Since the onset of the pandemic, the home industry has seen an unprecedented boom in demand. Within months of the first lockdowns, it became clear that more time spent at home meant more money spent on the home, in part because people started tapping into budgets they might otherwise have used on restaurants, entertainment, and especially travel. Anecdotally, over the last two years, BOH editors have repeatedly heard designers and home industry executives attribute part of the increase in design spending to reallocated vacation budgets. Why save up for a dream trip that could be years away when you need a great new sofa to sit on 16 hours a day right now?
But all of that may be about to change, with travel expected to make a resounding comeback in the second quarter of 2022. According to travel industry experts and trend reports alike, people are not only planning to travel again, but they’re planning major, bucket-list-type trips (think: African safaris or luxury cruises to Antarctica). “We’re still seeing fewer travelers overall, but those who are traveling are staying away longer and spending more,” says Joshua Bush, CEO at Avenue Two Travel. “We’re seeing a higher percentage of private-jet requests than ever before, for example.”
In an Expedia poll of 12,000 people from 12 countries, the travel booking site reported that 40 percent of respondents said that they’re willing to spend more on travel over the coming year than they would have in previous years. With that willingness to splurge comes a renewed focus on advance planning. People who may have been more likely to travel somewhat spontaneously are being more cautious. A 2022 trend report released by home rental platform Vrbo revealed that the company had seen bookings extend by up to two to three months last year, with users reserving properties for July as early as February and making bookings for year-end holiday travel over the summer months.
With that earlier spending taking hold, Bush says that his agency has seen an influx in inquiries from clients who had never used a travel agency before, a trend that Misty Belles, a travel adviser at Virtuoso, has also seen. “There are so many rules and regulations in place from country to country right now, and they continue to be in flux,” says Belles. “People want someone to navigate all those uncertainties for them and still be able to enjoy their vacation.”
Despite the rise of the omicron variant, Belles and Bush say they haven’t seen a rush to cancel trips among their clientele. “People are maybe postponing trips they were going to take in January or February to March or April, but bookings for the summer have stayed strong,” says Bush.
With travel rebounding, will it cut back on home spending? The answer probably depends on where you sit in the market. For designers working with an affluent clientele, the choice between taking an extravagant vacation and spending big on a renovation isn’t really a choice at all—it’s, at most, a scheduling challenge. As a result, many designers are optimistic that a return to travel won’t impact their business, or they feel like it will end up having a positive effect.
“I haven’t observed any reduction in client design budgets, even as I’ve started seeing friends, colleagues and clients tread back toward leisure travel,” says San Francisco designer Noz Nozawa. “I’m actually optimistic that our industry will influence travel behavior. As people start making more travel plans, everyone’s interest in the home will lead to greater interest in treating oneself to staying at [well-designed] hotels. And because so many of us have clients whose office jobs will indefinitely be at least partially work-from-home, I don’t think travel will reduce [their] interest in improving their homes.”
A bigger impact is probably more likely in the middle and lower tiers of the market, where homeowners do have to choose between a trip to France and a new bathroom. Though they might not say so on the record, retail brands and designers who work with middle-class homeowners are likely eyeing the rush back to travel with some nervousness.
Only time will tell. With more avenues for extravagant spending opening up along with international borders, this year will likely show whether the renewed significance of the home is a once-in-a-generation phenomenon or a larger cultural reevaluation of what (and where) we place value.
Homepage photo: A high-end property listed on Vrbo | Courtesy of Vrbo