Pent-up 'revenge' travel combined with relaxed restrictions caused a surge in demand this past year. Globally, high fuel prices and limited airline capacity drove up costs, with overall travel prices increasing over pre-pandemic levels by June 2022.
What about this summer? Will weakening demand worldwide lead to lower prices and thinner crowds? It’s not looking likely, according to travel experts.
“We aren’t seeing any dip in demand,” says Hayley Berg, lead economist at Hopper, an international travel booking platform. “It seems incredible that the demand could be sustained, but we’re not seeing any weakness right now.”
It seems that travellers' appetite for revenge remains unsated. And that could lead to another surge in travel demand this summer.
Prices for flights, car rentals and hotels worldwide may have peaked last year, but they haven’t come down much. Overall trip prices remained higher in January 2023 compared with January 2020, before travel plummeted because of the pandemic.
It looks like prices could remain high through the summer, though they’re unlikely to hit the enormous year-over-year gains seen last year.
“We’re not seeing nearly the pricing increases we saw last year,” says Jamie Lane, vice president of research at AirDNA, a Spain-based vacation rental data platform. Demand for Airbnb rentals remains high, he says, but increased supply has tempered price growth. “Average daily rates are up 4 per cent year over year for the summer.”
Given the huge spikes in global travel prices last year, a 4 per cent increase is relatively modest. Airfares, on the other hand, could see a decrease in price this summer compared with last year.
Different booking timelines
The pandemic may be waning, but it has significantly changed how we travel.
“What we’ve seen consistently is that people are booking a lot more last minute,” Berg says. “For airfare, that’s three to four weeks in advance, where it would have been closer to six to eight weeks in advance before the pandemic.”
These short booking windows mean we won’t know how high demand for summer travel gets until, well, the summer. It could also mean that prices on transportation and lodging will rise more than usual in the final weeks before departure. Avoiding this last-minute crunch could be the budget-savvy way to plan this year.
Another trend that seems to be continuing this year: more travellers choosing to book trips during the shoulder seasons around the summer. Lane says the shoulder season saw above-average demand last year, and so far the trend is continuing.
“It would start to show up if we see pacing weaker in shoulder seasons like April and May, and we’re just not seeing that.”
Asia in the spotlight
It’s not just a matter of when travellers are booking but where. International destinations that were still closed or restricted in 2022 are seeing a boom this year.
The number of passengers worldwide leaving for international destinations was up in January 2023 compared with January 2022 and up compared with January 2019, according to data from the International Trade Administration. The biggest shift has been in departures to Asia, which have seen a staggering 380 per cent increase between January 2022 and January 2023. It’s a shift that seems likely to accelerate into the summer, according to experts.
“Asia is absolutely one of the hottest regions right now,” Berg says. “The challenge there is that supply, direct flights is not back to pre-pandemic levels.” So while a long-deferred summer trip to Japan might sound enticing, it’s likely to carry a high price tag.
Big questions remain
Will travellers tap the brakes on spending, leading to thinner crowds and lower prices come summer? Or will they continue to seek their revenge travel at all costs, leading to another summer of wild travel pricing?
Whatever happens, savvy vacationers might avoid booking at the last minute, especially for popular summer getaway destinations. And skipping Asia, at least until more air routes become available, could help them avoid some of the heftier airfare prices.