“Revenge Travel” at Disney World

Well, it’s another Halloween here in the Tainted Twenties. Everything is worse than ever now. And we’re mostly stuck around the house to prove it. Oh, and here’s something else that’s new. I just heard a new term today on the internet.

Fellow says, we’ve go something now called ‘revenge travel.’ Did you ever hear of that one? It sure describes my feelings. I spend all day Googling and fantasizing about a destination, and then turn right around and do the same thing with another place. And the information superhighway is crowded with other revengers doing the same thing!

SARAH: That’s what they call progress dear. FATHER TOM: Ha ha ha ha. I guess she’s right. But we do have Disney+. Gives you something to do while stuck at home. I kind of like it, you know? A guy named Baby Yoda gives us “all the feels” and then they have all these stars and wars. A lot of fluff, but it’s fun…

In this case, that trend is revenge travel. It took a while to get past the term’s idiotic name, which we both dislike and wish had a different name. (We’ve spent way too much time questioning why it’s such a hostile and awkward term.) Nevertheless, we think maybe there’s some truth to the idea and it’s worth discussing here.

In a nutshell, revenge travel is a flashy buzzword for amplified pent-up demand. It’s the idea that our national mood is a restless one; after feeling trapped in one spot for months, many Americans are ready to get away from home. In theory, this could bring back leisure tourism with a bang next year.

The idea is predicated on the concept of revenge spending, a related phenomenon that has involved spiking demand for consumer goods after similar periods of stagnation or low spending. This historical trend has been observed in the past, and is even occurring in other countries that have emerged from lockdown.

When it comes to travel, this pent-up demand of revenge travel is already playing out. In several countries that have emerged from stay at home orders, domestic tourism has surged. There have been new twists, with many staying closer to home and going by car or train rather than flying.

The has played out in the United States, albeit with some unique wrinkles. Demand has spiked for driving-distance, rural getaways, and places with fresh, outdoor air. Some U.S. National Parks and state parks have been overwhelmed with visitors seeking a respite from cities as they flee to the great outdoors.

RV sales and rentals are skyrocketing, with manufacturers struggling to keep up with new orders and Camping World’s stock climbing 35%. (Ironically, places like campgrounds and National Parks that evoke mental images of serenity are packed, whereas typically crowded places like Walt Disney World are veritable ghost towns.)

As of our latest update to this post, we’re also seeing an early form of revenge travel playing out at Walt Disney World. Thanksgiving week was the busiest we’ve seen Walt Disney World since before the closure, and by a significant margin. As has been widely covered, Disney recently increased park capacity from 25% to 35%, and all 4 parks were full to that reduced limit several days.

This is a far cry from what we experienced back in July and August (when this article was originally written), when the parks were ghost towns disproportionately attended by Floridians and Southerners within driving distance. In the months since, crowds have swelled, with many more tourists.

For the Thanksgiving holiday week, crowd levels were elevated despite many locals being blocked out and case numbers rising throughout the United States. Forward-looking projections for December show a similar story playing out, especially for the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s.

While this is likely only a small preview of what’s to come (since there are still several reasons people would avoid visiting right now), it’s a glimpse at what the future holds. Americans are fed up, craving normalcy, and ready for revenge (travel). We previously expressed some skepticism about the degree to which there would be pent-up demand or a surge of travel. Not anymore. We now firmly believe that this will be a significant phenomenon.

These trends make sense given where things presently stand in the United States, and the sentiment and frustration animating these decisions nevertheless resonates with us. We have cabin fever, or a version of it. We are fed up with our neighborhood, fed up with our house, and just wanting an escape.

We frequently daydream about traveling. Despite never really “getting” YouTube, we’ve started watching some vloggers who cover far flung places. We frequently have travel ambiance videos or beach webcams just playing in the background. We go through the motions of researching and planning trips we won’t take.

This is how we feel despite being fortunate enough to be able to visit Walt Disney World on occasion to decompress and relax. That has been a huge boost, with our mood and happiness improving considerably. This cabin fever, anxiety, thirst for revenge, or whatever you want to call it must be so much worse for those who have been more or less on lockdown since March.

