Early in the global pandemic, travel experts rushed to determine the shape of the recovery. Would it be L-shaped? More like a W? A year later, despite brief upticks and plenty of pent-up demand, the travel rebound has yet to arrive. 

Yet there are glimmers of optimism, both for the industry and for people itching to dust off their suitcases. Travelers are starting to book now for trips they hope to take months or more down the line. A smattering of markets, including Africa and Antarctica, are doing well, their highest-end inventory already selling out for stretches of their upcoming high seasons (in austral winter and summer, respectively). Some spots are even thriving right now.  

Take Miami. Of roughly 15 five-star hotels bookable on Expedia for President’s day week, all but four fully sold out. The ones with availability were limited to the priciest rooms only. At the St. Regis Bal Harbour, just a handful of $3,500-per-night suites went unbooked; the remaining inventory at the 1 Hotel South Beach was mostly restricted to the 4,500-square-foot presidential suite, which, at $50,617 per night, would cost nearly half a million dollars to book out for the entire February break.

Magic City is in demand for numerous reasons. International border closures have left travelers seeking domestic alternatives to far-flung escapes, and Florida’s weather can’t be beat. Mayor Francis Suarez has been luring tech executives to move their already-virtual operations to the tax-friendly state. And Florida's Covid-19 rules are lax, allowing visitors to eat and party almost anywhere they want.

Airlines, in turn, have responded to that demand by increasing flights. Even at the height of the second wave of infections, Miami was seeing up to 90,000 visitors arriving through its international airport on any given day—compared to the average of 105,000 to 115,000 in normal times.

For American travelers, Miami represents the leading edge of a cautious return to tourism, according to an informal survey of more than a dozen travel providers, online booking sites, industry groups, analysts, and consultants. These people said that although sought-after destinations throughout Australia and much of Europe remain effectively locked down, eager travelers are identifying pockets of opportunity around the world. Those are largely dictated by open borders or a perceived sense of safety. But others, eager to get back to their favorite spots, are simply placing early bets, hoping that when the time comes, their destination will be ready to welcome them. 

Among the most popular picks are wide-open, remote places. There are also signs of emerging demand for destinations where vaccine uptake is high. According to research published by the American Hotel and Lodging Association in January, nearly half of consumers see vaccine distribution as key to travel. Of those, a majority say they would feel more at ease knowing that a large share of locals had been vaccinated than by simply having individual protection for themselves.

That explains why Abercrombie & Kent is anticipating a rush of bookings to Israel, where more than 40% of the population has already received at least one vaccine dose. With rare exceptions, travelers can’t visit Israel yet; the country has yet to set a date for when its borders will reopen. Whenever that time comes, its vaccine campaign will have effectively doubled as tourism marketing, intentionally or not. 

The $1.7 trillion global travel industry continues to struggle overall, of course. Hotel occupancies in the U.S. hovered around 40% of throughout January, according to data from industry analyst STR. In the fourth quarter of 2020, both American Airlines and United recorded losses of roughly $2 billion each, contributing to an industry-wide hemorrhage of $118 billion over the course of the year.

As always, the forecast can change on a dime. But the following spots represent some light at the end of a long tunnel for the industry.

First « 1 2 3 » Next