Only a few days away from March and I’m watching the weather forecast for the next two weeks. Unfortunately, it looks like nothing but more arctic outbreak, polar vortex, and bone-chilling cold well into March. What does this crazy cold winter in the middle and eastern parts of the United States mean for the travel business? Nobody can say for sure. However, I believe there will be some very clear winners and losers.
According to the masFlight tracking data, from Dec. 1 through Feb. 18, there were 102,000 weather-related flight cancelations (“weather” being defined as both snow and extreme cold.) This number is easily quantifiable; however, not so easily measured are the number of hotel rooms that were left unsold or canceled, when travelers couldn’t reach their destination. Also, how many local driving trips were canceled due to snow-covered roads or the fact it was too cold to even go outside?
The destinations that seem to be clear-cut winners are those in the Caribbean and other warm weather spots. The Dominican Republic, along with Antigua and Barbuda, are all reporting bookings that are better than they have seen in many years. I’d guess that this trend will be consistent across the majority of beach vacation destinations. The OTAs are reporting a much larger than normal last-minute booking pattern as frozen citizens frantically search for a warm weather getaway. The search for warmth impacts local destinations as well; indoor waterpark resorts, for instance, are experiencing banner seasons.
Outside in the great white north, there may be plenty of snow for skiing and snowmobiling, but the frigid weather has been keeping the numbers down. While there is no hard evidence being reported, I’m hearing that business is down approximately 20 to 25 percent from normal. When wind chills are between 25 and 55 degrees below zero, it is just too cold and dangerous to be outside. Also, the cruise lines are reporting that bookings for this summer’s Alaska cruises are much lower than normal. Consumers can’t think about Alaska when they can’t feel their toes.
One segment of the travel industry that is right in the center of this extreme weather is the trip insurance business. In October 2012, The Weather Channel decided to start assigning names to winter storms, just as they do with hurricanes and tropical storms. Shortly thereafter, the travel insurance underwriters started treating these winter storms like tropical storms; once a storm system is given its own moniker, you cannot purchase insurance that protects you against any damages related to it. According to InsureMyTrip.com, such storms are considered “known peril” or “foreseen event.” As a result, savvy voyagers are now buying their trip insurance long in advance of their travel dates and I’m guessing sales of travel insurance are on the rise.
How this extreme winter of 2014 will affect travel for the rest of the year remains to be seen. Many people will have considerably less discretionary income available to spend on vacations after they pay off their larger than normal heating bills. However, there will considerable pent-up demand and energy to get outside. My guess is that whenever spring comes (and it can’t come fast enough for me), we’ll see a surge in bookings for summer vacation travel.