Increased demand for beach and outdoor travel and more flexible work schedules have all but eliminated shoulder and off-seasons in some popular destinations.
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JUstin Todd was able to predict when business would be slower. Having worked in the hospitality industry in Aspen, Colorado for 15 years, he knew the period between melting snow and blooming wildflowers would see a lull. From mid-April to early June, many Aspen properties, including Aspen Meadows Resort, where he is general manager, were closing — there wasn’t enough business to warrant staying open. Companies often used this window for repairs, deep cleaning and complete projects. It was also an opportunity for staff to decamp for their own vacations and for residents to have their community to themselves.
However, since the start of the pandemic, this period of rest has been disrupted.
“Things are definitely busier now,” Todd said of the shoulder season, adding that his resort currently remains open year-round – occupancy rates above 70% for what was previously low season in made an easy choice from a commercial point of view.
Aspen is not alone. Across the country, destinations have noticed a shift in traditional travel seasons. Many other places that have historically chosen to close during slower times, such as the Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe, now remain open year-round because there is so much more demand.
“The length of the off-season has shortened dramatically,” said Linda Bendt, owner of Minnesota-based travel agency Pique. “In many places, the lines have blurred. Travelers look at destinations differently.
Increasingly, interest in vacation spots has become divorced from weather forecasts. According to Wendy Burk, founder of La Jolla, Calif.-based travel agency Cadence, “availability and security are the two biggest factors right now.”
“There’s scar tissue that travelers have from this pandemic era, and it’s unlikely to heal that quickly,” Burk said. “Windows of opportunity to travel can close as quickly as they open. When you have the option to go and the option is safe and available, you go.
Jan Freitag, national director of hospitality analytics at news and analytics firm CoStar Group, credits work-from-anywhere policies with part of the change. This allows people to travel more frequently and for longer.
“Previously, when you looked at the data, there was a distinct peak in June and July – hotel occupancy nationwide was above 70% and then dipped in late summer,” said Freitag. “In 2021, those high numbers remained robust through October. And that was with less business travel – those numbers are likely only for leisure travellers.
Nancy Lien, Public Relations Manager at Expedia Group (which includes more than 200 websites, primarily travel fare aggregators and meta travel search engines, such as Expedia.com, Vrbo, Hotels.com, Hotwire.com, Orbitz, Travelocity, Trivago and CarRentals.com), said the data compiled by its company is consistent with CoStar’s findings.
“Looking at accommodation data on Expedia and Hotels.com for September 2021, we can see that travel demand has remained strong, as have accommodation prices, which bucks the seasonal trends that we used to see before the pandemic,” Lien said.
One example, she noted, is that accommodation demand for destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean increased by around 200% in September 2021 compared to September 2019. national parks and beaches.
“Major destinations are seeing double-digit increases in hotel demand compared to the pre-pandemic period – the spring shoulder season may be over in some places,” Lien said, adding that it’s a trend we’re likely to see unfold. continue this fall.
According to Lien, hotels in places like Oʻahu, Maui, the Florida Keys, Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic and all major coastal destinations in Mexico are seeing significant demand compared to 2019, regardless of the time of year. Likewise, accommodation near national parks – even during the freezing winter months in parks such as Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone – is well above pre-pandemic levels.
The extended season can be both a help and a hindrance to destinations. More travelers usually equals more revenue. But in destinations like Park City, Utah, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where the summer and winter seasons can be hectic, the reduced off-season means workers don’t get much break, which is especially problematic when there is already a labor shortage. It also means that locals have to deal with an unrelenting barrage of tourists all year round.
The shoulder and off seasons have also been a reliable time for travelers to strike deals and visit a destination when few others are there. But the more travellers, the higher the demand – so hotels can often charge more (not to mention that inflation has also driven up travel prices).
Where to find fewer people out of season
For those looking for in-between and off-season trips and deals like the old days, timing and flexibility are key.
According to Expedia’s travel tips for 2022 report (published in November 2021 in conjunction with the Airline Reporting Corporation), January is the cheapest month to go on domestic flights, generating around 10% savings (OK, so not for this year, but noted for 2023 and beyond). August is the most affordable time to travel abroad (about 20% cheaper). Likewise, the lowest average daily rate for accommodation tends to occur on Mondays, where travelers could save over 15% compared to staying on Friday, the most expensive day. For international travel, staying on a Tuesday rather than a Thursday saves almost 10%.
As for where you go, Lien noted that destinations like Lake Powell (in Utah and Arizona), Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Utah, and Boulder, Colorado, are good cheaper alternatives to national parks like Yosemite and Zion. Orange County and San Diego in California, Fort Lauderdale and Daytona Beach in Florida, and Costa Rica tend to be more affordable than beaches in Mexico and the Caribbean for those looking for a sand and sun vacation.
While it’s impossible to predict whether the offseason will be entirely a thing of the past in years to come, Freitag noted one wrinkle that could return the calendar to normal: the school year.
“As more schools return to consistent classroom learning, more people will be online again during peak seasons, depending on the school calendar,” Freitag said. “We’ll have to see how it goes.”
The reopening of more countries could also reduce pressure on destinations. But, if you ask Burk, she’ll tell you that her company thinks it’s “a trend that will continue as the world opens up.”
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