The concept of “revenge travel” thus makes sense to us. Regardless of the underlying economic circumstances, it’s possible–even likely–that many Americans will want to travel in the new year after being denied the chance for much of the last year.

We’ve long been strong advocates of prioritizing traveling now rather than waiting until retirement. After seeing firsthand that, for some people, someday never comes a desire to live in the present was fueled. We suspect others will have a newfound sense of urgency in traveling after we collectively emerge out the other side of this.

That perspective is borne out by consumer sentiment research by a Harris Poll of residents of various states. The results show that as the crisis has intensified, the demand to get back to normal activities such as travel has increased. In fact, that trend is actually more pronounced in places with more severe outbreaks. From all of this, it’s pretty clear that revenge travel or amplified pent-up travel demand is a real thing.

First, to what destinations?

As discussed above, the places seeing early demand surges are rural–the great outdoors. That makes sense while we’re still in the midst of the health crisis. However, does that change once there’s a vaccine and things start returning to normal? Come Spring or Summer 2022 when there’s a greater feeling of safety, will people actually seek out crowds? After months of isolation, will Americans eschew more isolated destinations for more populous and social ones…like theme parks?

Second, what will be the impact of lingering effects or longer-lasting behavioral shifts?

Even within the context of revenge travel, it’s widely assumed that international travel will be much slower to return. Likewise, convention business and group events are not expected to come back any time soon–if ever. Could this mean that Walt Disney World park attendance and hotel occupancy rates will remain low even as domestic demand from individuals and families spikes?

Third, will Walt Disney World’s core audience feel an even greater sense of pent-up demand?

It’s no secret that Walt Disney World is a rite of passage vacation for many American families, even those who otherwise are not particularly into Disney. For this demographic, there is a “sweet spot” age range for their kids to visit Walt Disney World. After missing essentially one full year, will more of these families move their trips into 2022? Will the psychological scars of the past several months prompt a desire for a vacation destination with more escapism–perhaps one to a land of fantasy?

Finally, how will this urge to travel comport with an ongoing recession?

We’ve been on record for months saying that economic uncertainty, lingering unemployment, and the lagging recession will likely seriously dampen travel demand for the next year-plus as compared to pre-March levels. And we maintain that position. However, will Americans continue to ignore all of this? Could the isolation and sameness of the shutdown fuel an increased desire to prioritize travel and a change of scenery at all costs?

Or, could there be an increased desire to travel, but to budget-friendly destinations? Is it possible that the fear of missing out and desire to keep up with the Joneses be replaced with more modest and discreet displays of vacationing? Instead of trendy and hip, could visiting Walt Disney World become ostentatious and gauche? Could Universal’s aggressive approach post-reopening pull away part of Disney’s local audience?

These are all questions we cannot answer. There are even more variables at play, as this is a complex topic with a lot of moving parts. My economic outlook is fairly pessimistic, which I’ve reiterated consistently in the last several months (and even well before all of this). However, it’s looking more and more like I’ll be wrong on that. The economy might be sufficiently resilient–at least for Walt Disney World’s primary visitor demographics.

Ultimately, it’s now seeming likely that the best case assumptions about a vaccine, discounts, and the economy are exactly how things are going to play out. While I still don’t see a full recovery for Walt Disney World, it could come close. Crowds might pick up to 80% of last year’s levels by summer, which is not too shabby when looking back on our previous prognostications this spring. However, the projections for record-setting crowds in October for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary are totally out the window.

The concept of revenge travel has already proven true to some degree, and it could have an even greater impact on attendance next spring and beyond. Given that it pretty accurately encapsulates a lot of our personal sentiment towards travel, it felt like something worth sharing and discussing. To what extent this plays out at Walt Disney World remains to be seen, but revenge travel undoubtedly will have some impact on crowds at Walt Disney World.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

Your Thoughts

Do you think Walt Disney World’s crowds will rise significantly come Summer 2022? Do you think they’ll be worse than normal due to pent-up demand or below average due to the economy and/or other factors? Planning any “revenge travel” of your own? Will you immediately book a trip, or wait until the economy recovers? Do you agree or disagree with our commentary? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

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