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2023 Travel Trends for Retirees
As the COVID-19 pandemic recedes in the rearview mirror, travel among the 55+ crowd roared back in 2022. The annual AARP travel trends survey showed concern about coronavirus infection declined significantly, leading to increased travel plans among the senior demographic.
However, the pandemic and other factors have changed the travel landscape for older adults. Here are some notable trends to keep in mind as you ponder travel plans in 2023 and beyond.
Travel Trends in 2023
Hotels Make a Comeback Versus Short Stay Rentals
Upstart companies like Airbnb and VRBO have disrupted the hospitality and tourism industry for over two decades. Hotels and resorts lost bookings to these upstarts because consumers were looking for lower prices, more space, and a “homey” atmosphere.
However, the cost advantage of short-stay rentals versus hotels seems to be diminishing. The website AllTheRooms found that the average worldwide price for an Airbnb per night increased by 24% from 2020 to 2021. For North America, the increase was 28%.
Over the years, travelers may also have become savvy about the drawbacks of short-stay rentals in terms of lack of services, extra fees (e.g., cleaning), and sometimes sketchy accommodations. As a result, hotels are viewed as a more predictable and convenient alternative, especially for travelers staying only 1-3 nights.
Travel professionals report excursions to the locations of popular TV shows or movies seem to be on the rise. The 2023 Global Travel Trends Report noted that 64% of survey respondents said, “They have been inspired to travel to a destination after seeing it featured on a TV show, news source, or movie.” Episodes of shows like “White Lotus” and “Succession” are set in exotic locations that may motivate travel plans for a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
International Travel Rebounds
International travel cratered during the pandemic. With the lifting of restrictions, however, pent-up demand for overseas travel is booming. Large U.S. air carriers expect transatlantic flights to increase significantly during 2023. Other areas are also experiencing a resurgence. For example, the International Air Travel Association reported global air traffic is at nearly 85% pre-pandemic levels.
Hotel and Airline Labor Issues Continue
Labor shortages persist in both the airline and hotel industries. Airlines report vacancies for pilots, flight attendants, air traffic controllers, and ground crew. While airlines are scrambling to add staff by offering incentives such as hiring bonuses, mobile phones, and childcare, staffing levels are still below pre-pandemic numbers.
Hotels also struggle with a lack of workers. In a recent survey by the American Hotel & Lodging Association, 85% of member respondents said they were "somewhat or severely understaffed.” Travelers can expect this to result in fewer amenities and longer wait times for available services.
Getting Off the Beaten Track
Travelers are increasingly seeking lesser-known destinations. An American Express survey found that 89% of respondents wanted to “travel to destinations they’ve never visited before.” The reasons for this trend are varied. They include avoiding the crowds generated by over-tourism, seeking lower costs, and a desire for new experiences. Travel resources like Airbnb and Booking.com picked up on this trend by offering online tools for finding alternative destinations.
Return of the Thrifty Traveler
As noted above, part of the trend of getting off the beaten track is driven by cost. Inflation has hit the travel industry hard. NerdWallet's Travel Price Index shows that overall travel costs rose 9% in the twelve months ending April 2023. As a result, travelers are increasingly looking for ways to cut costs while seeking to find satisfying experiences.
One smart tactic to lower costs is to choose destinations where the U.S. dollar is particularly strong. FinanceBuzz listed the ten countries where your dollar goes furthest:
- South Africa
Latest Infection Protocols
Even though most people think we’re out of the woods regarding COVID-19, the virus is still making the rounds in the global travel environment. Current CDC recommendations include:
- Stay current with the latest COVID-19 vaccines before traveling and bring vaccine records.
- Getting a test before travel is recommended.
- After returning home, testing is also recommended, especially after being exposed to crowded environments.
- Follow CDC’s mask recommendations.
- Check the COVID-19 Community Level before traveling since some destinations may still have travel restrictions.
- If you are at heightened risk due to age or a health condition, consult a medical professional for advice on steps to stay safe.
Tech Simplifies Travel
Advances in technology continue to make travel easier. Here is a rundown of some innovations in travel tech.
- Digital guidebooks and maps – Rather than lugging around a lot of paper, mobile phone-based guidebooks and maps are handy for on-the-go reference.
- Translation apps – Although these apps are cumbersome for long conversations, translation apps can be lifesavers when communicating with locals.
- Technology in transportation and hotels – Technology tools like internet access have become widespread in air travel and hotel accommodations. Other, more behind-the-scenes tech is also improving the travel experience. For example, TSA continually upgrades its technology to increase security while moving passengers through checkpoints faster.
- Trip planning apps – While it’s very convenient to book transportation and accommodation reservations online, keeping all the pieces of the travel puzzle organized can be a challenge. This is where planners like TripIt can help consolidate everything. By directing reservation confirmations to the app, the various details of a trip can be viewed in one place.
- Electronic payments – As electronic payment systems expand worldwide, travelers’ dependence on cash or traveler’s cheques has lessened. For many, this has decreased or eliminated the need for manual currency exchange.
After getting hammered during the pandemic, cruise operators reported a surge in bookings for 2022 and 2023. Although the CDC lifted its COVID-19 Program for Cruise Ships in July 2022, cruise lines have individual policies to minimize the spread of COVID and other infectious diseases. Therefore, if you are planning an excursion by ship, review these policies prior to booking.
With the industry’s resurgence, the variety of cruising options continues to grow. For example, river cruises have been gaining a bigger share of the market. Also, voyages on smaller ocean-going vessels are increasing in popularity among those looking for alternatives to crowded mega-ships.
Many senior travelers are seeking experiences that go beyond the normal conception of a relaxing vacation. They seek to find deeper meaning in their excursions. Some look for compelling personal experiences. Others want to combine travel and service to causes they care about. Here are a few examples.
- Food-Focus – Culinary tours highlight the fact that each culture has its own take on what to eat, how to prepare food, and what that cuisine says about the location. It can be a more intimate way to experience another culture and meet local inhabitants.
- Wellness – Sometimes, it takes a new environment to stimulate changes we’d like to make in our approach to wellness. Traveling to a spa or a yoga retreat can provide both the facilities and expertise to improve health and well-being.
- Education – Trips for older adults that incorporate learning continue to grow in popularity. As one travel company puts it, “You’ll be an active learner, not a passive tourist.” A variety of organizations offer this kind of trip, including non-profits and universities.
- Volunteer – A travel adventure with volunteerism as its centerpiece combines a getaway with giving back to communities and causes in need. Many non-profit organizations offer short-term volunteer opportunities as a way to support their missions and raise awareness. Travelers gain satisfaction that they are having a social impact while experiencing local culture.
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