Making up for lost time, but at what cost?

After over two and a half years into the global pandemic, COVID vaccination efforts are ongoing, lockdowns have ended and travel restrictions have eased. Tourism has rebounded with record numbers, spawning a concept the industry is calling “revenge travel” — the act of making up for lost time (and lost travels) over the pandemic. However, this has forced tourism operators to play catch-up at a pace that doesn’t necessarily match the speed of incoming travel bookings.

Who’s getting revenge, exactly? Tourists aren’t tagging #revengetravel when they post highlights from their vacations, but the travel industry has certainly taken note of this concept’s impact on their daily operations. Longer, more luxurious trips are being taken, with the rationale that life is short, and who can predict what unprecedented events may impact the future? Travelers are flexing their newfound freedom by “seeking vengeance” against COVID after being confined to their homes during lockdowns and splurging on amenities more than they would have pre-pandemic.

The origin of revenge travel

The first hint of a pandemic-era travel boom began with the introduction of COVID vaccines in 2021, which lead to lighter travel restrictions and fewer lockdowns. Tourists soon cautiously dipped their toes back into the travel pool. Americans largely stuck with domestic travel by returning to their favorite spots or small and rural towns where they could socially distance themselves, according to Forbes.

Amusement parks and a desire for new scenery were the largest draws for those looking for a vacation, reinforcing the notion that travelers were eager to escape their homes for a new adventure — and it was only the beginning.

Where revenge travel stands today

Despite the looming presence of the Omicron variant, summer 2022 travel built upon the previous year’s growth, this time trending towards lengthier vacations and increased demand for international travel.

In June 2022, TIME reported that 65% of Americans were planning to travel for leisure in the next six months, and that passport searches were up 300% in the first quarter of 2022. But with bookings higher than ever, is the travel industry able to sustain the demand?

The impact of revenge travel

The hits taken by the hospitality industry throughout have pandemic have been largely publicized — resulting in cancellations, layoffs, reduced housekeeping services and a massive loss in revenue. As the industry attempts to rebuild, the realities of vacationing in a pandemic are more reliant on availability rather than the idea of a dream vacation.

In the early days of the pandemic, gas prices sank to a new low as mandated quarantines became a part of our daily routines. The present demand for oil skyrocketed again as restrictions loosened, lockdowns ended and travel ramped up, quickly outpacing American crude oil refineries’ fuel production abilities. End consumers soon shouldered the financial burden while jet fuel and gasoline prices went for a joyride.

According to NPR, airline tickets are 35% higher than they were in July 2019. And it doesn’t end there — many domestic airlines were forced to remove flight routes and reduce staff. These changes slowed the pace of flyer processing and subjected both travelers and staff to less-than-pleasant airport experiences such as long lines, flight delays and baggage complications.

Taking into consideration these complications, operators spanning several industries faced the task of reopening, hiring and training new employees at an unprecedented pace. Travelers may be enthusiastically clicking “Book Now” but should manage their expectations, as there may be some hiccups along the way as society adjusts to our “new” normal.

Moving forward: Revenge travel’s next trip

How will the next few months, or even the next year, play out for the travel industry? Time, and the trajectory of any new variants and additional vaccine efforts, will tell. It’s possible that the wave of travel bookings will “self-regulate” as tourists satisfy their travel bug. But that wave may grow increasingly persistent, putting the responsibility on the travel industry to become even more resilient, despite continuing to operate through a pandemic.

Revenge travel provides an opportunity for the industry, that pre-COVID, was unheard of. But for all the think pieces constantly speculating about the “future of travel,” we may finally be at that point. Travel operators must evolve in light of global events and consumer demands while scaling their growth in a sustainable manner.

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