Dream Destinations - 01

As we adapt to a new world of normal, travel advisors are seeing notable changes in travel patterns and plans. Two experts — Rose Gray, business relationship director for Fox World Travel, and Tanya Murphy, destination director and independent agent of Cruise Planners — provide their perspective on 2023 travel requests.

With the double dose of easy-to-use travel apps and a long COVID shutdown, travel agencies braced themselves for rocky times. But the experts say the reverse is true: travel advisors are busier than ever as destinations have become more complicated.

“Families want to give their travel wish list to a professional,” says Gray. “Disney is one of the most complicated trips to take — they’re outthinking the consumer. Now you’ve got to pay for all the extras that were once included.

“For example, you can only get into a certain restaurant if you stay at a certain resort,” Gray explains. “Fast passes are now called ‘Genie passes.’You should know up front what your costs are going to be so there aren’t a bunch of surprises. People are saying, ‘I don’t want the aggravation. Just plan an amazing trip for us.’” Murphy agrees. “Using cruises as an example, not all cruise lines are right for you,” she explains. “Have a half-hour or less conversation with your travel advisor and tell them what you’re looking for. Let them sort through and curate the options for you so you’re less overwhelmed.”

Inflation And Travel

With travel restrictions in place in 2020 and 2021, many travelers were able to save the money they would have otherwise spent on vacation, according to research at Hospitalitynet.org. The upshot is 49 percent will make up for it by spending more during their 2023 adventures.

While some families have said that they need to be a bit more careful with finances these days, travel is not something they are willing to give up anymore, Murphy says.

“If anything, they’re planning larger, more expensive bucket list trips they’ve been putting off,” Murphy explains. “My sense is that the pandemic taught us a bit of a lesson about the value of being able to move about the world while spending time with those we care about. Business is booming, despite higher prices.”

2023’s Top Destinations

Domestic travel remains popular, Gray says. “The outdoors and national parks are enjoying a resurgence that hasn’t settled,” she explains. “And river cruising is big.” Trips to the Caribbean, Mexico and Europe are also popular, adds Gray.

Europe continues to be a magnet for travelers, Murphy says, “especially Italy, Greece and Ireland. The strong dollar is partly driving this, but it’s also because of the reduction in COVID vaccination and testing requirements and pent-up demand.”

Even with the loosening of COVID-related travel restrictions, travelers still need to watch for it and pay attention, Murphy says. “Not all countries or suppliers have completely done away with these yet,” she says. “Planning for air travel is more difficult, as the industry continues to recover. There are fewer options, and even fewer ideal options in terms of itinerary, and pricing is extremely volatile.”

The good news, Murphy continues, is that many airlines are still offering free changes, allowing clients to respond when itineraries change or prices go down significantly.

“You won’t get your money back, but you can receive a voucher for future travel,” she says. “Because the environment is more complicated now, travelers are seeing the value of using a travel advisor and in purchasing travel insurance.Almost nobody travels without travel protection, these days, and that’s a good thing.”

As for other dream destinations, “I continue to see strong sales for warm weather destinations such as Mexico and the Caribbean for the winter months,” Murphy says.

Families who plan spring breaks have planned them sooner, Gray and Murphy both report — in fact, many places have been booked for months. If you’re looking ahead to spring break 2024, both advisors suggest planning this summer.

Business travel is back, but in a whole new way: With the rise of work-from-anywhere policies for larger companies, a subsequent increase in requests to create team bonding and collaboration experiences has become a new branch in travel. “Business travel has picked up with a great need for face-to-face interaction,” Gray says.

Cruise lines are rolling out big ships all the time, with “neighborhoods” of waterparks and activities on the ship.

“The icon of the seas, the Royal Caribbean, is launching a ship 20 decks high in January 2024 from Fort Lauderdale,” Gray says. “The ship itself is the selling point.”