With the global pandemic in the rearview mirror, international travel is returning. Travelers recognize there is no time like the present to explore.
MMGY Travel Intelligence predicts Americans plan to take an average of 3.8 international trips this year and spend $15,364. “The same destinations that were popular before the pandemic are still popular,” says Vicki Allen, senior research account manager at MMGY Travel Intelligence. Europe continues to top the charts thanks to the power of the dollar and countries lifting restrictions. Travelers are ready to return to London, Paris, and Rome, in particular.
“We are still seeing strong interest in ‘bread-and-butter’ destinations,” says Lael Kassis, vice president of market innovation and development for Boston-based EF Go Ahead Tours. “Interest in Italy and Greece continues to be strong. We are launching five itineraries to Spain and Portugal.”
Kassis is seeing significantly more interest in Asian and South Pacific destinations this year, driven by pent-up demand and the fact that many of these places just reopened. “This includes Australia, Japan, and Thailand,” Kassis says. “The trend is bolstered by a duration trend in that our travelers appear to be electing long-haul, bucket-list trips that they have been dreaming about taking for years while the COVID-19 pandemic kept many people at home.”
Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) provides personalized adventures for travelers over the age of 50. Popular destinations for this demographic in 2023 include Egypt, Iceland, Morocco, Ireland, and Italy—especially Sicily, explains Ann Shannon, vice president of customer and public relations for OAT. “Egypt is ever-popular, as many people have it on their list of places they simply must see,” she says.
A tale of two markets
The current travel landscape is different across generations. Millennials anticipate going on more trips, while baby boomers plan to spend more, seeking out exciting locales and premium packages.
“There continues to be huge demand for short six- to nine-day tours, and we’re seeing a massive increase in interest in the longer bucket-list tours of 14 to 22 days,” Kassis observes. “Perhaps you’re working, you’re younger, and you’re looking for a travel experience that’s a bit more affordable with a shorter time commitment. Then you have a different demographic with more time to invest in the big, life-changing trips of up to a month long.”
Additionally, travelers prefer a multidestination itinerary. “The primary reason is that they want to experience as much as possible on one trip,” Allen says. “For example, 59% prefer to visit multiple cities within the same country.” Hub-and-spoke-style tours give group travelers a home base while retaining the flexibility to experience several nearby destinations or attractions.
“We are seeing an increase in interest in single-country tours, probably due to the previous challenge of managing different countries’ COVID-19 policies,” Kassis says.
Regardless of where travelers venture, they seek unique opportunities. “Interactions with local people are important,” Shannon says. “OAT has always included local interactions in its adventures, along with opportunities to learn through frank discussions on timely topics. Travelers want to experience a community on a deeper level.”
With documentaries like “The Last Tourist,” travelers have evolving expectations on responsible tourism. Savvy travelers want to know about sustainability. Some “63% of millennials indicate that a travel service provider’s focus on sustainability affects their travel decision-making,” Allen says. “There is an opportunity for travel providers to educate consumers.”
International travel is outperforming pre-pandemic metrics. Industry players can respond to immediate opportunities for personalized experiences while planning strategically for a future focused on authentic connections and sustainable practices.
Article by Michael McLaughlin
Main image: Gondola ride, Venice, Italy; Credit: EF Go Ahead Tours