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The good news is the world is once again open for business. The bad news is it might be a bit harder to get to where you want to go.
Travel in 2023 is hotter than a cast iron skillet. The pent-up demand to go somewhere, anywhere, is going to continue in the new year. But booking hotels and tourist attractions at popular destinations and reserving an affordable seat on a plane to get there will continue to be challenging.
“It’s gotten a lot better,” says Diane Pyne, a World Travel Service agent in Knoxville. “It’s probably 80% back as far as the people handling travel and, moreover, the restrictions you had in place, most of those have been relaxed.
“More people want to travel, but less airlines and hotels are available for them to travel to. Some of the destinations I can’t get people to because of a lack of capacity.
“What I’ve seen in the last six months is because of the scarcity of (airline) seats, the pricing has really increased. Prices for airlines and packages have gone up at least 30%. Any time there’s a holiday, you see a real abundance of travelers and the price point is really expensive.”
Apparently, travelers don’t care.
The U.S. Travel Foundation predicts an increase in travel spending in 2023 compared to 2022. A Booking.com survey found that 49% of those who responded plan to spend more on their next trip to make up for enforced time off during the pandemic. And 43% said they’re going to blow out the budget.
With a strong U.S. dollar versus the euro, some travelers are opting for the traditionally more expensive experience in Europe versus more affordable countries like Vietnam and Columbia.
Sarah Karpie of Franklin is heading to France and Italy next year.
“My best friend who lives in Oklahoma will be turning 60,” she says. “She, her husband, Marty (Karpie’s husband) and I have traveled together for 30-plus years. We particularly like to go away for our big decade birthdays.”
The plan is to fly to Nice and then drive to Bologna and Modena. Karpie is using accumulated frequent flyer points to put a dent in the cost of airfare and will splurge on meals.
“She and I particularly love traveling with each other because we both enjoy experiencing the culture through food,” she says. “We throw a bit of history, architecture, music and sightseeing in for good measure.”
The pandemic changed the way we feel about travel. After almost two years of isolation, travelers want to immerse themselves in the cultures of other countries and make lifetime memories through meaningful experiences.
Hilton Hotels predicts travelers will seek out experiences versus well-established tourist draws like museums and historic sites in 2023. A Hilton survey found that 49% of the respondents want to experience local culture and products. Another 40% aimed for unique experiences such as classes and spa treatments.
“One of my clients is into sharks, and I booked her a trip down to Casey Key and Nokomis (Florida),” says Caryn Hatcher, a travel agent for Key to the World Travel in Nolensville. “It is not like Lauderdale. It’s very quiet and rustic. They have a full moon party every month. And Nokomis is known for shark’s teeth, and she’s going shark-teeth hunting.”
National Geographic recommends Peru and Austria for those wanting to go abroad for outdoor experience vacations.
In Austria, there’s a network of mountaineering villages that provides travelers with an authentic Alpine experience. And in Peru, the country is building a $260 million cable car to reach historic ruins. If you’re hale and hearty, you can also take the 18 miles of walking paths.
The magazine also operates National Geographic Expeditions to locations worldwide such as Kenya, Vietnam and Norway.
Hatcher also recommends Project Expedition, which books tours, excursions and attractions around the world, and Exoticca Travel. Exoticca books trips worldwide and offers discounted prices.
Hatcher warns be sure to type in that extra “c” in Exoticca if you search for it on the internet to avoid accidentally ending up in, shall we say, alternative lifestyle sites you might not want to see.
Pyne is booking more experience-based trips, as well.
“Going, for instance, to Italy. We used to focus on the historical,” she says. “Now, they want the immersion in the destination. They want to experience wine country. They want a cooking class. Those little extra things so they can really see how the area lives. It’s very similar when people go to Hawaii. Everybody wants to do a luau. People don’t want an overview.”
And Iceland – with an abundance of natural beauty and one-of-a-kind experiences – is hot, hot, hot. Pyne says one reason is that Iceland is relatively unknown.
“People didn’t know a whole lot about it and still don’t,” she says. “It reminded me of Yellowstone National Park. It’s gorgeous. It’s the cleanest place, the friendliest place and easy to navigate. The only negative is that everything you want to see is a two-hour drive from the next thing.
“It’s not something you’re going to see in a day. You need five or six days minimum.”
While there are deals to be had overseas, many travelers will stay within U.S. borders this year. Expedia found that almost 60% of respondents plan to take domestic trips either instead of or in addition to international travel.
Karen Austin, a retired attorney in Franklin, is one of them.
