Heather Popowsky of Edmond can’t decide between visiting Turks and Caicos, taking an Alaskan cruise or embarking on an adventure in Iceland.
All three sound phenomenal, and after a few years of COVID-19 shutdowns and difficulties in international travel, she’s ready to go explore the world again. Already, she knocked an Egypt and Nile cruise off her list this past November, but the floodgates of possibilities are now open.
“I have a bucket list of destinations that I haven’t been to and years that I need to catch up on, and 2023 is my year to do it,” she said. “I will have to plan further in advance than I’ve done in the past due to the costs, and depending on airline fare increases, I may have to be more flexible on the accommodations that I stay in. But, it’s not keeping me from traveling.”
Popowsky, like thousands of Americans, is looking forward to the new year as a new chance to hit the road and dust off the passports. The U.S. Travel Association reports that travel spending dipped some in October after reaching a pandemic-era high in September but still remains positive at 3% above 2019 levels.
However, international travel recovery still remains low, with arrivals at international destinations 30% below 2019 levels in October.
Travel trends for those seeking leisure vacations in 2023 are tenuous at best. Rising airfare, labor shortages in the travel industry and pent-up demand are driving costs higher, but international travel and experiential adventures seem to be on the rise.
Early travel trends
In its 2023 Travel Trends Report, Expedia joined with Hotels.com and Vrbo to study traveler data, surveying thousands of people across 17 countries to uncover the biggest travel trends in the coming year.
While nature and off-the-beaten path locales were popular for a public still wary of COVID-19 and big crowds, cities will make a comeback in 2023, according to the report. Travelers are ready to enjoy the hustle of cities and are seeking culture and action.The top three urban destinations globally were Edinburgh, Scotland; Lisbon, Portugal; and Tokyo, Japan, with New York City ranking fifth in the top 10.
“When we look at Expedia, Hotels.com, and Vrbo data together, we see a detailed and robust picture of travel into 2023,” said Jon Gieselman, president of Expedia Brands. “We’re seeing a surge in trips to culture capitals, a new wave of interest in wellness retreats, and a spike in demand for outdoor destinations beyond just beaches and mountains — not a new normal, but people branching out to unexpected trends in what we’re calling the ‘no-normal.’”
Locally, Dana Flowers, owner of Happy Gecko Travel of Oklahoma City, said he’s seeing a boost in cruise bookings and inquiries.
“With the big mega cruise ships out there, people are really interested and want to go on the mega cruises that have all kinds of activities,” Flowers said. “A lot of people are trending towards doing that, and even the Disney cruises are popular again.”
While the Caribbean cruises top the list for Flowers’ clients, he said destinations like Alaska and Hawaii are trending, as are European river cruises.
“The thing that has really piqued a lot of people’s interest, although it’s very expensive, are the United States river cruises on the Mississippi and places like that,” he said.
“Although they are expensive, you don’t actually have to fly very far for them.”
Airbnb’s travel trends report showed that destinations such as Spain, Australia and New Zealand also were trending for 2023,
Hotels.com said wellness continues to be a focus for travelers searching for stays. Wellness breaks saw more than a 30% increase in 2022 demand from 2021, and 46% of global travelers said they are more open to wellness trips than before. Quirky and unique experiences are popular.
For vacation rentals, Vrbo found that many travelers in 2023 are looking for ways to reduce daily spending while on a trip, so kitchen amenities are a top concern.
Thirty-eight percent of travelers said they plan to use cooking to cut down on vacation costs, and 41% feel it’s an “excellent opportunity to bond as a group.
Thanks to the popularity of shows like “Yellowstone,” the rustic and Western vacations are in demand as well. Vrbo found private vacation homes in western U.S. destinations are up by more than 30% with the top three “rustic” domestic locations being Nampa, Idaho; Greensboro, North Carolina; and Layton, Utah.
Flowers said his clients are also asking more about Western destinations like Montana and Wyoming, which he also attributes to the popularity of Western-based shows.
Travel tips and hacks
According to Expedia’s Air Hacks, the top data-backed flight tips listed Sunday as the best day to book air travel, with ideally a month lead time in advance for domestic travel and six months in advance for international travel. Wednesday remains the best (and usually cheapest) day to depart.
But experts are predicting that air travel costs are going to increase in 2023, with recent estimates suggesting airfares rising over 8% in 2023. A shortage of aircraft, labor and fuel costs are some of the factors.
The best and cheapest times to buy flights for the coming year are the weeks following the most expensive time around the holidays. According to fare watcher Scott’s Cheap Flights, mid-January can see fares drop 80% from December prices.
Flowers said hotel deals can also be another way to find travel deals.
“There are a lot of resorts that are offering air packages, and that’s always a good way to go,” he said. “The problem is you’re somewhat limited on selecting something that really works for you and you have to go with whatever they provide. You may have an early flight, which you didn’t really want, or may not be able to fly first class.
“You’re kind of limited in that regard, but you may make it up in price if you can deal with some of the inconveniences.”