Search volumes for travel destinations more than tripled in March and April 2021 compared to 2020. Most destinations made a full rebound, reaching or exceeding pre-pandemic levels. Americans turn to their “backyard” to unwind, mostly looking for beach getaways and nature spots within driving distance of major urban areas.
Postponing vacations is so last year. With people yearning for a well-deserved escape, Google searches for travel destinations went up a whopping 224% in March and April 2021 compared to the same time last year. Although many places around the world are still off-limits, there are plenty of wonderful travel spots right in our own backyard already welcoming visitors. Tourists’ interest peaked for sandy getaway spots like Cape May, NJ or Newport, RI, locations with spikes in online searches of more than 450%.
The East Coast, in particular, experienced the fastest rebound in popularity, as it boasts most of the top 20 recovering destinations, many of which are within driving distance of large metros.
To see which destinations registered the biggest comebacks this spring compared to 2020, we looked at online Google search volumes for 230 of the most popular travel spots in the country. Not only have online searches for virtually all U.S. travel destinations at least doubled compared to last year, but as many as 80% of them have also reached or exceeded their pre-pandemic levels (See full data here).
Weekend Getaways Make Spectacular Comeback in 2021
“Revenge travel” and pent-up wanderlust are already reshaping tourism for the near future following last year’s lockdown which resulted in a 64% drop in vacation-related searches. But, as local restrictions gradually lifted, vacation-seekers in March and April of 2021 favored weekend getaway spots and destinations within driving distance — if only to test the waters until the real deal this summer.
East Coast vacation spots boasted the highest rebound percentages as many states on the Atlantic side were among the first to lift restrictions. Plus, it’s easier to cross state lines and enjoy a change of scenery from the comfort of your own car. As a result, the destinations that really sparked Americans’ interest are in two of the smallest, most densely populated states in the country: New Jersey and Rhode Island.
Searches for Cape May, NJ jumped by 470% this spring, making it the number one comeback travel destination on our list. Perfect for quick beach getaways as well as extended vacations, America’s oldest seashore resort still fascinates New Jersey and Philadelphia visitors.
In second place is Newport, RI, another beach getaway spot that’s less known for its swaying palms and more for being a great weekend destination for New England travelers — especially if they like sailing. Interest in this oceanside resort spiked by a cool 458% in March and April. And while the greatest part of living anywhere in Rhode Island is that you’re never far from the beach, Newport is also known for its colonial past, Gilded Age buildings and calming scenery.
Check out the Top 20 comeback destinations of 2021:
Breezy Florida spots comprised one-quarter of the Top 20 biggest rebound destinations of 2021, with Kissimmee, Destin and Miami Beach enjoying bumps in interest higher than 400%. In fact, one-third of the destinations with the highest increases in search volumes are beach getaway spots. However, ultimate nature havens also hold their own adding five entries, including family-favorites Lake George, NY, Blue Ridge, GA and Pigeon Forge, TN — where you come for the Smokies and stay for Dollywood.
Meanwhile, local policies and eased restrictions could be another factor to influence searches during the spring months. For example, California still had restrictions and certain stay-at-home orders, while Florida and Georgia had already loosened theirs.
See changes in Google searches for all major U.S. travel destinations:
Major Travel Destinations That Made a Comeback in 2021
Overall Interest in Nature Spots Springs Back
Mountain areas and nature spots saw the highest rise in travel searches out of any other type of destination – 288%. It goes to show that nothing beats nature walks or breathing in fresh mountain air to relax after the year we’d had.
The most coveted nature spot is Lake George, NY, an example of natural splendor that saw 393% more searches than last year. Here, fresh air from the southern Adirondacks and serene views make traveling to The Queen of American Lakes an exquisite experience.
A close second is Pigeon Forge, TN with a 386% increase. Nature enthusiasts can’t seem to get enough of the Great Smoky Mountains as gateways Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, TN reclaimed their spots on America’s bucket lists with more than 220,000 online searches each.
