Have you heard that pent-up travel demand will lead to a sold-out summer? Have you seen the predictions of a big bounce-back, of a spike in revenge travel and nearcations?
Well, don't believe everything you read.
Half of it is wrong.
But which half?
I have a pretty good idea. For the last few months, I've watched the travel industry craft a slick narrative about this summer designed to push you into paying more for an airline ticket, hotel room, or rental car.
My media outlets won't publish what I'm about to write because it contradicts a popular narrative, which is supported by flimsy polls, CEO soundbites and the promise of more travel advertising. But I have no such hesitations.
By the way, I'm also interested in your summer travel predictions, because if you're reading this newsletter, you're probably a contrarian like me. Scroll down to leave your comment or just push the big red button.
But first, let's pull apart a few of these summer travel fallacies.
Memorial Day travel will be the [insert superlative] ever!
Travel experts consider the summer travel season to run between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The bellwether for summer travel is the AAA forecast, which is problematic for several reasons. First, it only measures a few days around the Memorial Day weekend. And second, no one ever goes back to see if AAA got it right.
This year, AAA predicted that from May 27 to May 31, more than 37 million people will travel. That's an increase of 60 percent from last year, which, unsurprisingly, was the lowest since AAA began making its predictions in 2000. It's 6 million fewer people than 2019, which was the second-busiest Memorial Day on record.
But does any of this mean anything? No, it does not, because AAA doesn't bother to count the actual number of Memorial Day travelers. It just makes the prediction.
My media colleagues, meanwhile, love to use AAA's preview to frame their summer travel stories. How many stories have you seen that play up the 60 percent bounce and warn that it's "gonna be a busy summer!"
So here's honest summer travel prediction number 1: I predict more people will travel this summer than last summer. (Thanks, Captain Obvious.) But no one knows if Memorial Day, or the entire summer, will be the busiest ever. I don't trust airlines or hotels when they say they're experiencing record bookings; I think some of it is wishful thinking.
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Everyone wants to travel now!
When I see those AAA numbers on TV, it's usually followed by an anecdote about someone who can't wait to travel after being locked down for a year.
Here's my anecdote: It comes from Stanley Sizeler. One of his friends last month flew to a meeting in business class. He'd had both Pfizer shots.
"He wore a mask," says Sizeler. "He ate and drank nothing and did not leave his seat. He was COVID negative prior to departure. On the third day at the meeting, he began to experience COVID symptoms and tested positive."
"The risk is real," he adds. "The evidence is clear. We are going nowhere for the next three to six months."
Oh, did I mention that both Sizeler and his friends are physicians?
Here's honest summer travel prediction number 2: Some people will stay home because it's not safe to travel yet. Everyone is not ready for a summer vacation. The travel industry hopes everyone wants to travel again, but that's simply untrue.
It should come as no surprise that the "experts" are urging you to book NOW before all the flights and rooms are gone. But that's wrong, too.
Think about it. No one knows what's going to happen this summer. Some people won't travel because they're still afraid of getting infected. So why should you rush to book the next available vacation?
Answer: You shouldn't.
If enough people wait — and maybe enough people will wait — then prices will come down to earth. Who knows, you might even see some fare sales this summer as airlines desperately try to fill empty seats. That's the time to book.
And so here's my honest summer travel prediction 3: You don't always have to book now to get the best deal. In fact, you might get a better price by waiting.
Calling out the travel industry's self-serving narrative
For months, the travel industry and its surrogates have been weaving a self-serving narrative about the future:
There's pent-up demand for travel because of the lockdown.
Travel will rebound soon!
Book your tickets now before they're gone.
But do those predictions align with reality? They might, as I noted in last week's newsletter. But they might not.
Airlines, travel advisors, hotels and vacation rental managers desperately hope this happens because they're trying to make up for a lost year. But the only way it will is if everyone obediently books a summer vacation in lockstep now, which would make this a record year for sales.
That may not be the best thing for you, though.
Let's say you want to travel. But the pandemic hurt your finances, and you don't want to overspend on a long-overdue getaway. The BUY NOW BEFORE IT'S GONE narrative may entice you to overspend, while simply waiting might give you the vacation you deserve at a price you can afford.
My travel predictions may be unpublishable by a mainstream media organization, but I'm happy to share them with you. I'll probably get into trouble for writing this. But when has that ever stopped me?
And now it's your turn: What do you think is going to happen this summer? Are we headed for an erratic recovery with intermittent deals? Or will this be the sold-out summer everyone's predicting? The comments are open.