vaccinated travelers (and even unvaccinated ones in some countries). That includes returning to the U.S., which no longer requires people to show proof of vaccination or recent recovery from COVID-19 to enter the country. That eliminates the possibility of having to spend extra days and money decidedly not enjoying vacation while quarantining at a resort and waiting to test negative.
Which destinations are hot in the 2023 travel outlook? Well, Australia and New Zealand are open for business and hosting a big event. Being island nations, they stayed closed to leisure travelers longer than most destinations. They’re now ready to welcome the world for the Women’s World Cup from July 20-Aug. 20. With the women’s European championships over the summer drawing record crowds in the stadiums and on TV to see host England win the title, women’s soccer is enjoying a surge in popularity. The U.S. is favored to win a fifth World Cup but will face stiff competition from England and other European heavyweights.
Antarctica gained popularity during the pandemic, since it’s hard to get more socially distant than the White Continent. Expedition cruise visitors usually get a landing or two to say they’ve set foot on the continent. With White Desert, which has three camps of luxurious “polar pods” and gourmet dining, you can really claim to have been there and done that. Along with the glamping experience, you can make friends with penguins, zipline over a frozen lake, climb ice or go through tunnels made of it. And at the end of the day, you can take a nice, hot shower.
Cruising was hit especially hard by COVID regulations, but the 2023 travel outlook has the industry bouncing back in a big way. Some world cruises are selling out years in advance, before bookings even officially open.
“We have received unprecedented interest in this sailing and this phenomenal booking record shows once again that people, just like the world itself, are now open to travel and are not going to wait around and let opportunities pass them by,” said Jason Montague, president and CEO of Regent Seven Seas Cruises, which has already sold out its world cruises through 2025.
Where will 2023 take you?