Summer's not over yet: 'Stretch season' travel is latest trend spurred by pandemic
Summer is, at least officially, over.
After Labor Day weekend, the informal last chapter of summer, most children went back to school (remote or otherwise) and many parents returned to the office for the first time since spring. And on Sept. 22, the autumnal equinox, day and night were equally halved, marking the natural end to summer in the Northern Hemisphere.
But in many ways, we're experiencing our longest summer ever — and some travel professionals say summer could continue well into the fall this year.
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That's because the new coronavirus pandemic has changed just about everything, including the way we travel. And for travelers who are still working remotely with children now embracing virtual learning, there's no clear reason to say "so long" to summer just yet. Plus, one look at the thermometer will tell you that in many parts of the country, the unseasonal temperatures make it even easier to believe that summer is here to stay.
More than half of travelers (54%) said they are more likely to travel this fall than in previous years, according to a new Travel Intelligence report from MMGY Global. The traditional peak travel period of summer is "stretching" beyond Labor Day well into fall, which is why the travel, tourism and hospitality-focused marketing company has dubbed this trend a "stretch season" for travelers.
With business travel on the backburner and more families finding ways to take advantage of their flexible schedules, it's really no surprise that the end of summer hasn't heralded the end of summer travel.
Plus, MMGY noted, a third of travelers are concerned about their personal finances being a "barrier" to travel.
“The season following Labor Day provides travelers an opportunity to extend their travel budgets during a more value-oriented period, especially in their own cities, regionally and in destinations that feature outdoor activities like beaches and parks,” said Clayton Reid, CEO of MMGY Global.
Related: It’s official: ‘Schoolcations’ are the hottest new travel trend for families
Even at a time when travel remains significantly depressed, certain summer leisure destinations are noticing the uptick in stretch season travelers.
White Elephant Resorts, which has four hotels on Nantucket, saw leisure bookings spike 36% year-over-year for trips between September and December.
"The cooler months on Nantucket are traditionally known as our 'offseason,' but we believe the continued pent-up demand for travel is extending our season well into late fall," said Khaled Hashem, managing director of White Elephant Resorts. "With many children starting the year with online learning, and the ability for parents to work from 'wherever,' it's allowing guests to be more flexible with their travel plans."
Hashem added that the trend of booking extended stays — "some up to four-plus weeks" — is continuing into the fall.
On the New Jersey Shore, in the seaside community of Asbury Park, the namesake Asbury Hotel is seeing September bookings in line with 2019. Still, David Bowd, CEO of Salt Hotels and owner and operator of The Asbury, agrees that "people are wanting to extend their travels beyond the traditional summer season."
Related: TPG’s safe travel guide: How to minimize risk on your summer vacation
The stretch season isn't just a U.S. phenomenon. Travel companies and hotels are seeing a spike in fall bookings.
"Because summer vacation plans were canceled for many U.S. travelers due to travel restrictions, we've observed a marked uptick in people extending what we considered in previous years to be our regular summer travel season ...." said Bill Linehan, president of Premier Worldwide Marketing, the exclusive worldwide representatives for Karisma Hotels & Resorts (which primarily has resorts in Mexico, the Caribbean and South America).
And the online travel company CheapCaribbean has seen a 12% year-over-year increase in September and October bookings this year versus 2019, meaning even ongoing travel restrictions and the very real threat of the pandemic can't deter travelers from soaking up every last day of summer.