In search of the sun: Winter travel popular for Grand Forks residents, but now is time to book
The majority of Grand Forks residents won't take a major trip for months, but now is the time to plan and book the vacation, local travel agents say.
The most popular season to travel for area residents is wintertime, said Julie Conely, owner of Monarch Travel in East Grand Forks, and the kind of trips people book are as different as the places they go.
"January, February and March are huge travel months," Conely said.
Bonnie Rygg Haley, president of Bon Voyage Travel Leaders in Grand Forks, said her company is currently booking a lot of winter travel. Haley said she also is booking destination weddings for 2020.
Europe is a popular destination in the spring, summer and fall. Honeymoons are very popular in the summer, Haley said.
"Summer is honeymoon season," Haley said.
Some of the most popular destinations are in the Caribbean and Mexico.
"Mexico is usually the most economical trip," Conely said.
However, the Caribbean has been more popular than Mexico for the past couple of winters, Conely said. Many have been reluctant to visit Mexico given the political climate, Haley and Conely said.
"We try to educate people that Mexico is safe, that you're vacationing in a safe part of the country," Haley said.
Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic has become very popular. About five years ago the Domincan Republic started to grow in popularity.
In the U.S., Las Vegas, Arizona and Florida are destinations targeted by many in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. Haley said she books many trips to New York City and Las Vegas. Nashville is also gaining in popularity.
How things have changed
Conely has been in the business for about 40 years. She remembers handwriting airline tickets.
"Things have changed drastically," Conely said.
When she first started, the most popular trips were to Hawaii and Las Vegas. Now, Conely said, she books more vacation packages, which include airfare, lodging, food, drinks and transportation. About 85% of her business is made up of those kinds of trips.
"You can book an all-inclusive for between $3,200 to $4,500 for two people and that includes everything," Conley said.
Something Monarch offers its clients is "vacation layaway pay," which gives a customer the option to put down a small deposit and then pay for a vacation in installments. The balance is due in full about 40 days before the trip, Conely said.
"People really take advantage of that," she said.
And it's not just about the tickets.
"We used to focus on just airline tickets and today we are selling experiences," Haley said. "We're selling vacations."
Conely said her clients range from 22 years old to 80. She finds her older customer-base enjoys different types of vacations than the younger clientele.
"You find the retired folks are not as into the 'beachy scene,'" Conely said.
Alaskan cruises are popular with that group of people.
Multi-generational travel has been growing in popularity for the past 15 years, Conely said.
"A lot of grandparents will take their children and grandkids on vacation," Conely said. "I just had a grandma who was paying for a trip for her whole family."
Popular destinations for those kinds of trips are Orlando, the Caribbean and Mexico.
Conely said she also books quite a few destination weddings, which have gained in popularity in the past decade.
Haley said that although Airbnb—a service that provides lodging in places other than traditional hotels and resorts—is popular, it hasn't really changed the way she books trips for her clients.
"We do have access to booking homes for a larger group, but we don't see that it's affected us too much," Haley said. "In the United States, some are looking at Airbnbs, but many still want a full service hotel and want it in the center of the city."
People tend to stick with hotels, especially when they are traveling to Mexico or the Caribbean, Haley said.