Many Americans are looking for quiet, secluded excursions into the great outdoors this year – only to find millions of others are doing exactly the same thing.
Travelers looking to avoid the hustle and bustle of cities and theme parks find themselves among record numbers of visitors to national parks and coastal destinations.
Americans searched for national parks more than any other destination in May and June, according to consumer data company ShareThis.
“Many campsites and accommodations in and around popular national parks – places like Yosemite, Yellowstone, Zion, Glacier, and Acadia – are booked or nearly booked by Labor Day,” said Stephanie Roulett, a spokeswoman for the US National Parks Service told CNBC.
Crowds gather to watch the Old Faithful Geyser erupt in Yellowstone National Park on July 14, 2021.
Natalie Behring | Getty Images News | Getty Images
To make matters worse, the prices for private rental apartments are rising, with rates of up to 79% from 2019.
But that doesn’t happen everywhere.
Using Google trends and rental data from 265 communities, a Florida-based travel company analyzed where travelers may find fewer people and cheaper rental properties this year.
popular travel destinations
Nine locations in the U.S. saw more travel-related searches in the first quarter of this year compared to 2019, according to travel company Trips to Discover. They were the only places that have seen “real travel recovery,” according to the company’s research in June.
Online searches for travel spiked 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 trips to North Carolina’s Outer Banks more than doubled from early 2019.
Although the Outer Banks have long been a tourist magnet with popular beach towns like Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills, they have received an unusually high number of tourists this year. “The streets are busier than ever,” local news reports said, quoting Karen Brown, CEO of the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce, as saying weekly visitors increased from 250,000 before the pandemic to 400,000 this year .
While travel bookings have not returned to pre-pandemic levels in most U.S. locations, it may not feel that way for people vacationing in places like Telluride, Colorado.
HawaiiBlue | Moment | Getty Images
The utilization paints a similar picture. Vacation home occupancy increased in April of this year in small and rural areas (+ 67%) as well as in mountain, lake and coastal towns (+ 25%) compared to April 2019, according to a report published by AirDNA last month Analytics firm that tracks rental offers from companies like Airbnb and Vrbo.
At the same time, the occupancy rate fell in suburbs (-13%) and large cities (-41%).
Based on the latest Trips to Discover site data, these trends have continued into the summer travel season, said the company’s founder and CEO Dayne Ford.
Summer vacation rental bookings support this and show an even larger decrease in trips to large cities (-46%) with an increase in resort stays (43%) compared to 2019, according to the AirDNA report.
Rising rental prices for private homes
In addition to the rush, the holiday home prices could also surprise travelers this year.
Average daily prices on Airbnb and Vrbo rose 23% nationwide in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period in 2019, Ford told CNBC. This can be attributed in part to soaring US real estate values combined with efforts by landlords to recoup revenue previously lost in the pandemic, according to his company’s research.
“We believe that supply and demand clearly affect the pricing landscape – landlords are tracking price increases around them,” said Ford. “With the help of data, short-term renters are more informed than ever.”
Some markets are hit harder than others. Out of 265 markets surveyed by AirDNA and Trips to Discover, 16 saw average daily home rental rates increase more than 50%.
Vacation home prices are rising the most along the east coast, where average daily prices are up 34% from 2019, according to the study. This is most evident in Long Island, home of the Hamptons, where house prices skyrocketed after families fled New York City to live and work full-time in their second home.
However, the price increases are not always due to demand, as overall search interest in travel to east coast destinations decreased by 32%.
The Jersey Shore is the exception. Both search interest (+ 66%) and rental rates (+77) rose – the latter from $ 213 to $ 378 in two years – suggesting that tourists are interested in the sun and fun of New Jersey’s beaches, even if it costs you more money.
Because vacationers congregate in many of the same travel destinations, some vacation spots – even well-known ones – remain with fewer people than usual.
Trips to Discover’s report identified places for travelers to escape the crowds, including:
- Green Mountains, Vermont
- New York City
- The Washington coast
- Columbus, Ohio
- Louisville, Kentucky
- Tallahassee, Florida
Searches at each of these locations decreased by more than 50% from pre-pandemic levels.
Travelers who want fewer people but don’t want price hikes can turn to a list of “hidden gems,” as Trips to Discover calls them. They combine the best of both worlds – stable or falling rental prices for private 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 increased nearly 25% in Telluride, Colorado, fewer people researched trips to popular ski resorts of Breckenridge, Aspen and Vail than before the pandemic, according to the study. Prices in these upscale areas also fell slightly, with average daily home rental rates falling the most in Vail (nearly 8%).
Park City, Utah home rental rates haven’t changed much since the pandemic, but the ski resort has been searched about half as many times this year as it was in early 2019.
In Corpus Christi, Texas, home rental rates fell nearly 10% while online search interest fell 40%. The rest of the south fared better, with daily vacation rental averages reflecting 2019 prices and travel search interest only declining 10% across the region.