The coronavirus pandemic gut punched the travel industry as people stayed home and businesses shut down. But as the number of vaccinations rises and lockdown restrictions lift, consumers are searching for vacation getaways in record numbers, new data suggests.
Search queries for resorts and hotels in the U.S. are at their highest levels in nearly 10 years, according to Google data. The rise began in November, with searches for "resort" peaking on March 21 before declining slightly, and for "hotel" on March 28, before it also dipped, according to Google.
Google doesn't provide the number of actual searches. Instead, it uses a scale of up to 100, which indicates a peak.
But people aren't just searching for vacation spots, they’re booking them too, according to Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group. “It’s basically COVID revenge travel,” he said. “We’re sick and tired of being stuck at home. As more people are vaccinated, they’re taking to the roads and skies, and hotels are benefiting.”
U.S. hotel profits, excluding operating expenses, per room in February hit their highest level since the coronavirus outbreak, according to hotel market research firm STR. And five-star hotels and resorts appear to be the main beneficiaries.
The trend aligns with recent spikes in the purchase of airline tickets. American Airlines recently said that its bookings are at 90% of pre-pandemic averages. And last week, Delta became the last airline to announce plans to stop blocking middle seats on flights—a policy introduced during the pandemic—to accommodate more passengers per flight.
But hotels and resorts are likely seeing a much bigger bump than the airlines, Harteveldt said. Pre-pandemic, the number of leisure stays at hotels outnumbered the number of leisure flights, with 55% of U.S. adults taking one flight per year compared to 80% who stay at a hotel, Atmosphere Research shows. But since the outbreak of the coronavirus, even more people have been willing to take road trips to and book stays at hotels, resorts, or with home-rental services like Airbnb.
Because of the rising demand, hotels in popular vacation spots like Hawaii and Mexico have been able to charge more than they did even pre-pandemic, Harteveldt said. And nearly all travel is being driven by leisure trips instead of business.
“When we think about a weekend getaway…we tend to want to indulge ourselves,” he said. “And a lot of people saved their money during the pandemic.”
Harteveldt said he expects the surge in leisure travel to continue as more cities loosen their restrictions. He also expects business travel to kick up in the fall, but not return to pre-pandemic for at least a couple of years.
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