Why Shoulder Season Is the Next Big Travel Trendby Laurie Wilson /
The times they are a-changin. Seasonal high peak destinations are no longer getting the cold shoulder during shoulder season—thanks, in part, to people working remotely.
Travelers have traditionally sought out the shoulder and off-peak seasons to snag the best deals, says Ginger Taggart, Vice President, Brand Management, Global Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts. “My view, informed by the trends revealed in Crowne Plaza’s new ‘The Future of Blended Travel’ whitepaper suggests that is all about to change.”
Blended travel—business and leisure travel together—provides greater flexibility and has empowered the traveler of today, says Taggart.
“We are now witnessing a profile of traveler who is more adaptable and flexible, likely more opportunistic to itineraries and destinations as well, thus travel is not bound to peak/off-peak restrictions like before. It’s an exciting time for travel and we’re keenly following the ‘blended travel’ evolution.”
Viator’s “2022 Travel Trends Report” also shows shifted consumer travel choices following the pandemic, including a craving for the outdoors that is stronger than ever before. And that’s another reason the shoulder travel season has become more popular in many destinations—experiences can still be enjoyed outdoors while the weather is still agreeable.
According to the report, the ten fastest-growing experiences categories (and 18 of the top 20) were all related to outdoor activities. And almost half (48%) of the experiences booked this year were precanceled outdoors.
“Many people canceled their trips in 2020 and 2021 and have more vacation time than ever,” said Travis Vaughan, CEO of Tourbase, an online tour agency with a focus on tours and activities throughout the Caribbean, Alaska, and select National Parks in the U.S.
“Paired with their new ability to work remotely, we are seeing more vacations stretch further into the shoulder seasons. While people used to fit their summer travel in before Labor Day, we are now seeing much busier Septembers and even Octobers than we did before the pandemic. This is particularly true in U.S. destinations and national parks.”
“Labor Day once marked the end of our peak season,” says Jake Hatch, Director of Sales and Marketing at Sanderling Resort in Duck, North Carolina. “With more travelers being able to work from anywhere, over the last two years the Outer Banks has seen an increase in visitors choosing to visit after the dog days of summer, taking advantage of slightly lower room rates and occupancy.” And beautiful weather.
Cape Cod and the Islands is also riding the shoulder season wave. "Shoulder season bookings are increasing substantially year over year,” says Garison Beale, general manager of Greydon Hotel Group on Nantucket. “People in the know are realizing that Nantucket's shoulder season is more appealing with fewer crowds, mild weather, and a more accessible restaurant scene."
Thanks to travel restrictions, demand for the past couple of years was redirected to driving destinations with a focus on the outdoors, says Philip Cham, Bridgeton Holdings, Hospitality Director, the group that operates Marram Montauk. “We were the perfect location and property for travelers from New York and the Northeast.”
And, Cham says, Marram Montauk saw a 20% increase in occupancy during the shoulder months ear over year. “Shoulder months still remain more affordable than standard months, although rates have definitely increased across the market. We have and believe we will continue to see busier shoulder seasons as the travel conditions exposed first-timed Marram to so many new first time visitors.”
The shoulder season is becoming more popular in the safari world, too, says Emily Hancock, Senior Safari Specialist & Marketing Director, The Wild Source. There are several reasons:
- The tricky U.S. economic situation is driving the more affordable shoulder season safari travel. “Travelers are worried about a possible recession, but at the same time are eager—even desperate—to travel after two-plus years of pandemic travel restrictions,” says Hancock.
- Climate change is another factor. “Additionally, changing weather patterns for the last five-plus years in some of the top African safari countries are driving more people to choose shoulder seasons like March and April,” says Hancock. “And, we as safari planners are recommending non-traditional, off-peak travel more as a result.” For example, she notes that in the past a safari planner would advise to travel in January and February (traditionally a dry time of year) to the Serengeti in Tanzania, and avoid March because of rain. However, over the last several years, it is proving that the old paradigms are out the window. The January and February have actually experienced more rain in recent years, says Hancock, while March and even early April are consistently seeing less and less rain for the past six years—and outstanding wildlife viewing conditions.
- And, the shoulder season travel is also more attractive to safari goers who are looking to escape the summer crowds—which are a widely known issue during the July to October peak season in places like the Masai Mara and Northern Serengeti where hundreds of vehicles at a time can be seen gathering at the Mara River for events like the Great Migration river crossings, says Hancock. “Traveling in a shoulder season like June or early November can provide near-peak wildlife viewing with far fewer crowds and vehicles jockeying for space at wildlife sightings.”
In the Caribbean, the Aurora Anguilla Resort & Golf Club a newly reopened property (was formerly the CuisinArt) announced last week that they're staying open for shoulder season this year—the only property on the island to do so. Traditionally, resorts here shutter for September and October.
“We welcome the decision by the Aurora Anguilla Resort & Golf Club to operate year-round, which represents a tremendous vote of confidence in our island and our tourism industry,” said Anguilla’s Director of Tourism of Stacey Liburd. This autumn, the resort will debut several new golf amenities and a reimagined Japanese restaurant.
Shawn Richards, Expedition Coordinator at Ultimate Kilimanjaro said that while many travel businesses are seeing an uptick in bookings at times that would generally be considered off-season, it presents a different sort of difficulty for tourism businesses to consider.
“The term 'seasonal staff' is fairly well known, but it is now for businesses to do some working out about whether they need extra team members more permanently,” he said. “Of course, every business will go through times like this, but especially for tourism businesses in a post-pandemic world—with further restrictions still possible—the idea of bringing on extra team members full time can be quite a daunting one for these businesses after they already lost so much income during the lockdowns and pandemic.”