Growing prices for travel haven’t stopped Wisconsinites from booking vacations in the waning days of the pandemic, and the influx has left some local travel agents scrambling to find dwindling accommodations for their clients.
The owner of Hartland-based travel agency Olive & Atlas, Angela Isherwood has seen her client list grow in the past few months as travelers book family vacations and overdue honeymoon trips.
“The demand for overseas travel has completely skyrocketed. Particularly Europe, because it was closed and was the most complicated to get to since the pandemic started. It’s just bonkers,” she said.
Places nationwide and even abroad — countries like Italy, France, Greece and Ireland — are all seeing huge demand, and little upcoming availability for accommodations, she said.
Changes to COVID rules
Despite the uptick, travel still has not returned to a pre-pandemic normal. And COVID-19 safety measures vary widely this summer, depending on where you’re headed.
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International travelers are no longer required to show a pre-departure COVID-19 test to enter the USA, as of June 12, President Joe Biden’s administration announced. It’s a change from the past year, when the country required a negative test for entry.
“It’s been a whirlwind of change,” said Isherwood. “Everyone’s comfort level is varied. “
For those who are comfortable hopping on a plane this summer, travel agent Emily Schultz said that constantly changing COVID-19 recommendations are leaving travelers more confused than ever. She said that more travelers are seeking out professional travel agents to help them navigate the new rules.
“As far as CDC recommendations on masks, vaccines or testing, for a lot of people it’s hard to keep up with and know what information is correct and what’s false. So I feel like they’ve been wanting to turn to professionals more,” said Schultz, the owner of Waukesha-based Magic Mom Travel.
Schultz recommends travelers check on the CDC’s latest travel guidelines regularly before and during the trip for the most accurate information. Before traveling, you can also check the COVID-19 rate of transmission at your destination. The CDC also has the latest COVID-19 guidelines for traveling via cruise ship.
During the pandemic, travelers are also prioritizing purchasing insurance for their trip, said Schultz. Travel insurance is especially popular for clients going on cruises, where some COVID-19 test requirements at the port remain in place.
“There’s a lot more cautious travelers because of the pandemic,” she said. “So nobody really wants to risk their investment of a vacation for a positive COVID test.”
Number of travelers soars
Due to increasing demand, Schultz has seen her client list soar in the past couple of months.
“In 2020, I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can keep doing this,'” she said. “Because I’m commission based, I’m not getting anything. Places were shut down. So that was a rough time. So seeing the uptick is really nice for my family.”
One of her clients, Jennifer Brodhagen, canceled her road trip to Florida this summer because of gas prices. “I just can’t afford that right now,” Brodhagen said.
Instead, she’s planning to fly to Florida in the fall to celebrate her friend’s birthday. The decision to fly means that she won’t have to worry about the cost of driving and car rentals.
“It’s something fun to go do, and I’m excited because this will be my first time going there. And I just can’t wait. I’m like 50-some years old, and I’m finally going to go to Disney,” she said.
Not needing to rent a car is something that more and more clients are looking for when they book their next trip, said Schultz.
“With gas prices increasing, it makes places like Disney and all-inclusive (resorts) more appealing. Just because they have a lot of shuttles, and there’s no huge need at those places to rent a car,” she explained.
Despite an increase in prices, people are still clamoring to travel this summer, said University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee economics professor James Peoples.
“There’s a lot of pent-up demand for air travel and vacations,” said Peoples. “People have been at home for two years — more than two years — and they want to get out.”
“People got a little stir crazy during the pandemic, and they’re really looking to to get to get out essentially,” said Schultz.
Even with higher prices now, people saved money during the COVID-19 pandemic when they weren’t going anywhere, he said. “So they’re sitting on money even though gas prices are going up and fares are probably going to go up. It has not affected demand,” he added.
Plane fares will likely rise as demand increases, said Peoples. That means some travelers might gravitate toward more affordable options, like taking a bus or train.
“So they’re going to change your itinerary. And they’re going to do so for the train,” said Peoples.
He said it’s too soon to know how the price of gas and airfare will affect the demand for alternative modes of travel during the summer and into next year.
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Some travelers, especially families, are trying to stick to a strict budget this summer, added Schultz. “So a lot of my families, I’ve noticed they stay at more budget conscious resorts. But a lot of honeymooners are willing to splurge a little bit more for additional perks,” she said.
Some travelers are also booking longer trips than before the pandemic, Schultz said. With flight prices, she’s noticed her clients are trying to take longer trips to make up for the cost of getting to their destination.
It’s the reason why Brodhagen booked her trip for a couple days and not just over the weekend.
“I’m just excited to spend (my vacation) with friends,” she said. “And enjoy sunny Florida.”