After a long year of staying inside and at home, Columbia residents and people across mid-Missouri want to get out and about.
As COVID-19 restrictions are easing in the U.S. and neighboring countries, more people are starting to look toward traveling and taking vacations, said AAA travel adviser Ben Coyle, who works out of the Columbia office on Grindstone Parkway.
“The last 1 1/2 to two months have been pretty insane now that things have started opening up a little bit,” Coyle said. “People have definitely been catching the travel bug and are ready to do just about anything they can.”
Part of Coyle’s job is knowing what restrictions are in place at a given travel destination. He will provide this information to his clients as they make their plans.
“Things are just changing so quickly these days,” he said. “It’s really just trying to make sure things go smoothly and people don’t have to worry so much about the restrictions and can just go place and enjoy themselves.”
Coyle’s clients would like to go to a variety of places, but at the moment a majority of travel is limited to domestic destinations, portions of Mexico and the Caribbean.
“Since most of Europe is still pretty well closed to travelers from the United States, we have seen people who have really been focusing on staying within the United States. We have seen a lot of people doing national parks,” he said.
The biggest question Coyle has received is about travel safety and destinations.
“People really want to find out where they can go. People are getting pretty stir crazy,” he said.
The Columbia AAA travel agency mostly offers cruises, tours, domestic and international travel packages, and with that, has a section that provides travel insurance.
While domestic travel has been very popular, clients are gravitating toward international destinations as those open up, Coyle said.
Travel desires weren’t put on hold by the pandemic
The community’s desire to travel never stopped during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Megan McConachie, strategic communications manager for the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau.
While Columbia residents may be looking to get away, plenty of people are also looking to visit the city in turn, she said.
“During the pandemic, there was a lot of pent-up demand for travel,” McConachie said.”(People) were still thinking about traveling and hoping to travel. We are definitely starting to see people capitalize on that.”
This not only includes vacation travel, but in-person events, including meetings, conventions and festivals.
“We are definitely seeing an increase in interest in traveling to Columbia, traveling in general and also people looking for somewhere to go this summer,” McConachie said.
The bureau’s website has seen increased traffic in recent weeks of people looking at the events page, she added.
“That is always one of our most popular pages,” McConachie said.
Bureau website visitors also are looking for information on outdoor activities, which includes trails and parks, such as Rock Bridge Memorial State Park.
“Having over 70 city parks and our two state parks — Rock Bridge and Finger Lakes — really provides such a huge variety of activity options,” McConachie said. “There are those more interactive experiential parks like Boone Junction down at Nifong Park with the historical buildings.
“The Boone County History and Culture Center is right there in the park as well.”
For those planning visits to Columbia, most are researching COVID-19 rules on their own. The bureau has received a few calls on the rules.
“We made a really conscious effort of keeping people informed on what the restrictions were, and also when the health orders were expired, letting people know there may be individual businesses that have their own rules as well,” McConachie said.
People want to travel, survey shows
Travel Leaders Group in September conducted a survey of nearly 3,000 frequent travelers about their plans for 2021, according to reporting from PRNewswire.
Respondents overwhelmingly — 70% — noted they plan to travel in 2021.
When surveyed in September, 54% said they were dreaming of a time when they could travel again, 22% had started to plan a vacation, 23% already booked a vacation and 1% gave up on traveling.
“These are really strong numbers. The fact that 99% of travelers surveyed said they are planning a trip or looking forward to the time they can travel again indicates that as concerns about COVID-19 are addressed, leisure travelers will lead the recovery,” Travel Leaders Group President John Lovell said to PRNewswire.