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TAKING STOCK: Summer’s top travel trends and destinations

From US travel dominance to the effects of the global heatwave, a leading travel analytics firm has identified five major travel trends in global air travel this summer – revealed by an analysis of the top destinations and top origin markets compared to last year and to pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

According to Forward Keys, which provides travel intelligence to tourism boards, travel retailers and travel partners, including the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), worldwide flight booking this summer (July 1-Aug. 31) were 31% ahead of the same period in 2022, but still 23% behind pre-pandemic levels (2019). And five major travel trends emerged:

1. US dominates

In ranking the most visited country destinations by share of scheduled flight bookings, the US was top of the list by a substantial margin, attracting 11% of all international visitors this summer. It was followed by Spain, the UK, Italy, Japan, France, Mexico, Germany, Canada, and Turkey.

The US was even more dominant in outbound travel. Regarding source markets, the US ranked top with an 18% share of scheduled flight bookings. It was followed by Germany, the UK, Canada, France, South Korea, China, Japan, Spain, and Italy.

2. Patchy travel recovery

For most countries, travel was up versus last year by a double-digit figure, but volumes have yet to reach pre-pandemic levels. A closer look at the world’s traditionally largest outbound travel markets reveals the patchy nature of the recovery. The US was 17% up on last year and just 1% down on 2019 volumes.

However, other traditionally large source markets were much further off the pace: Germany, -21% from pre-pandemic levels, the UK -20%, France, -17%, South Korea -28%, China, -67%, Japan -53%, and Italy -24%.

3. The Far East is revving up

Also striking are the differences in travel volumes compared to last year, which reveal how much the Far East was still in lockdown but is now revving up, with all three Asian countries in the top 10 source markets. South Korea, China, and Japan are showing at least a triple-digit growth rate compared to 2022. While the Chinese outbound travel market has been amongst the slowest to recover, it still manages to hit 7th place thanks to its sheer size.

4. Classic beach destinations are most resilient

Looking at the destinations which have done best against 2019 levels, the list is dominated by countries famous for their beaches and warm waters.

The top 10 all exceeded the summer of 2019 and most showed strong growth from last year. Top of the list is Costa Rica, with 19% up versus 2019 and 15% up versus 2022.

It is followed by the Dominican Republic, Columbia, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Greece, Tanzania, the Bahamas, and Mexico.

Throughout the pandemic, leisure travel to beach destinations proved to be the most resilient, with many highly tourism-dependent economies in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico working hard to keep their borders open and the tourists coming; and their efforts have certainly paid off. The same has also been true of Greece, Portugal, and the UAE.

5. Limited impact of the heatwave

While the unusually high temperatures and the outbreak of wildfires in Greece and Portugal made a very substantial impact on television screens; they made only a limited impact on tourism, as most holidaymakers had already booked. A spate of cancellations affected Rhodes, but flight bookings recovered to normal levels in a matter of weeks. While bookings for Northern Europe and the Nordic region were 16% and 17% behind 2019, they demonstrated better performance in the late bookings market, probably influenced by the heatwave.

Olivier Ponti, VP of Insights at ForwardKeys, said: “Throughout the pandemic, US travellers were an economic lifeline for many Caribbean destinations. As other parts of the world relaxed their entry restrictions, Americans arrived. This summer, they have been extremely helpful to many European destinations.

“Now, the world’s other major tourism powerhouse, China, is starting to revive. Looking ahead to Q4 and further to 2024, I am increasingly optimistic. Right now, global flight bookings for the last three months of the year are just 4% behind 2019 and for the first three months of 2024 are 3% ahead. The world region that shows the greatest promise in Q4 is the Middle East, where flight bookings are 37% ahead of 2019. It is followed by Central America, 33% ahead, and the Caribbean, 24% ahead.”

First published at Travel Industry Today

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