The clock had not yet struck noon on a recent sunny day in Copenhagen, but the hour didn’t stop Hannah Jackson and her friends from ordering a bottle of Champagne. After the waiter at one of the outdoor restaurants that line the Danish capital’s colorful harbor popped the cork, the four women from Texas gleefully toasted to their European adventure. “This is my first trip in more than two years,” said Jackson, 32. “We are celebrating every moment we can.”
Because no phenomenon can be real until it can be hashtagged, the travel industry has been quick to brand the impulse driving Jackson and countless others this summer as “revenge travel.” Likerevenge spendingand evenrevenge bubble-tea drinking, the phrase refers to consumers’ increased willingness to cough up cash after 28 long months of lockdowns and restrictions. In travel’s case, that means a newly unbridled demand for vacations that are more frequent, more indulgent, and—more than anything—far from home. That demand got a boost on June 13 when the U.S. stopped requiring a negative COVID-19 test for entry. But as it rises to and even surpasses pre-pandemic levels, a host of challenges, from inflation to war to, yes, the lingering threat of COVID-19, casts a shadow on the rosy predictions of a rebound. Will this be the summer in which the travel industry does indeed get revenge on the pandemic? Or will its hopes be dashed once again?
“The truth is that tourism is rebounding very, very quickly,” says Luís Araújo, president of the European Travel Commission (ETC), which represents the continent’s national tourism organizations. “It’s quite impressive.”
At this juncture, revenge travel looks to be off to a good start. Among Europeans, 70% are planning vacation trips between now and November, according to an ETC survey. The numbers are almost as strong among Americans, with 65% planning leisure trips within the next six months according to MMGY Travel Intelligence, a global marketing and research company based in Kansas City. According to Mastercard, bookings on short and medium-haul flights have surpassed pre-pandemic levels. And travel searches for the first quarter of 2022 were above their 2019 levels, according to Google, while searches for passport appointments jumped 300% in the first three months of this year.
“Pent up demand is already delivering rapid growth,” says David Goodger, Europe director for Tourism Economics, a U.K.-based company that provides forecasting and analysis to the travel industry. It’s driven, he adds, “by excess savings accumulated during the period when people couldn’t spend or travel as usual.”
Those extra savings are affecting not only the amount of travel people are undertaking but the kind of travel as well. After decades of appealing to budget travelers with low-cost flights and party buses, many European destinations are emerging from the pandemic with a new emphasis on upscale travel. “A lot of enterprises, big and small, have spent the past two years renovating their facilities, upgrading, investing in their hospitality—adapting to the new needs of the customer,” says Araújo of the ETC. “We also see a lot of countries adjusting their communication to high-end travel.”