By Natalie B. Compton
The rise of Omicron may have launched the new year into chaos, but travellers are planning 2022 trips with cautious optimism.
According to industry insiders, consumers are navigating the most recent variant hurdle by either booking trips far, far in advance (think 2023) or seizing last-minute opportunities.
Luke Charny, co-founder of the food tour company A Chef's Tour, says almost 90% of bookings now are made 48 hours before the tour departure (vs. 40% pre-pandemic).
People will continue to make travel plans at the last minute because they know that what is available today might not be there tomorrow, says Justin Smith, owner of the luxury travel-planning company the Evolved Traveler.
Once travellers decide to book, where are they going?
We spoke to travel advisers and tour operators to find out the most popular destinations of 2022.
The coronavirus outlook for each of these destinations is unknown, so make sure to check recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and evaluate your own risk before planning a trip.
Many travellers want to avoid the stress of international travel restrictions and remain hesitant to go abroad.
"I am currently seeing trends still heavily swayed toward domestic travel," said Robin Cline, the founder of Cline & Co. Travel Consulting.
"And the prices of domestic properties and experiences prove the demand is still very high."
Many travel advisers reported that clients are willing to pay more for trips than they did before.
Brian Tan, the founder and chief executive of the travel planning company Zicasso, says the average price per trip has gone up 38 percent compared to pre-pandemic business.
Customers are upgrading their experiences, lengthening their trips, picking luxury properties and taking private tours.
Sarah Kline, the owner of the travel agency Time For Travel, says interest in all-inclusive accommodations is booming.
Eventually, travellers will get back to venturing off the beaten path, but for now "they want it all right at their fingertips," Kline said.
Croatia and Iceland over France and Italy
Countries that reopened first in 2021 and remained dependable options - such as Greece, Croatia and Iceland - will continue to be high priorities for travellers.
Gabriella Horvath, a travel consultant for Now-or-Never-Travel, says the other draw of these European destinations is their outdoor appeal (vs. France and England, where indoor activities such as museum visits are major selling points).
If travellers want to wait until after the Omicron wave to visit, classic stops such as France and Italy are still high priorities.
The French and Italian Riviera are popular for summer plans, says Susan Sherren, owner of Couture Trips, although she encourages clients to limit their time in the most famous places - Cinque Terre, for example - to avoid crowds.
"You can have a more authentic experience and engage with locals if you are open to trialing alternative spots," Sherren said.
Elyssa Roberts, a senior travel adviser at Marchay, also includes Sicily as a trending destination, noting that a new United Airlines nonstop flight from Newark to Palermo has made it easier for Americans to get to the Italian island.
Safaris from Rwanda to Dubai
While some travellers covet easy trips to the beach, others are splurging on once-in-a-lifetime safaris in far-flung locales.
Michael Distler, the founder of Avontuur Travel International, says one reason for this uptick is the promise of space from other people.
For African safaris, eastern countries are attracting the most interest. PJ Scott, chief operating officer of the luxury travel company Roar Africa, says he is getting nearly double the number of inquiries than usual for trips to Rwanda.
He says he believes that is largely due to Rwanda's strict coronavirus protocols and low case numbers throughout the pandemic.
Similarly, Elizabeth Gordon of Extraordinary Journeys says the company is seeing continued interest in Kenya and Tanzania because of their pandemic protocols. The same has been true for Go2Africa, says managing director Maija de Rijk-Uys.
Desert safaris are attracting visitors to Northern Africa and the United Arab Emirates.
Morocco promises cultural experiences in its cities and towns, plus excursions through the Sahara Desert and the Atlas Mountains.
Maria LaDuca, owner of the Agency Chic, recommends a luxury desert safari in Dubai - where travel restrictions are relaxed.
Thailand an exception in closed-off Asia
For the most part, traveller interest in Asia is extremely low compared to pre-pandemic times, which experts attribute to complicated border restrictions. Still, travel advisers are beginning to see more requests for Thailand.
LaDuca says clients asking about Thailand are interested in wellness tours with activities such as yoga and Muay Thai training.
She predicts wellness-focused travel will be huge this year, with many clients requesting ways to incorporate healthy diets and exercise into their trips.
"Among our most popular trips is a nine-day wellness trip in Bali, which includes yoga, temples, a cooking class and healing ceremonies," LaDuca said.
Splurging on the Maldives, Fiji and the Galapagos
After years of postponing and waiting, newlyweds are moving ahead with honeymoons.
Amy Vecchione, chief romance officer at Aventina Romance Travel, says clients are more willing to travel farther and pay more for trips to bucket-list locations. Island destinations such as the Maldives and Seychelles - both in the Indian Ocean - or Tahiti and Fiji, in the South Pacific, offer couples escapes to private huts, villas and bungalows that guarantee fewer interactions with strangers.
Accommodations are now the starting point for trip planning, says Mark Hoenig, co-founder of VIP Traveler.
Before the pandemic, people usually started off with a destination in mind, not a place to stay. Travellers want resorts that feel safe and spacious and that have enough activities and amenities to keep them entertained for a week.
According to Hoenig, high-end hotels and resorts with such offerings are seeing huge increases in demand and are setting rates accordingly.
Charlie Gardiner, of the scuba trip company Bluewater Travel, says he agrees that there's a clear shift of requests from traditional travel destinations to more far-flung, adventure-oriented ones.
Like many other travel companies, Bluewater Travel has seen a spike in demand for the Galápagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador - a longer trip than most of their others.
"Whether this is due to people seeking more excitement from their vacations after being locked down for the best part of the last 18 months, or an accumulation of unspent vacation money, we're just glad that the outlook for 2022 is bright," Gardiner said.