Tour operators say the great outdoors is filling up fast

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Popular outdoors-focused destinations, like Yellowstone and other national parks, are booked up, tour operators say.
Popular outdoors-focused destinations, like Yellowstone and other national parks, are booked up, tour operators say.

With many Americans vaccinated but many international borders still closed, tour operators say domestic demand is not only booming but in some cases exceeding supply.

At the adventure company Backroads, founder and president Tom Hale said summer trips are mostly sold out, with few opportunities to add itineraries because hotels in always-popular places like national parks and other outdoors-focused destinations are booked up.

"We are overwhelmed," said Hale, who noted bookings are at "an absolute all-time high -- by a long shot. We're up over 40% than we were in 2019, which was our previous high watermark.

"Not only are we pretty much full, for all practical purposes ... what we are also seeing throughout the U.S. is that the kind of lodging category that we operate in, which is pretty high-end, is also full. So we can't get more accommodations. We are literally filled up."

The Globus family of brands is having similar capacity challenges, said COO Pam Hoffee.

"We basically can't get any more space," she said. "We would love to add more capacity in the parks, but they have basically said they can't give us any more, and even some places outside of the parks that we need in order to have a park tour are filling up, as well. So if people want to do a park tour, they should for sure book it now."

She said Alaska is also filling up quickly, although Globus has been able to add some capacity there with cruise lines not yet sailing.

Denali National Park and Preserve.
Denali National Park and Preserve. Photo Credit: Galyna Andrushko via Insight Vacations

Intrepid, the Australia-based adventure operator that primarily served inbound travelers pre-pandemic but which has added a number of itineraries for domestic travelers in key markets, said the U.S. is currently its biggest seller. And searches and bookings for its new lineup targeting Americans have surged since the CDC said vaccinated Americans can travel domestically.

The company said web traffic to its U.S. destination and trip pages was up 205% in March and April compared with January and February. And domestic bookings in the U.S. are up 50% from February to March.

Package vacation seller Pleasant Holidays said it was adding 180 new properties, including everything from luxury spa resorts to family-friendly vacation rentals to budget-conscious hotels, in order to meet demand.

"We are electronically connected with most hotel partners who provide dynamic rates and inventory so we can sell inventory until it's no longer available," said CEO Jack Richards. "Our bookings for the USA are very close to 2019 levels, which was a record year for the company." 

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