Traveler considerations and preferences continue to evolve as the industry navigates a way through the Covid-19 crisis. At the beginning of the pandemic, travelers were canceling and changing their planned trips. Then, as lockdowns persisted, travelers entered a prolonged dreaming and planning phase. Now, according to the latest traveler intent and shopping data from Expedia Group Media Solutions, more people are actively shopping for and booking travel again.

Expedia Group Media Solutions offers advertising partners exclusive access to this data, along with user research and custom studies, to provide insights into what travelers are searching for and booking, as well as the why behind these decisions. For example, its recent traveler sentiment study shows that 76 percent of planned leisure trips are domestic, with family travel topping the list of trip types.

For a deeper look at this traveler intent data, SkiftX spoke with Monya Mandich, a vice president who oversees integrated marketing and communications activities for Expedia Group Media Solutions. Mandich also offered some creative guidelines for engaging with travelers and safely welcoming them back when the time is right.

SkiftX: What’s in the hearts and minds of travelers today? What are they feeling and thinking?

Monya Mandich: Since the onset of the pandemic, dreaming of travel hasn’t slowed. As travel restrictions begin to lift in different parts of the world, people are eager to rebook missed trips and plan new ones.

For the last few months, we’ve been running a weekly intercept survey on Expedia sites around the world to better understand why people are coming to our sites and which stage of travel they are in. Not surprisingly, in the beginning, travelers were coming to our sites to cancel, change, or check on their planned trips, but that number has steadily declined since April. But what’s most interesting is that across the last four months the largest percentage of people coming to our sites are dreaming about their next trip, showing us that people want to travel, and until they can, they are coming to our sites for inspiration.

In July, this pent-up demand evolved into more people actively shopping for or booking travel on our sites, and those coming to cancel, change or check trip status continued to drop.

While the number of visitors actively shopping for or booking travel across Expedia Group brands continues to rise, travelers also need to be reassured, making it a critical time for our industry to be rebuilding trust with them. Today’s travelers demand more information before they book, with a greater focus now on cleanliness and other hygiene protocols, as well as increased flexibility.

SkiftX: What are the top considerations for travel shoppers as they evaluate destination, accommodation, and transportation options? 

Mandich: Aside from health and hygiene measures, top considerations driving travelers’ booking decisions right now include the ability to drive to a destination and proximity to home. Our research shows that 62 percent of travelers with planned leisure trips through the end of this year are traveling by car, and two-thirds are traveling under 1,000 miles. And when thinking about future leisure trips, travelers are most comfortable staying in vacation rentals, and the likelihood of renting a car is three times higher than pre-Covid-19 levels.

In general, people want to get away and are optimistic about travel but are more likely to stay local and gravitate toward off the beaten path destinations and experiences that will help them avoid big crowds and safely social distance with open-air activities. This represents a great opportunity for secondary cities or lesser-known destinations to engage with potential visitors.

SkiftX: How can travel companies turn these insights into actionable tactics with meaningful results?

Mandich: With pent-up demand and strong travel intent, there are many ways brands can connect with travelers to capture that demand. Our research shows that proactively sharing information on safety measures (87 percent) as well as open businesses and attractions (73 percent), and off-the-beaten-path activities that allow visitors to avoid big crowds (60 percent) are important messages as potential visitors look for inspiration and plan their next trip. Many brands are also incorporating special deals to help make the booking decision even easier, something that 70 percent of travelers said they wanted to see when considering future travel.

SkiftX: Why is it more crucial than ever to understand traveler intent and purchases in real time? 

Mandich: By learning more about what is driving travel decisions, in real-time, we can boost recovery efforts and get travelers traveling again. One way we are driving value for our partners right now is by helping them understand the data, not only specific to their destination — where people are searching for travel, how far out they are booking, how long they are staying — but also trends and traveler preferences, which are highly personal and emotionally-driven during this time of uncertainty. From the accommodations they are most comfortable booking or how they will get to their destination, what’s ultimately driving their booking decisions. Given how quickly things change, having access to demand data and the ability to understand traveler intent, sentiment and trends can help advertisers make more informed marketing decisions and stay top of mind with consumers for future travel consideration.

