Why Cape Cod and the Islands Are Trending for Summer Travelby Laurie Wilson /
Sun-soaked ocean strands, cocktails made with local cranberries, chunky lobster rolls, sweet fried clams and nightly baseball games with MLB-bound players (yes, baseball!)—all timeless summer bucket wishlist items for travelers to Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
And the time to book that 2022 summer getaway—yesterday.
“We have seen an increase in advance bookings for the summer months,” says Gary Thulander, managing director of Chatham Bars Inn on the Cape. “Normally, guests would book their stays after the holidays and this year the trend started much earlier. One reason, he says: The inn is seeing an increase in repeat guest bookings from travelers who were introduced to Cape Cod for the first time last year because of international travel restrictions, and have decided to return.
Martha’s Vineyard resorts and inns are also experiencing a crush of reservations this year. “All our member properties are seeing extremely strong bookings for this summer,” says Annabelle Hunton, president, Martha’s Vineyard Lodging Association.
“2021 was a record year for both occupancy and ADR for most of our properties on Martha's Vineyard,” says Hunton. “Booking pace as of now points to 2022 exceeding 2021. Most properties are at least 10% ahead of where they were this time last year. Part of this is undoubtedly due to some visitors booking earlier than usual in order to ensure they find availability given how booked up the island was last year.”
Hunton points to several other reasons for the uptick:
- S. travelers still hesitant to travel internationally this summer, or to go on a cruise, continue to seek alternative vacations with beaches and high-end accommodations/ service
- An increase in travelers opting to stay local in order to support small, independent businesses and a desire to explore and experience what can be found locally
- Weddings, a strong business driver on Martha's Vineyard, are back to pre-pandemic levels after a two-year lull (demand for elopements and smaller, more intimate weddings, which rose in 2021, also remains up.)
- A continuance of residual demand following the drop in travel in 2020 due to the pandemic
- The Cape & Islands offer outdoor activities which still appear favored options in the tricky COVID environment
Phil Baxter, co-owner of Baxter Hospitality—with two properties on Cape Cod, Sesuit Harbor House, and Chapter House—is also seeing “strong bookings” for summer 2022.
“This year, we are up an official 70% in terms of business on the books,” he says. “In terms of inquiries for bookings, we are seeing latent demand for weddings and events that were postponed during COVID.”
Baxter also notes that because many of the short-term rentals for the summer on the Cape are booked up already, that leaves the hotel and inn market the only one available for travelers.
Summer is filling up fast, says Win Baker, VP Client Services at Point B Realty on Martha’s Vineyard, representing 265 vacation house and cottage rentals on the island, “There is still availability for the shoulder season, but summer rentals are already sparse.” And the bookings came in early. “Martha's Vineyard ferry tickets went on sale in January, which also led to the summertime rush of bookings once the ferry ride to the island was secure.”
Joan Talmadge co-founder and co-owner of Cape Cod-based vacation rental company We Need A Vacation, also says that bookings began earlier this year, but that there is still some inventory. “Vacationers had difficulty finding last-minute rentals that met their needs during the first year of the pandemic,” she says. “So, in the two years since then, early bookings (October to December) soared.”
We Need a Vacation COO, Jim Reese, says (at press time) summer weeks (end of June through Labor Day) are about 75 percent booked, with peak summer weeks (the last two weeks of July and first two weeks of August) even fuller, and early and late summer weeks are showing the most availability at this point.
While inbound international travel fell to zero in 2020 and 2021, says Hunton, that market is beginning to return with European bookings, in particular for the fall seeing a rebound.
Baxter concurs. “Overall, I think the demand for this summer is showing travelers are feeling less concerned about COVID, both getting it and with travel restrictions,” he says. “This is particularly evident in the number of European bookings we have received.” In fact, he says, overall the biggest change this year is bookings from outside the driving market (five-to-six hours), specifically European and West Coast bookings, which he attributes to travelers becoming more comfortable and confident in international and overall air travel again.
Also trending: wellness and personal care bookings, such as spa days, massages, and yoga says Hunton. And bookings of outdoor experiences such as boat charters, guided walks, kayaking tours, and biking are also popular, she says.
Hunton has this advice for travel advisors: “Book early, set expectations on availability and pricing, and reach out directly to properties as many of our members provide commissions to IATA-approved travel agents.” She notes, “The only cooling impact that we may see on-demand is a reduction in the last-minute drive getaways given the recent surge in gas prices.”
Baxter’s takeaway tip: “My biggest piece of advice, especially with a larger number of people comfortable with traveling again this summer, is to not wait. We do not see any value in waiting for demand to open up or for prices to go down. Specifically, if agents are booking for bigger families, a lot of groups are trying to reschedule bigger events so space for these events is becoming sparse.”