New research from Expedia Group shows that travelers need reassurance in critical areas such as flexibility, cleanliness, and communication to consider travel now and in the future.
The research reveals that one in two travelers feel optimistic – that is, comfortable or even excited – about taking a trip in the next 12 months. Though consumer confidence in travel varies by country and generation, the importance of hygiene measures, flexibility, and financial peace of mind is more universal. Three-quarters of travelers said measures such as mask enforcement, contactless services, and flexibility, including easy refunds or cancellation policies, will inform where they visit on their next trip.
Globally, two-thirds of travelers had a planned trip cancelled due to COVID-19 and only a third of travelers have taken a trip during the pandemic. Of those who took a trip, eight in 10 traveled for rejuvenation – to enjoy a change of scenery or different weather, or to see family or friends.
As the world keeps a watchful eye on vaccine news, and people continue to crave a change of scenery or opportunity to catch up with loved ones, the pent-up demand for travel will grow. COVID-19 has driven a seismic shift in traveler preferences and influences, and understanding these changes is critical to recovery efforts and future marketing strategies. The new research provides insights into the steps travel brands can take to reassure and connect with travelers as they begin researching, planning and booking again.
Traveler trends in the next 12 months
- Globally, travelers are more likely to take trips between April and September 2021. Brazilian, Chinese, and Mexican travelers show a higher likelihood to travel even earlier, between January and March 2021, which aligns with the positive traveler sentiment also seen in those markets.
- Globally, Generation Z and millennial travelers are 1.5x more likely than other generations to take a leisure trip in January to March 2021.
- Fifty-seven percent of travelers said they would be comfortable traveling if a vaccine is widely available, which is promising given that this sentiment was captured in October, prior to the recent positive vaccine news.
- Seven in 10 travelers will look for flexibility, such as travel insurance and trip protection, full cancellations and refunds on transportation and accommodations. Expedia.com’s lodging data shows that travelers booked refundable rates 10 percent more often in 2020 than the year before, and the new research indicates this trend is likely here to stay.
Factors influencing transportation and accommodation decisions
- Travelers want reassurances that travel providers and brands are following and enforcing pandemic protocols. Mask use and enforcement (50%), cost (47%) and easy refunds or cancellation policies (45%) will be the leading factors in future transportation decisions, though the importance placed on each varies by mode of transportation.
- For future air travel, six in 10 travelers would be most comfortable traveling if social distancing measures are in place.
- Proper COVID-19 hygiene protocols will inform future accommodation decisions for more than half of travelers, and this is the leading factor across all types, from chain and boutique hotels to vacation rentals to staying with family or friends. Additional considerations include contactless room service and takeout (24%) and contactless check in options (23%).
- Travel providers, as well as destination organizations, need to clearly communicate health and hygiene measures, pandemic protocols and flexibility to reassure and attract travelers.
Inspiring future travel
- Travelers are turning to online travel agencies for information and travel planning 24 percent more than pre-pandemic, while destination websites saw a 20 percent increase in use as a planning tool.
- Pictures and informative messaging in travel advertising are 20 percent more influential than pre-pandemic, along with travel organizations and experts. This is reflective of the shift in traveler priorities – with hygiene measures and flexibility overtaking experiences and activities – and the increased importance of credible, up-to-date information from trusted sources.
Key Insights and Marketing Takeaways
- Rejuvenate and Recharge: Pandemic fatigue is setting in and pent-up demand continues to grow as people seek leisure travel to rejuvenate and recharge. Inspire travelers who are still dreaming and engage those who may be ready to travel with content and messaging highlighting rest and relaxation.
- Hygiene and Flexibility: Travelers want to minimize risk to their health and protect themselves and their loved ones from financial setbacks. Information on pandemic measures should be at the forefront of brand communications, supported by reservation flexibility or full refunds to provide travelers with financial peace of mind.
- Reassuring Content: Use multiple channels—including news media, travel sites and advertising—to share reassuring content and imagery, such as messaging and imagery demonstrating social distancing or reduced capacity, contactless services, mask enforcement policies, and heighted hygiene measures.