Opportunities abound

As more destinations, tour companies and travel providers come back online, options, deals and unique opportunities are proliferating.

For the first time, HI USA has converted three properties — HI Point Montara Lighthouse, HI Pigeon Point Lighthouse and HI Point Reyes (all of which are in California) — into vacation rentals, with private units for groups or families. Larger groups can rent the entire hostel facility, including kitchen, indoor areas and outdoor recreation areas. Reservations require no deposit, and guests can cancel up to 24 hours prior to arrival.

“Things are different and there’s a lot of uncertainty, but there are some really great travel experiences people can have on a budget, especially for Americans who want to travel right now,” HI USA head of marketing Lisa Jordan said. “It’s a great time to check your domestic bucket list and try some new experiences.”

Tour operators have also shifted with consumer demand, featuring more options closer to home and catering to private groups or families. G Adventures, for example, recently launched small-group, domestic day tours in Boston and Toronto to encourage people to explore their own home regions.

“We are putting together self-guided trips in the United States that are more affordable, compared to our guided tours and excursions that go to more remote areas,” said Gauthier said, who added that World Expeditions Travel Group brands including UTracks and Great Canadian Trails offer excursions for $1,000-$2,000, inclusive of accommodations, transfers, support and rental equipment. “Everything our clients need to have a good experience is included in the price,” she said.

While outdoor excursions have been popular during the pandemic, and many urban attractions remain closed or are operating at limited capacity, several travel advisors have pointed to cities that are offering great deals concurrent with the opportunity to see typically overcrowded sights with diminished crowds.

“Las Vegas is a great budget city. I was just there, and the deals right now are incredible,” said Debra Schroeder, former travel advisor and founder of the blog Traveling Well for Less. “It’s almost like the old days when you could get a steak dinner for $1.99.”

Schroeder has also noted exceptional deals on flights, rental cars and Caribbean travel, and she expects more unique offers to surface as destinations and companies continue to reboot for tourism. 

“If you’re willing to fly, Mexico has amazing hotel deals right now,” she said. “With kids doing school from home, parents might want to take the classroom on the road and go to all of the museums in D.C., which are generally free. There are some spectacular deals on downtown city hotels right now.”

In Los Angeles, travel advisor and tour guide Derek Krantz, of Go Legendary Adventures, said his coastal hiking tour that starts at $95 per person and stops at Santa Monica Pier and Malibu Lagoon State Beach has been extremely popular lately as people look for alternatives to typical city tourism. In many cases, Krantz said, companies are now offering private versions of previously large-group tours for the same price. 

“With so many people trying outdoor vacations during the pandemic, one of the huge cost savers for me is introducing a rugged part to the experience,” he said. “If the group is willing to go with a campsite, glamping situation or a yurt, you can save a lot on accommodations and stay in some amazing locations.”

While reopening under new health and safety regulations is one part of the equation, providing an enriching, enjoyable experience is still a crucial component. 

Fabrizio Giulio, chief supply officer for Hostelworld Group, said properties in their network are thinking creatively across operations, including encouraging alternative greetings like “foot shakes,” Covid-safe beer pong matches and glow-in-the-dark “dancing spots” in hostel bars. 

“Some hostels are also surprising their guests with free upgrades to private rooms, which helps with social distancing but also gives travelers an extra-special experience,” Giulio said. “Over the summer, there has also been an increase in families choosing to book hostels for their prime locations, meaning less travel on public transport, and lower prices.”

While domestic tourism is up right now, once borders do reopen, many in the travel industry expect deep discounting and creative offers and, perhaps for a time, government subsidies until tourism-dependent regions stabilize. Greece has cut taxes on flights, Japan is dishing out discounts and Sicily is developing a tourism-incentive program that will offer discounted accommodations in addition to free tickets to all museums and archaeological sites.

Globus’ Cosmos brand launched a North America menu for its “Undiscovered” series of off-the-beaten-path destinations last year that happened to meet the pandemic travel niche well, McGillivray said. The most recent offering, a nine-day Pacific Northwest program, has been particularly popular, he said, but he also expects more international opportunities to open up in 2021. 

“Consumer confidence is starting to build again, and I think a lot of people can relate to that feeling of wanting to get out there. The next six to 12 months will be exciting,” McGillivray said.

“I think if you go to Europe in spring 2021, it will be one of the most memorable experiences you can ever imagine,” he added. “It won’t be quite back to its normal volume, and for the traveler adventurous enough to go when things open up to U.S. tourists, I think they’ll have an unbelievable experience. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see parts of the world like you’ll never see them again.”

And, very likely, at bargain-basement prices.