Travel intentions in 2021 Get the infographic

Traveling is back on the agenda, but it’ll be very different to how we remember it.

In the first 10 months of 2020 alone, the pandemic cost the tourism industry $935 billion in revenue worldwide.

For brands looking to recover and rebuild in 2021, it’s crucial to know exactly how vacationers’ mindsets have evolved. 

70% of consumers in the U.S./UK are planning on taking a vacation this year.

Using our latest Zeitgeist data, we’ve zeroed in on this audience and answered questions such as: 

  • How much do COVID concerns play a part in their vacation plans? 
  • What types of trips are they planning? 
  • And, are vaccines affecting bookings?

For much of the world, uncertainty made travel practically impossible last year.

2021 is a new story. Tourism and travel-focused brands that acknowledge this big picture are best positioned to take off once again.

1. COVID concerns govern everything. 

While the vast majority of consumers plan to take a vacation this year, it’s a bumpy ride getting them there – and we’re not just talking about turbulence. Every step of the way – from researching to returning home – COVID concerns will be on consumers’ radars.

Almost always, consumers will weigh up cost and quality above anything else before making a purchase. Nowadays, COVID concerns have become a primary consideration as well. 

For vacation planners in the U.S./UK, the state of the COVID-19 pandemic is now the most important factor to them when considering a trip. The fact that this comes 16 percentage points above the state of their personal finances is telling of how devastating the pandemic has been on the industry.

Chart: vacation planning concerns

COVID concerns continue far beyond the planning and research phase. Vacationers have greater demands of travel brands than ever before.

43% of vacation planners in the U.S./UK want travel brands to show proof of hygiene procedures. 

Accor is one brand adapting to support these changing demands. Early in the pandemic, the hospitality company launched the ALLSAFE label to give guests the assurance of a third-party verified standard of hotel cleanliness. 

With more than 95% of Accor’s worldwide network utilizing these protocols, their customers are receiving the proof they’re looking for. 

2. Holiday preferences have been redefined.

To minimize risks when traveling this year, consumers are reevaluating the types of trips they’ll take. 

Vacations will likely be shorter than they used to be, and closer to home – think along the lines of staycations and road trips. Quieter destinations will also feature heavily. Crowded cities are out, the great outdoors is in.

Chart: vacation planning priorities

For many brands, their audience hasn’t necessarily changed, but their demands have. 

For instance, a quarter of consumers in the U.S. who’ve stayed at a Holiday Inn in the last year enjoy taking staycations. Brands such as this are pivoting their strategy to tap into these trends.

IHG, owners of Holiday Inn, recently saw the growth of staycations help push their occupancy rates up from 25% to 44%.

3. Booking confidence hinges on a vaccine.

The global vaccination program accelerates every day. At the time of writing, 5.64 million doses are being administered daily across the globe. 

Most schemes focus on vaccinating older consumers first.

Understandably older – and more at risk – people are less likely to have taken a vacation last year.

But with vaccine rollouts, they’re showing a greater desire to book a trip right now. 

This isn’t surprising given the importance of access to a vaccine, as a consideration when booking a trip, increases with age.

With vaccine rollouts accelerating, the lifting of lockdowns on the horizon, and an abundance of pent up demand; older consumers are set to help many travel brands on their road to recovery.

Chart: How the Covid vaccines will affect travel

Jit Desai, Head of holidays and travel at National Express, is one of many stakeholders in the industry to have taken note of this trend.

He says: “Some of this is postponed travel carried over from last year, but there’s definitely a trend of customers being comfortable that they’ll have had their vaccination and be protected from Spring onwards, so can start to make travel plans.”

As a result, National Express has seen bookings nearly triple for spring and summer trips compared with last year, and they’re not alone.

TUI recently announced that the vaccine rollout in Britain has boosted summer bookings from those aged 50 and over, an age group accounting for 50% of all TUI’s web bookings since the end of last year. 

More likely to have been financially affected by the pandemic, their younger counterparts – Gen Z and millennials – may be more limited when it comes to booking a holiday in the foreseeable future.  

4. Vacation planners are in the research phase. 

While vaccines appear to signal light at the end of the COVID tunnel, concerns about it still govern consumers’ holiday plans. For this reason the vast majority of vacation planners remain in the research phase.

45% of vacation planners in the U.S./UK are researching right now; an additional 18% know where they’re going but are yet to book.

It’s likely that many are waiting for the opportune moment when the COVID situation has improved. At which point, their pent up dreams of a vacation will be realized, and spontaneous trips will be more popular than ever before.

With many consumers still in the research phase, travel brands must focus on being discoverable – while this may not result in immediate bookings, it’s likely to pay dividends down the road.

And there are many ways brands can do this. 

Using our harmonized datasets, we can zero in on a brands’ specific customers and explore how they look for more information about products and services online. In doing so, we uncover how they stand apart from the average consumer so that travel companies can learn where they need to be visible in this new-normal.

In the UK for example, TUI customers are 36% more likely than the average internet user to use discount sites for research. 

How about the research habits of Holiday Inn goers in the U.S.? This audience is 20% more likely than other American consumers to hear about new products via ads on social media.

It’s easy to be disheartened by low bookings, but travel brands should do what they can to stay visible. Consumers will come. What’s important is they know where to book when they do.

5. Loyalty is more important than ever before.

The vacationer of 2021 is cautious and wary of traveling again, so it’s paramount they trust travel brands.

32% of vacation planners in the U.S./UK say using a travel provider they trust is important to them when booking a trip.

For vacation planners, this is more important than going back to a place they know (25%). In these times of uncertainty, they’re more likely to put their trust in brands they know rather than their own previous experiences.

Loyalty programs must assure their members that they still value them amid this travel turmoil, because now more than ever, vacationers are ready to turn to them for support.

One scheme doing just that is the Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program. While other programs have generally reduced the requirements to achieve elite status, Marriott Bonvoy has chosen a path that values and rewards existing status customers. Every loyalty program member who holds existing status points will be credited with half the nights required to re-qualify for this status next year.

As vacation preferences change, brands should reach out to new consumers, but not at the expense of forgetting their loyal customers. For some brands, the latter will be key to kick-starting bookings once again.

While last year was a great time of uncertainty for travel brands, 2021 represents opportunity. 

And though the industry landscape is different to what they’ve known before, travel brands that tap into consumers’ changing demands, and make them work for them, will be the ones best set for takeoff.

Connect with consumers: a picture of devices and consumers in 2021

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