Speaking of bucket lists, about 90 minutes from Atlanta lie Blue Ridge and Helen, GA, two destinations bound to make the most of your first outing in a while. These charming towns offer tons of outdoor activities and instagrammable experiences, as well as authentic food ready to please any visitor.
Notably, the only national park on the list is Zion, Utah’s very first national park that continues to captivate us. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s right by Springdale, one of the nicest little towns you’ll ever get to visit.
Check out the country’s nature spots that made the biggest comeback in our search history:
More Eager to Dip Our Toes in the Sand
Travel searches might have plunged during quarantine, but beach destinations more than make up for it now with a 277% overall increase in search volumes.
Cape May, NJ shines bright with the largest increase in interest, while Florida beams with four entries that sparked the interest of vacation seekers. In addition to Destin (up 434%) and its sugar-white sands, the Sunshine State also boasts three more beach getaway spots that awoke our travel bug — Miami Beach (417%), Panama City Beach (400%) and Clearwater (382%).
It might come as a surprise for some, but Mid-Atlantic vacation seekers understand why the third most popular beach getaway in the U.S. is Maryland’s Ocean City (422%). Salt-water taffy aside, Ocean City appeals to the most diverse visitors stepping on its three-mile boardwalk.
Here are the Top 10 U.S. beach destinations that make a comeback in 2021:
Small Towns Are the Best Bet for a Healing Itinerary
Last year, quaint areas of fewer than 60,000 people saw some of the smallest drops in searches. Now small-town getaways see some of the sharpest hikes in online searches, as people looked them up 279% more compared to spring of 2020.
Newport, RI and its calming breeze passed the 450% mark in March-April. It’s followed by Galena, IL (367%), a favorite weekend getaway for Chicagoans that offers watersports, outdoor activities and all-around good fun in northwest Illinois.
The family favorite Wisconsin Dells (351%) is the third most popular small town on our to-visit lists, for its abundance of indoor and outdoor waterparks within driving distance of Chicago. Right on its tail is Lake Placid, NY (347%), which sits on the picturesque Mirror Lake, followed by the all-time favorite Midwestern vacation spot Branson, MO (333%), the most googled small town with more than 205,000 searches.
Check out the small towns with the highest increase in online searches:
Sun Belt Cities Most Googled U.S. Destinations of Spring 2021
When we look at the number of travel-related searches in March and April this year, large Sun Belt cities make up the majority of the list.
Orlando, FL is on top with nearly 502,900 searches in two months — almost 300% more than last year. Attractions like Universal Orlando Resort and Walt Disney World are now reducing restrictions, which will likely make that number skyrocket this summer. Miami is next, followed by Nashville, TN and Las Vegas, NV with almost half a million searches and increases of more than 250% each.
Among all the big cities is Myrtle Beach, SC, a veteran in tourists’ preferences. Even last year, the coastal resort managed to pull some of the highest search rates despite drastic drops in travel interest. And, despite the fact that it ranks 8th when it comes to actual searches, Myrtle Beach and its 60-mile coastline actually saw the sharpest spike in online popularity -– 342%.
These are the 10 most-googled destinations in March and April 2021 in the United States:
With travel searches reaching new heights, it’s interesting to see which destinations will serve as our first post-pandemic travel havens. From attractions that bring out your inner child, to picturesque areas where you can let go of the past year and look forward to a healthier future, the U.S. has more than enough to go around.
- This study was prepared by RENTCafé, a nationwide apartment search website that enables renters to easily find apartments and houses for rent throughout the United States.
- The research was based on a list of keyword combinations related to more than 900 popular U.S. travel destinations compiled from Google Travel recommendations. Online search volumes represent historic data from the Keyword Planner. For differences in online interest, we compared searches in March-April 2019, 2020, and 2021.
- The Top 20 destinations with the highest increase in interest were selected from a final list of 230 popular vacation locations that had more than 5,000 average monthly searches in the past 12 months.
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