The death of city vacations


(CNN) – Cities around the world are falling victim to Covid-19, with travelers avoiding visiting major cities during the global pandemic. In turn, the figures for tourism in metropolitan areas have fallen. In Madrid, tourist arrivals fell 63.8% in the first half of 2020.

The things that typically make for a great city break are now the very reasons travelers stay away. Crowded museums, restaurants and public transport are unattractive in the days of Covid-19, when we are encouraged to socially distance ourselves to reduce the risk of contagion.

Avoid the big city

“Many cities have been hit hard by the pandemic, so it’s not a good idea to hang out while people are dying,” says Teddy Minford, New York-based travel writer and editor.

Although American citizens can visit Mexico, many opt for more remote places like these ruins in Chiapas as opposed to a visit to Mexico City.

Rodrigo Arangua / AFP / Getty Images

Minford canceled a trip to Mexico City in March, but looks forward to visiting as soon as it is safe to do so. “I hope to be there as soon as I’m welcome to support one of my favorite travel destinations with tourism dollars,” she says.

Mexico has been hit hard by the virus with 761,665 reported cases and 79,088 deaths. Mexico City’s population is estimated at nearly 22 million, making it difficult to avoid crowded places. Trips to the Mexican capital typically include visits to world famous museums, street side taquerias, and day trips to ancient indigenous sites such as the Pyramids of Teotihuacán.

Mexico is open to American tourists, but since Minford does not yet feel responsible for visiting Mexico City, she has visited her family in rural areas of the United States. “A remote visit is safer. The chances of getting sick accidentally are lower just because you hardly see anyone. ”

What is even open?

The decline in city vacations is a result of people heeding tips for avoiding crowds, indoor activities, and high-risk attractions. Travelers are also discouraged by the fear of getting stuck in a city that is likely to return to quarantine.

With Broadway closed until May 2021 and Times Square in New York City looking very different these days, many travelers are enjoying city vacations.

Johannes Eisele / AFP / Getty Images

There is also uncertainty about which attractions are open to visitors, as many major cities are partially closed. “We haven’t booked a single city-focused stay. Fear of the virus has a lot to do with it, but it’s about missing out on real experiences, ”says Sarah Groen, owner of Bell & Bly Travel. For his clients, trips to Chicago, London, Beijing and New York are irrelevant.

The coronavirus has stopped the urban retreat. The occupancy rate of hotels fell by 77.6% in municipal markets. Rural counterparts work better. For example, the Hilton Garden Inn Auburn in Auburn, NY (population 26,000) told CNN Travel that hotel occupancy rates top the highest 2% occupancy in the entire region. the Hilton brand in the United States. Likewise, the mountain town of Aspen, Colorado has seen a steady flow of tourists since June – the total number of visitors is only down 7% from 2019.

(It remains to be seen what the trip to Aspen will look like during ski season.)

Road trips and VR alive

RV rentals are also booming during the pandemic. RVshare fall bookings increased by 123%. Longtime traveler Kesi Irvin was scheduled to fly to Detroit, but on the morning of the flight she canceled. Instead, she took a road trip through South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana in an RV with friends – a trip the self-proclaimed “town girl” would never have taken. without the pandemic.

Staying in a city hotel is over; RV trips are underway.

Staying in a city hotel is over; RV trips are underway.


“A road trip in the middle of America provided much needed peace,” Irvin says. “I have to thank the pandemic for showing me the beauty of America and the healing nature of rural travel. “

Major tourism conglomerates have evidence that the pandemic has encouraged travelers to move away from city breaks. Amtrak Vacations told CNN Travel that train travel to urban destinations was down 8% from the same period last year. US rail service has seen travel drop to New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington DC

Visitor spending in the U.S. capital fell 81% ($ 6.5 billion), as hotel revenues fell 89% ($ 1.2 billion) from March to September compared to the same period l last year, according to the city’s tourist office.

Scott’s Cheap Flights surveyed members in July and shared with CNN Travel that only about 18% of those surveyed said they would go to a major city. Gabby Beckford, a travel blogger, predicts that she will be comfortable visiting a major city outside the United States by early 2021.