SkiftX: Can you share examples of messaging and creative that’s resonating with travelers in these times?

Mandich: As travel shoppers evaluate different options for their next trip, nearly all (9 in 10) want to see relevant information on health and hygiene before booking and be reassured that it is safe for them to travel. Visit Los Cabos has done a great job of delivering this information through playful – yet important – messaging and visuals in their “Put on a Smile” campaign.

I also love what KFC did to adjust its marketing to better reflect the current environment. Recognizing their strong brand equity, and the impact of the pandemic, they came up with a creative and humorous play on their iconic slogan (“it’s finger lickin’ good” changed to “it’s good”).

For any marketer today, agility and quickly adapting and evolving along with consumers, or in our case travelers, is more important than ever.

SkiftX: Did you discover any surprising or counterintuitive insights from the survey?

Mandich: While most travelers prefer to travel via car and explore destinations closer to home, there is still a group (53 percent) that say they would travel by plane for a trip through the end of the year. Research also shows that there are travelers still interested in cities, not just rural destinations, though they are expanding and diversifying what that travel experience looks like.

While information does play a role in helping travelers make decisions as they dream and book travel, people do trust themselves to make good decisions. In a survey of visitors to Expedia.com, the vast majority self-identified as ‘practical risk takers,’ or what we describe as people who want to travel and trust themselves to make good decisions. This is promising and shows us that people will continue to pursue their wanderlust — but it may look different than before.

SkiftX: What’s on the horizon? Is traveler sentiment changed for good? How will that affect the future of travel marketing? 

Mandich: There is no guarantee that traveler sentiment will look the same in the immediate future as it does now, which is why it is important to stay on top of the changing trends. McKinsey recently found that 75 percent of U.S. consumers have tried different stores, websites, or brands during the current crisis, and of those consumers, 60 percent expect to integrate the new brands in their post-pandemic lives. Thinking about the small shifts in traveler preferences toward vacation rentals and car travel, we know this trend is happening in the travel industry.

While the importance of health and hygiene measures will likely be something that stays, we anticipate that traveler considerations and preferences will continue to evolve. For example, the desire to travel internationally again and explore popular destinations and attractions may swing the pendulum back toward more traditional accommodations like hotels again.

We are also witnessing a fundamental shift in how marketing teams operate. The pandemic is pushing us to be more flexible and nimble than ever before, to adapt to the changing environment and consumer needs. Many traditional marketing benchmarks and strategies – from engagement metrics to a cross-channel approach to content – may not work in today’s climate and teams are constantly adjusting. As I’ve seen with the Media Solutions team, it takes a unique culture to be agile in both good and challenging times, all while keeping a constant focus on your partners and customers.

SkiftX: What are some of the other ways the industry can get on the path toward recovery?

Mandich: The more we can all help destinations and the broader travel industry with recovery efforts and help travelers go places, the more we will all benefit. For example, the U.S. Travel Association recently launched the “Let’s Go There” campaign, in collaboration with more than 75 travel companies and trade organizations, including Expedia Group. The campaign serves as a national conversation to reignite America’s sense of wanderlust and inspire people to start planning their next trip — whenever it may be.

To further support recovery efforts, Expedia Group Media Solutions is also working with travel brands around the world as part of its $25 million advertising relief to help capture and drive demand to destinations, in addition to offering $10 million in TravelAds credits. These programs are part of the larger Expedia Group effort to support our partners and the industry, as travelers around the world are exploring and booking their next trip.

At our most recent Skift Global Forum event, Monya Mandich joined us to discuss the latest data-driven insights on traveler sentiment and the future of travel marketing. Watch a recording of Mandich’s presentation for further insights.

This content was created collaboratively by Expedia Group Media Solutions and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX