Tourists at a near-empty Patong Beach in Patong, Phuket, Thailand, on Monday, July 19, 2021.
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May 19, 2022 9:02 PM EDT

US consumers are spending less on products and more on experiences — a trend that could ease supply snags and inflationary pressures, and help the travel industry this summer.

For the first time since COVID halted movement around the world, leisure travel has returned to 2019 levels, according to a report released by the Mastercard Economics Institute. People are feeling more comfortable heading off to far flung adventures, despite a surge in cases and average airfares jumping 18% globally since the start of the year.

“If flight bookings continue at their current pace, an estimated 1.5 billion more passengers globally will fly in 2022 compared to last year,” the report said, “with Europe seeing the biggest increase — about 550 million.”

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Short and medium-haul flights are up 25% and 27% in April over the same period in 2019. Long-haul trips, which started the year 75% below pre-pandemic levels, rebounded to just 7% below 2019 by the end of April. Passenger rail is similarly close, with buses back to where they were. Spending on cruises started the year 75% off the 2019 peak and are now just 10% shy of a full recovery.

Pent-up demand for experiences appears to be driving the wanderlust with tourist spending on nightclubs and bars up 72% above 2019 levels, restaurants up 31%, and other recreational activities like museum, concerts and amusement parks up 35%, according to the report. By comparison, tourist spending is down for retail goods like clothes and cosmetics.

The report found the most popular international destination in March for travelers leaving North America was Mexico, and departing Europe, Middle East and Africa, was the UK. The US tops the list for those traveling from Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Asia-Pacific regions.

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