Many Americans are looking for quiet, secluded trips to nature this year — only to find that millions of others are doing the exact same thing.
Travelers looking to avoid the crowds in cities and theme parks are among record numbers of visitors to national parks and coastal destinations.
Americans searched more national parks in May and June than any other travel destination, according to consumer data company ShareThis.
“Many campgrounds and accommodations in and around popular national parks — places like Yosemite, Yellowstone, Zion, Glacier, and Acadia — are already fully booked or nearly fully booked until Labor Day,” said Stephanie Roulett, a spokesperson for the US National Park. The service told CNBC.
To make matters worse, rates for private rental properties are rising, with rates as high as 79% as of 2019.
But this doesn’t happen everywhere.
Using Google Trends and rental data from 265 municipalities, a Florida-based travel agency analyzed where travelers may find fewer people and cheaper rental properties this year.
According to travel company Trips to Discover, nine locations in the United States had more travel-related searches in the first quarter of this year than in 2019. According to the company’s June research, these were the only places to experience “a true travel recovery.”
Searches for online travel surged earlier this year to places like Ruidoso, New Mexico (population: 8,000) and Niagara Falls, New York.
Interest in Lake Hartwell, a man-made reservoir between Georgia and South Carolina, grew 348%, while searches for North Carolina’s Outer Banks more than doubled as of early 2019.
While the Outer Banks has long been a tourist attraction, with popular beach towns such as Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills, the Outer Banks have received an unusually high number of tourists this year. “The roads are busier than ever before,” according to local news reports, in which Karen Brown, the CEO of the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce, said the number of weekly visitors had risen from 250,000 before the pandemic to 400,000 this year.
The occupancy rate paints a similar picture. The occupancy rate of holiday homes increased in April this year in small and rural locations (+67%), as well as in mountain, lake and coastal towns (+25%) compared to April 2019, according to a report published last month by AirDNA, an analytics company that maintains rental listings from companies such as Airbnb and VRBO.
At the same time, the occupancy rate of rental housing in suburban areas (-13%) and large cities (-41%).
Based on current Trips to Discover site data, those trends continue into the summer travel season, said company founder and CEO Dayne Ford.
Summer rental bookings support this, with an even bigger drop in trips to major cities (-46%) with an increase in resort stays (43%) compared to 2019, according to AirDNA’s report.
Rising rents for homes
In addition to the crowds, the prices of holiday homes may also surprise travelers this year.
Average daily rates on Airbnb and Vrbo rose 23% nationwide in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period in 2019, Ford told CNBC. According to his company’s research, that is partly due to rising home values in the US coupled with an effort by rental companies to recoup lost revenues earlier during the pandemic.
“We believe it’s a clear case of supply and demand affecting the pricing landscape — landlords follow price increases around them,” Ford said. “Helped with data, short-term rental owners are more informed than ever before.”
Some markets are hit harder than others. Of the 265 markets surveyed by AirDNA and Trips to Discover, 16 saw average daily home rent rise by more than 50%.
Vacation rental prices are rising most strongly along the East Coast, where average daily rates have risen 34% since 2019, the study finds. That’s most common in Long Island, home to the Hamptons, where house prices rose after families fled New York City to live and work full-time in their second homes.
However, the price increases have not been driven by demand everywhere, as general search interest for travel to East Coast destinations fell by 32%.
The Jersey Shore is the exception. Both search interest (+66%) and home rents (+77) rose — the latter from $213 to $378 in two years — indicating tourists are interested in the sun and fun of New Jersey’s beaches, even if it costs them more money.
With vacationers flocking to many of the same destinations, some vacation spots — even well-known ones — are left with fewer people than usual.
The Trips to Discover report identified places travelers can head to to escape the crowds, including:
- Green Mountains, Vermont
- New York City
- Washington Coast
- Columbus, Ohio
- Louisville, Kentucky
- Tallahassee, Florida
The number of searches to each of these places fell by more than 50% from pre-pandemic levels.
Travelers who want fewer people but don’t want price increases can turn to a list of “hidden gems,” as Trips to Discover calls them. They combine the best of both worlds: stable or declining rental prices for homes and low online search interest.
The list includes:
- Texas: Corpus Christi
- Florida: Lakeland, Punta Gorda and Orlando
- Colorado: Vail, Aspen and Breckenridge
- Indiana: South Bend
- Utah: Park City
- California: Mammoth Lakes
While search interest in Telluride, Colorado, increased by nearly 25%, fewer people were researching trips to the popular ski towns of Breckenridge, Aspen and Vail than before the pandemic, according to the survey. Prices in those upscale areas also fell slightly, with average daily rents for homes falling the most in Vail (nearly 8%).
Housing rents around Park City, Utah haven’t changed much since before the pandemic, but the ski town was searched about half as often this year as it was early 2019.
Home rental rates fell nearly 10% in Corpus Christi, Texas, while online search interest fell 40%. The rest of the south fared better, with daily averages for vacation rentals reflecting 2019 prices and search interest for travel in the region dropping just 10%.