The components that usually make for a great city escape are now the very reasons travelers are staying away. Crowded museums, restaurants and public transportation aren’t appealing in the time of Covid-19 when we’re encouraged to socially distance ourselves to lower the risk of contagion.
Avoiding the big city
Although US citizens can visit Mexico, many are opting for more remote locales like these ruins in Chiapas as opposed to a visit to Mexico City.
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Minford canceled a trip to Mexico City in March but is eager to visit as soon as it’s safe to do so. “I’m hoping to travel there as soon as I’m welcome in order to support one of my favorite travel destinations with tourism dollars,” she says.
Mexico is open for American tourists but as Minford doesn’t yet feel it’s responsible to visit Mexico City she’s been visiting family in rural areas of the US. “A remote visit feels safer. The chances of accidentally getting somebody sick feels lower simply because you’re barely seeing anybody.”
What’s even open?
The decline in city vacations is a result of people heeding advice regarding avoiding crowds, indoor activities and high-risk attractions. Travelers are also deterred by the fear of getting stuck in a city that’s liable to go back into quarantine.
With Broadway closed through May 2021 and NYC’s Times Square looking very different these days, many travelers are passing on the urban vacation.
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(It remains to be seen what travel to Aspen will look like come ski season.)
Road trips and RV living
Staying in a big-city hotel is out; RV travel is in.
“A road trip through the middle of America provided much-needed tranquility,” Irvin says. “I have to thank the pandemic for showing me the beauty of the US and the healing nature of traveling to rural areas.”
Major tourism conglomerates have evidence indicating the pandemic has encouraged travelers to gravitate away from city breaks. Amtrak Vacations told CNN Travel that train trips to city destinations are down by 8% compared to the same time last year. The American railroad service has seen a decline in trips to New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington D.C.
Visitor spending in the US capital city was down 81 percent ($6.5 billion) with hotel revenue down by 89% ($1.2 billion) from March to September compared to the same period last year, according to the city’s tourism board.
Beckford had plans to travel to cities across the globe this year but instead has been visiting smaller locales in her home state of Virginia. She says the rural areas were thrilled to have travelers supporting the local tourism economy as big cities usually receive all the tourism traffic. Beckford longs to visit friends in Los Angeles but she’s chosen to avoid major cities.
Places like the Blue Ridge Mountains in Appalachia have grown more popular amid the pandemic.
However, travelers in Italy are still opting to visit destinations in the country with smaller populations. “Italians are seeking more remote options like mountains, nature preserves, as well as bodies of water like oceans and lakes. For Italians, London and Paris were replaced with the Etna Mountains and the Maddalena Archipelago,” says Carlee Stellfox Loya, a manager at GetYourGuide.
Due to the pandemic, travelers like Patricia Estrada are opting to visit Italian towns like Calabria (pictured) instead of large European cities.
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Florence-based Patricia Estrada typically goes on weekend trips to European cities. Due to the pandemic, she’s been visiting Italian towns instead like Calabria, La Spezia and Corniglia. “I feel that by traveling to a bustling city, I’m contributing to the spread of this virus,” she says.
Other Europe-based travelers have decided against visiting cities in spite of how easy it is to travel between major cities across the continent as city travel is simply just not appealing during the pandemic. Yishyene C., a travel blogger in Portugal, had plans to travel to London but ever-changing rules and restrictions kept her in Portugal. She’s been going on road trips in the country and stopping in lesser-visited towns, purposely skipping Lisbon to lower the risk of being infected or transmitting the virus.
“It seemed a good decision to keep away from cities,” she says. “The idea of ‘escaping’ to a city has lost its appeal. Especially with the new rules requiring reduced capacity or opening hours for many establishments, it doesn’t seem worth the time, effort, or money.”
Even smaller cities have taken a hit. In Finland, despite relatively low numbers of Covid-19 cases, overnight stays in the capital city of Helsinki decreased by 75& from March through June. Half of the overnight stays in the city were from business travel. Heli Mende, Head of Visit Finland North America, shared that tourism usually generates 1.6 billion euros annually in Helsinki.
Even relatively smaller cities like Helsinki have seen a decrease in visitors, many of whom are opting to spend time in more remote parts of the country.
It’s no surprise that all of the trips travel planner Groen booked to European capitals for 2020 were canceled. One of her clients wanted to go to Paris but decided to wait and go in the future when they won’t have to worry about whether the restaurants and sites they want to visit will be open.
Flexible city itineraries are nearly impossible as many bucket-list sites and restaurants are requiring advance reservations. For instance, the Louvre is open but it’s recommended to reserve a time slot in advance to guarantee entry. “People just aren’t interested in spending their vacations stressing out about what they’re missing out on,” comments Groen.
It’s easier to mitigate risk by avoiding epicenters of the deadly virus — dense urban areas. City breaks are likely to remain off the table for most travelers until a Covid-19 vaccine becomes widely available.
Urban travel will return, but until then travelers are expected to continue to funnel their spending into remote tourism as the pandemic advances.