‘Revenge’ no Longer Needed as an Excuse to Travel

Tourism

All-inclusive holidays to Türkiye remain popular. View shows the five-star Seven Seas Hotel Life at Göynük, Antalya.

Photo by Solarisys / Shutterstock.com

Travel-crazed Hungarians just won’t stop exploring, with early bookings through the roof against the economic odds. The Budapest Business Journal looks at the drivers of outbound tourism with a seasoned expert.

Inflation is stuck well over 20% and amounting to three times the EU average, there’s a record weak exchange rate, and the economy is officially in recession. It is not an ideal setup for dreaming of a vacation if you are an average Hungarian consumer. Yet, rather than putting aside as much as possible for a rainy day, 2022 indicated a sweeping desire to travel in Hungary; early bird bookings in 2023 have followed the same path.

Hungarian tourists’ spending abroad hit an all-time high at HUF 1.075 trillion last year, double what they shelled out the year before. Citizens crossed the border 18 million times, a 36% increase compared to 2021. The length of their stay was also up significantly, by 60%, according to Hungarian Central Statistical Office data.

The immediate post-pandemic era was labeled a time of “revenge travel,” with people making up for missed opportunities and thwarted plans. Now vengeance is not so much part of the equation, but the urgency to go places feels fiercer than ever.

The level of tourist activity has surprised the industry, and Gyula Almásy, the founder of the magazine Világjáró [Globetrotter] and owner of Carpe Diem Travel, was no exception. As he explains to the BBJ, early bookings in January and February were unprecedented, and the reasons for them are somewhat unclear.

There are surely some that are still determined to make up for postponed plans, while others want to preempt inflation-induced price hikes by clinching pre-season rates. And then there’s the bunch that spends all that extra cash on some adventure almost by default.

Cutting Cloth

“Even if airfares have doubled and other related costs have soared by 30-40%, travelers are willing to accept all that,” Almásy says. “They might downgrade services or go for a shorter stay, but there’s no way they would stay put.”

In some instances, the price range clients set no longer quite matches the quality they had in mind, though. This is when they are advised to top up that budget a little so that they get the experience they deserve, he says.

Because of super-strong early bookings, the big “if” is what June brings, and it also remains to be seen what momentum the fall and Christmas will have when it’s time to hit exotic destinations. But for now, it’s the classic destinations topping the charts: Croatia, Greece and Türkiye. The latter is well-known for its all-inclusive packages offering exceptional value.

All-inclusive was the ultimate buzzword among Hungarian travelers last summer, according to Google Trends, and apparently it hasn’t lost its appeal since then.

“This is what more and more people want, and service providers are adjusting, with a growing number of hotels offering such deals,” Almásy acknowledges. And it is middle-class families that are increasingly showing an interest in this kind of break as they aim to put a cap on their vacation-related expenses.

Trending Travel

Also trending is group travel. Popular destinations like Andalusia or Cambodia are fully booked for the fall, a somewhat unexpected development.

The growing demand for cruise travel is apparent as well. Capacities are reaching pre-pandemic levels this year, although the American companies that used to dominate the market aren’t yet a full speed ahead. U.S. tourists are, though, as they fill cruise ships on the Mediterranean. They all want to benefit from the variety of services such vacations offer, from entertainment to the possibility of visiting several places during a single trip.

Travel-related uncertainties that come in different forms place a higher value on professionally organized trips. Travel agencies can provide a stronger safety net compared to when you travel on your own. And having an exceptional personal network works magic, too.

“Once, a client was dissatisfied with a room somewhere in Malaysia, so I gave a call to the general manager who I know personally to sort it out. He did so right away,” Almásy says. He takes pride in being on friendly terms with a vast number of rank-and-file industry pros worldwide.

In most cases, a travel package booked through an agency will cost you much less, thanks to the special deals they can secure. And that’s more than the cherry on top of the peace of mind you get when everything is organized for you in advance and according to your needs.

Post-COVID Impact

The post-pandemic era impacted the industry in different ways. For one, business travel has radically changed, and although migrating meetings online seemed temporary at first, they are more like the norm now.

“Companies prefer to cut expenses by minimizing business travel. However, there are still occasions when the magic of in-person meetings can’t be denied. Take the last Dubai Travel Expo, which drew incredibly big crowds, as usual,” Almásy notes.

Another effect the lockdowns had was to freeze the operation of travel agencies. In Hungary, 998 of them were registered as of 2019, and although many suffered substantially because of collapsed markets, the number is pretty much the same at the moment. So, a cleansing never happened.

The emergence of Itaka, a Polish market player, deserves mentioning in this context, as it has lately carpet-bombed the local market with super-lucrative deals. But its campaigns have been running with varying success.

The good news for travelers is that last summer’s airport personnel-related issues, which led to lengthy queues, are unlikely to repeat themselves as headcounts have recovered. On the other hand, this year is not without risk, either. Strike waves threaten to turn smooth trips into chaotic nightmares more frequently than before, whether it’s Lufthansa’s personal control workers, French air traffic control staff or Heathrow security personnel (31 strikes are planned between June and August at the British airport).

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of June 30, 2023.

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