She and her husband, Ken Young, plan trips to Amelia Island, Florida, St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands and San Francisco and Colorado in 2023.
Southwest is Austin’s carrier of choice. When she was practicing law for Tractor Supply, she traveled on business frequently and became a Southwest A-list customer. That brought lots of goodies such as priority check-in and boarding, same-day changes and an accelerated way to earn more bonus points.
Now that she’s just traveling for fun, it’s harder to keep that status.
“I’m desperately trying to hold on to this,” she says. “It requires 12.5 round trips. When I was business traveling that was a cinch. But now I have to work for it.”
Austin says she felt the strain of travel in 2022. “It’s gotten really expensive. The flights were all packed. Car rentals were touch and go. There was real weirdness about whether you should wear a mask or not. We went on an Alaska cruise last August and it was a small cruise, about 70 people. And almost all of us got COVID.”
Because of the pandemic, national parks where guests could socially distance themselves were wildly popular with travelers and that trend will extend to 2023.
“My No. 1 is Yellowstone,” Pyne says. “And that encompasses Jackson Hole, Wyoming. National parks are big. Alaska is huge. It’s so pretty and the little ports of call are such cool quaint little towns.”
Other popular stateside destinations are Northern California – including San Francisco and Sonoma and Napa counties for wine tastings – New Orleans, Charleston and Maine.
And Disney World is a constant.
“A lot of folks go to Disney every year and for folks to not be able to do it over the last few years … there’s no low season anymore,” says Hatcher.
With travel on the rise, it’s no surprise that things are hopping at Nashville International Airport. The airport operates on a fiscal calendar and in July announced a record-breaking year with 18.4 million travelers. In fiscal 2023, it expects that traffic to exceed 20 million.
Carriers and destinations have increased as well. Four new carriers – Avelo, Breeze and Canadian airlines Flair and Swoop – offer services to such markets as Long Beach, California, Providence, Rhode Island, Portland, Maine, Montreal, Quebec, and Edmonton, Alberta.
“Typically, there is a mutual interest in a new airline starting service at BNA, from both the airport and the airline,” says Doug Kreulen, president and chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority. “The airport and the airline both try to find routes that are not currently served nonstop from BNA or are underserved. The number of passengers per day helps airlines determine what size of aircraft to bring to Nashville.”
Kreulen says the airport has also increased service to Canada and Latin America, resumed the direct British Airways flight to London and is looking at potential carriers next year to Germany or France.
Many new amenities and services are on their way, as well. Next month, the new Grand Lobby Hall will open. The Hall is the central terminal that connects the North and South terminals. The number of security checkpoints will increase from 10 to 24. In September, the new international arrivals area with six more gates will open.
The Central Marketplace will open inside the Grand Hall, Kreulen adds, adding additional restaurants, shops and bars in September, including Hattie B’s, Slim and Husky’s, Prince’s Hot Chicken, Smashville, The Pharmacy Burger, Parnassus Books, Draper James, Acme Feed & Seed and the TN Whiskey Co.
“By the end of the year, 2023, we will open the first on-site hotel, a Hilton, with 292 rooms, two restaurants, six conference rooms and a rooftop lounge and pool,” he says.
Cruising is the only way to go for some travelers, and it’s back with a vengeance in 2023. Condé Nast Traveler reports cruise lines will offer more sailings longer than 21 days than ever before.
“COVID-19 saw a massive reevaluation of life quality, so a great experience is critical,” Tom Baker of the travel agency CruiseCenter told Condé Nast.
Holland America Line has launched a 73-day grand Africa voyage, Oceania Cruises is adding a 218-day global voyage from Miami, and Silversea has multiplied its itineraries of 21 days or longer.
Cruise lines are also extending shore time for passengers and are adding luxuries like additional suites with balconies.
The question for some travelers is whether to cruise an ocean or a river. It all comes down to style. Pyne says passengers younger than 45 crave the excitement of an ocean cruise with large ships, casinos, live entertainment and constant activity. Those older than 45 are happy to quiet things down a bit.
“River cruises are very intimate,” she says. “Passengers don’t need the casino at night or a ballroom. In the evening, you want to sip a brandy and read your book. You stop right in the heart of cities. You can ride bicycles around. You talk about an immersion in the destination, it is.
“With Viking you’ll go to people’s homes and do a cooking class. The chefs get off with the passengers and locally source the food. Ninety percent of the staterooms are balconies or French balconies.”
Hatcher says the river cruises in Europe are at a premium. “You can visit the Christmas markets,” she says. “It’s nice not to be with 3,000 other people and it’s a quiet soothing cruise on the water.”
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