Mt. Fuji, Japan.
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Americans are poised to travel abroad in a big way in 2023.
Households continue to release two to three years of pent-up demand as Covid-19 fears subside and the last vestiges of pandemic-era border restrictions are eased.
The U.S. dollar also remains relatively strong against currencies like the euro, hybrid work offers more flexibility for big trips and some airlines have added new long-haul routes to overseas destinations, travel experts say .
“The travel industry is just going gangbusters,” said Erin Florio, executive editor of Condé Nast Traveler.
Why traveling abroad is poised for a ‘big comeback’
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Thirty-one percent of Americans are more interested in international travel than domestic travel, according to a recent survey by travel market research firm Destination Analysts. That was a six-point increase from February and a year-to-date high, according to the survey, released in November.
Meanwhile, 62% of 2023 flight searches in the first week of December were to international destinations, up 55% from the same time last year, according to a recent Hopper report. He cited international travel among the top three trends for 2023, saying it is poised “for a big comeback.”
Searches on Kayak for international flights are up 1.3% from a year ago, according to company data in December. 18. Domestic flights fell by 13%.
In 2022, the share of international trips for which Americans bought travel insurance matched 2019 levels, the first time that happened in the pandemic era, data show from online travel insurance marketplace Squaremouth. The trend has continued for trips booked through 2023.
US travelers largely stayed within US borders in 2020 and 2021 amid health concerns and Covid-related restrictions abroad, such as testing requirements, mandatory quarantines or outright bans on foreign tourists Visits to America’s national parks increased and RV rentals increased as outdoor vacations offered the dual benefits of travel and relative safety from viruses.
Now, the fear of the virus has subsided. In September, the proportion of travelers who weren’t worried about contracting Covid outnumbered those who were worried, the first time that had happened in the pandemic era, according to Destination Analysts.
“There is a lot of pent-up travel demand”
Tower Bridge, London.
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2022 was also a year for more overseas travel, but a spike in virus cases towards the end of 2021 and into the new year, driven by the highly contagious omicron variant, dampened enthusiasm , experts said.
“There’s a lot of pent-up travel demand,” said Jessica Griscavage, travel consultant and CEO of Runway Travel. “We lost the trip for two or three years.”
This trend called “revenge travel” – a term recently coined to describe the growing pent-up wanderlust – coincides with laxer health rules abroad and at home.
In June, the United States removed a requirement for Covid tests for air travelers arriving from abroad. This rule, which also applied to US citizens, required a negative test within one day of the flight.
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Many countries had also completely closed their borders to foreign tourists. Now, most are welcoming visitors back, especially those with a Covid vaccine.
Fully vaccinated tourists can enter 197 countries without Covid-19 testing or quarantine, and 16 more are open but require testing, according to data from Kayak.
“We’re pretty much in a place where we can go anywhere,” Florio said.
Only 12 countries, including China, Libya, Turkmenistan and Yemen, are still closed to vaccinated Americans, according to Kayak.
Many countries have more restrictions for the unvaccinated. About 69% of Americans are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC recommends getting up to date on vaccinations before international travel.
Many nations – including Australia, Bhutan, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Morocco, New Zealand, the Philippines and Singapore – eased border closures in 2022. Many European nations also dropped testing requirements for north- americans (Travelers should check the US State Department website for country-specific Covid restrictions.)
Additionally, the rise of pandemic-era remote work has made “bucket-list travel a more attainable reality,” said Nitya Chambers, Lonely Planet’s executive editor and senior vice president of content.
In fact, Hopper found that 67% of commuters take trips more often and 20% travel further due to the flexibility of remote work.
Where trips increase the most
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
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According to travel experts, the Asia-Pacific region is poised for the biggest rebound in 2023 due to its wide reopening in the second half of 2022.
Japan has seen perhaps the biggest boost in interest, they said. The country reopened its borders to travelers in October. 11, with some remaining restrictions.
“You can hardly talk about travel without mentioning the country of Japan for 2023,” Florio said, adding that Australia and New Zealand are also “massive”.
Asia has increased demand the most of all regions, according to data from Hopper, which shows 27% of international flight searches are to Asian cities, up from 19% last year.
In fact, eight of the top 10 trending international flight destinations in early December were in Asia and Oceania, Hopper said. Tokyo; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; and Bangkok were the top three, averaging about $1,200 for a round-trip ticket.
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G Adventures, an international tour operator, has seen 2023 sales increase the most in Japan, Thailand and Vietnam, CEO Ben Perlo said. This November has been a global record month for the company; Sales in the three Asian nations each beat their November 2019 numbers, it said.
However, Europe remained the most popular destination in terms of total volume, with European cities capturing a third of all international flight searches, about the same as in 2021, Hopper said.
Long-term rentals (28 days or more) “have become substantially more popular in Asia-Pacific compared to a year ago,” according to an AirBnb spokesperson. However, most long-term stays are in Europe and North America.
The main European centers were among the most searched this year until September. 30, according to data from Google Flights. London took the no. 1, followed by Paris (No. 3), Rome (No. 6) and Lisbon (No. 9). Ho Chi Minh City was the number no. 2, while other Asian cities such as Delhi and Mumbai also ranked highly (#4 and #7, respectively).
Italy, the United Kingdom and France ranked first, third and fifth respectively among the top foreign destinations in 2023, according to a recent survey of destination analysts. (Canada, Mexico, and Japan ranked second, fourth, and sixth, respectively).
“Everybody wants to go to Europe,” Griscavage said. “It was a fate that everyone missed during the pandemic.”
Because of the demand, people have become more “creative” about how to travel to Europe, he added. Many opt for the typically less busy (and less expensive) shoulder season, perhaps as early as March or late fall, Griscavage said.
Global travel demand has performed similarly, with the majority of interest directed to Europe and Asia, according to Expedia data. Edinburgh, Scotland, and Sydney, Australia, ranked no. 1 and 6 in part due to respective major events such as the Fringe, the world’s largest arts and media festival, and WorldPride, Expedia said.
Economic worries, inflation ‘aren’t stopping people’
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However, this does not mean that the journeys are without headwinds. The value has been of particular concern to travellers, whose budgets have been strained by high inflation. Global airfares and hotel prices have risen 36% and 3%, respectively, over the past year, according to the Consumer Price Index.
International travel is poised to get more expensive next year, Hopper said, despite signs from the consumer price index that prices for airline tickets, hotels and rental cars have trended up down in recent months. The desire to travel abroad has increased through 2022 despite these economic anxieties, Destination Analysts said.
The euro has been trading at historically weak levels against the US dollar, meaning Americans have been able to get bargains when booking travel to countries like France, Germany, Italy and Portugal. That dynamic is likely driving at least some of the popularity, Perlo said. (The euro has strengthened somewhat in recent weeks, however.)
“The economy right now and the prices are not stopping people from traveling,” Chambers said. “People have been home, they want to get back out there, they have a list of things they want to experience and they’re doing it.”