The Rise of the Do-Nothing Vacation

More vacationers say they want a true break to rest and recharge during their time off.
More vacationers say they want a true break to rest and recharge during their time off.

Summary

More travelers say they want to make relaxation their top priority while on holiday.

The pendulum is swinging away from jam-packed trips and Instagram-worthy adventures and toward vacations with little to write home about beyond a pretty sunset and a cold drink.

More vacationers say they want a true break to rest and recharge during their time off. Their do-nothing vacations have no schedule. These aren’t beach trips that involve surfing or kayaking, or foodie tours requiring hours of research—and decision fatigue.

“Rest and relaxation" jumped ahead of having “a fun time" and spending “time with immediate family" as the main motivator for leisure travel, according to a nationally representative February survey of 1,000 U.S. travelers from Longwoods International, a market-research firm. Rest and relaxation rose to 21% from 17% between the September and February surveys.

All-inclusive resorts are helping travelers meet this need. Bookings for Apple Leisure Group all-inclusive properties in the Americas, which include Secrets resorts and spas, are up 11% thus far in the first quarter of 2024 compared with the same period last year, a Hyatt spokesman said. Hyatt is the parent company of Apple Leisure Group.

Lorraine Sanders has safaried through the South African jungle, explored Machu Picchu and backpacked through Thailand. So she hardly recognized herself when she and her partner decided they wanted their next trip to be to an all-inclusive resort.

“It was a little bit of a swallow-your-pride type thing," says Sanders of their roughly $3,400 trip to the adults-only Secrets resort in Cancún, Mexico, in November. “I never thought I’d be staying somewhere called Secrets."

Amid the stress of managing their careers and four kids, however, getting to make exactly zero decisions for five days turned out to be just what they needed, says Sanders, a 47-year-old who works from Charlottesville, Va., for a venture-capital firm.

Change of priorities

Vacationers wanted to reunite with family and friends when travel roared back in 2021. After countries dropped Covid-19 entry requirements, revenge travel continued as leisure travelers voyaged to bucket-list destinations. Now, with geopolitical crises in Europe and the Middle East, a coming U.S. election and financial concerns top of mind, people want to use their vacations to disconnect and recharge, says Amir Eylon, president and chief executive of Longwoods International.

“Travelers feel like: OK, I’ve caught up with people, I need some time for me," he says.

Travel advisers say clients looking for a break are turning to cruises and all-inclusive resorts to take the guesswork out of planning. Carnival had more first-time cruise passengers in the last quarter of 2023 than it did in the same period in 2019, executives said in a recent earnings call.

All-inclusives formerly held a reputation as inexpensive vacations with loads of alcohol and so-so food. Now, hotel companies are pouring big bucks into opening and upgrading new properties so they have a luxury feel, with Marriott planning to open a Ritz-Carlton-branded all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic.

Travel agencies are seeing the trend play out in the types of activities their clients request.

“I was shocked at how many trips our agency started booking beginning in 2023 that involved things like beach time and chocolate tastings instead of helicopter tours and cliff diving," says Shane Mahoney, founder of Lakeland, Fla., luxury tour company Lugos Travel. He says that within the past year, about 80% of their clients have said that they “just want to relax."

Camilla Beldham’s 2024 vacation-planning north star: spending seven to 10 days doing nothing on a beach. The 23-year-old law student from Los Angeles traveled to Peru and Amsterdam in recent years, but has never taken a trip solely for relaxing.

After she takes the bar exam in July, she’s considering an all-inclusive stay. She knows her costs upfront and looks forward to not doing so much homework before picking where to eat. As a law student, she says it’s hard for her to unplug.

“I don’t want to have to think about things that are going on politically, socially, economically," she says of her plans for her vacation.

The wellness factor

Many travelers still want to explore new destinations and have meaningful experiences, but are placing a greater priority on taking care of themselves while they are traveling, says Amanda Al‑Masri, Hilton’s vice president of wellness. The company’s new Signia by Hilton Atlanta has 11 dedicated wellness rooms, which have an air purifier, blackout curtains and aromatherapy from the showerhead, she says.

Other hotel brands, including Tempo, have emphasized new designs, like putting more outlets away from the bed so people are less likely to check their charging phones overnight, she says.

Van canceled already-booked 40th birthday travel plans to relax closer to home.

As the date crept closer, she says she felt overwhelmed rather than excited at the thought of partying at the Agriculture and Food Fair on St. Croix. Feeling burned out from running a small, Denver-based brand strategy consulting firm and keeping up with social plans and family commitments, she says she realized what she really wanted for her birthday was to turn her brain off and sleep.

She and her husband just returned on Monday after a week filled with massages, drinking wine and watching Netflix at the Alila hotel in Napa Valley, Calif.

“Not leaving the country meant not having to figure out a whole new place," Louis-Woolley says.

Back in Charlottesville, Sanders and her partner, Neil Hord, aren’t planning to return to their adventure-packed travels for the foreseeable future.

They’ve already booked a second all-inclusive vacation, this time, to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.

As Hord says, “I’ve discovered I’m really good at doing nothing."

Write to Allison Pohle at allison.pohle@wsj.com and Rachel Wolfe at rachel.wolfe@wsj.com

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