Beckford intended to travel to cities around the world this year, but instead visited smaller settlements in his home state of Virginia. She says rural areas were happy that travelers were supporting the local tourist economy, as large cities usually receive all the tourist traffic. Beckford longs to visit friends in Los Angeles, but has chosen to avoid the big cities.

Places like the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Appalachians have become more popular amid the pandemic.

Places like the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Appalachians have become more popular amid the pandemic.


Many international travelers are following suit. In 2019, some of the most popular points of interest on GetYourGuide were the Colosseum in Rome, Italy; see Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece of the Last Supper in Milan, Italy; and the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. These popular sites in Italy are distant memories – travelers now use the platform to book nature and outdoor activities instead.

Italy had one of the tightest lockdowns. The capital, Rome, has seen a significant drop in tourism and many hotels have yet to reopen. According to Giuseppe Roscioli, president of the hotel association of Rome Federalberghi, the hotel sector in the city is losing 100 million euros per month. Roman hotels have halved their rates in hopes of reviving tourism in the city.

Apples the campaign

However, travelers to Italy still choose to visit destinations in the country with a smaller population. “Italians are looking for more remote options like mountains, nature reserves, as well as bodies of water like oceans and lakes. For Italians, London and Paris have been replaced by the Etna mountains and the Maddalena archipelago, ”says Carlee Stellfox Loya, director of GetYourGuide.

Due to the pandemic, travelers like Patricia Estrada are choosing to visit Italian cities like Calabria (pictured) instead of major European cities.

Due to the pandemic, travelers like Patricia Estrada are choosing to visit Italian cities like Calabria (pictured) instead of major European cities.

Alfonso Di Vincenzo / KONTROLAB / LightRocket / Getty Images

Patricia Estrada, based in Florence, usually leaves for weekends in European cities. Due to the pandemic, she instead visited Italian cities like Calabria, La Spezia and Corniglia. “I have a feeling that by traveling in a busy city, I am helping to spread this virus,” she says.

Other travelers based in Europe have decided not to visit cities despite the ease of moving between major cities on the continent, as city travel is simply not appealing during the pandemic. Yishyene C., a travel blogger from Portugal, was planning to visit London, but evolving rules and restrictions have kept her in Portugal. She has taken road trips around the country and stopped in less visited towns, deliberately skipping Lisbon to reduce the risk of becoming infected or transmitting the virus.

“It seemed like a good decision to stay away from the cities,” she says. “The idea of ​​’escaping’ in a city has lost its appeal. Especially with the new rules requiring reduced capacity or hours of operation for many establishments, it doesn’t seem to be worth the time, effort or money.

Even the smallest towns have been affected. In Finland, despite a relatively low number of Covid-19 cases, overnight stays in the capital Helsinki fell by 75 and from March to June. Half of the overnight stays in the city were from business trips. Heli Mende, head of Visit Finland North America, said tourism typically generates 1.6 billion euros per year in Helsinki.

Even relatively smaller cities like Helsinki have seen a decrease in the number of visitors, many of whom choose to spend time in more remote parts of the country.

Even relatively smaller cities like Helsinki have seen a decrease in the number of visitors, many of whom choose to spend time in more remote parts of the country.


It is not surprising that all trips organized by Groen to European capitals for 2020 have been canceled. One of her clients wanted to go to Paris but decided to wait and go there later, as she won’t have to worry about whether the restaurants and sites they want to visit will be open.

Flexible city routes are almost impossible, as many top-list venues and restaurants require advance reservations. For example, the Louvre is open but it is recommended to reserve a time slot in advance to guarantee entry. “People just aren’t interested in spending their vacations stressing out what they’re missing,” comments Groen.

It’s easier to mitigate risk by avoiding the epicenters of the deadly virus – dense urban areas. City breaks will likely remain irrelevant for most travelers until a Covid-19 vaccine becomes widely available.

Urban travel will return, but until then, travelers are expected to continue shifting spending toward remote tourism as the pandemic progresses.


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