Autumn is often the time of year when we get back to the grind, our children are back into school and sports, and we forget, at least until the holidays, about taking a vacation.
Yet this doesn’t seem to be the case this year. At a time when travel often drops off, travel advisers across the nation are noticing more last-minute fall trips and more trips being booked for next fall than they’ve ever seen—even while airfare remains high. Some have even noted record bookings and sales numbers.
So what’s driving this new trend? We asked some trusted travel experts what they’re seeing this fall.
They agree that the shoulder season, for better or for worse, just isn’t the same as it was in years’ past.
“At Elite Travel, we've always prided ourselves on understanding the nuances of the travel industry, and one phenomenon we've observed closely is the evolution of the 'shoulder season,’” began Tammy Levent, president of Elite Travel. “For years, I personally recommended the shoulder season to clients as the golden window for travel, offering a blend of fewer crowds and appealing price points. It was our little secret for clients to experience world-class destinations without the hustle and premium pricing of peak seasons.
“However, starting around 2022, we began noticing a shift,” Levent continued. “With a surge in global travelers making their way to destinations all year round, the distinctive advantage of shoulder season pricing has become more elusive. Even though the concept of shoulder travel remains, the significant cost benefits we once leveraged for our clients have started to wane …”
Airfare is still high, leading to more people choosing cruises over other travel methods, especially so in Europe. And travelers are more interested in booking further out into the future—from spring 2024 to fall of 2025—than they have in more recent years.
Advisers are seeing two major trends in this year’s fall season: last-minute bookings and far-out bookings.
Mark Hennigan of Dreamers Travel in Hampstead, Maryland, is seeing those two patterns this year. His business is 43 percent higher this autumn than it has ever been across the 17 years he’s been in business.
Sara Jane Stroupe, of Cupcake Castles Travel Company, agrees with the last-minute trend: “A lot of clients are doing last minute trips due to airfare constraints, natural disasters—having to pivot from original plans—or budget constraints.”
“I've had several last-minute requests—with travel commencing in two months or less—which is fairly unusual most of the time,” said Kara Brown, Owner of Experience Culture Travel. “October seems to have snuck up on many people.”
Travel advisers have also noticed an increased desire to plan ahead for 2024 and 2025, something that hasn’t really been a large trend the past two years, stemming from the end of the pandemic and the rush to get out and travel after several years without it.
“I have had multiple clients booking fall travel in the past few weeks for not just this year but for fall 2024 and 2025 as well,” said Jeremy Hall, Operations, Sales and Marketing for Cruise Vacations International with Aspire Associates Group. “Europe, Asia and Egypt have been high on the list with a heavy focus on river cruises for all three. I’m noticing my clients are starting to plan further ahead than they were for the past two years.”
People are excited to get back to planning—the worry about another resurgence of COVID-19 is a former fear, no longer inhibiting travelers from making future travel plans, even two years out.
Travel advisers agree that cruising is one of the most popular methods of traveling this fall, and for the fall of 2024 and 2025. This could be because of cruising’s newfound popularity following the pandemic, the increase in more expedition-style cruising, which tends to attract both high-value and younger travelers alike, but one other factor may be driving this trend, too.
“My Europe cruisers this fall are focusing on the Mediterranean,” said Hall. “This was done because they wanted to avoid the outrageous air prices we were seeing during peak season this year. The trending of expedition cruises has not slowed down either. With new expedition cruise lines and ships hitting the water, we are seeing a boom in Antarctica and the Arctic.”
“Shoulder season, traditionally marked by spring and fall, has always been a sweet spot for travelers looking for a balanced blend of fewer crowds and moderate prices,” added Levent. “However, if airlines were to reconsider and reduce their rates during peak seasons, it could revolutionize the travel industry. Such a shift would make travel more accessible and convenient for everyone, allowing a broader range of travelers to experience peak destinations at optimal times without the burden of inflated costs.”
The fall shoulder season isn’t really a shoulder season this year, and it’s likely that it won’t be a shoulder season in 2024 and 2025 as travelers once more begin planning their upcoming trips further ahead.