As confidence returns to the leisure travel sector, Expedia Group’s Traveler Value Index report spells out the latest in traveler trends, behaviors, and desires.
Travelers are returning to the skies and check-in desks as they make up for lost time after more than a year of lockdowns. “Optimism about travel recovery in the U.S. hit a peak this summer,” said Seth Borko, Skift’s director, research and corp dev, in Skift’s July 2021 Health Score report.
The pandemic changed the playing field around traveler behavior and habits. New expectations have emerged, prompting travel providers to take heed and cater to those shifting needs.
Expedia Group’s new Traveler Value Index report offers a first time multi-country and multi-industry look at what travelers now value most as they plan, book, and experience travel.
“The insights of our research show that price is no longer the top driver of bookings. Travelers are focused on new, more pressing values — like safety and financial security — and they want to book with trusted travel providers that will deliver on their experiences,” said Hari Nair, global senior vice president and general manger, account management, at Expedia Group.
Conducted in partnership with Wakefield Research, this report is based on a global consumer survey of 8,000 respondents from eight major markets: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, the UK, and the U.S.
SkiftX unpacks the report’s key insights and promising trends for the second half of 2021, including the emphasis on health and safety, flexibility and sustainability, and the differences across various traveler segments.
LOOKING TOWARD A BRIGHTER FUTURE
Overall, the report showcases the travel industry’s viability. Notably, nearly one in five travelers expect travel to be the thing they spend the most on in 2021, and one in three travelers reported having larger travel budgets for this year compared to 2020.
There’s also a renewed emphasis on new, more indulgent, and different types of experiences — for example, ‘once in a lifetime’ trips that may have seemed like a pipedream back during lockdown. Three-quarters of travelers reported their intention to travel to a destination they’ve never been to before, and about half of travelers said they would be happy to board a plane sometime in the next 12 months.
In addition to considering new types of experiences, nearly half of travelers reported a willingness to book travel through sites and companies they have never used before.
And while vacation rentals in remote areas have surged due to the volume of domestic travel to drivable destinations — 81 percent of travelers are considering a trip to a remote area, mountain, or small town in the next 18 months — the return of city-centric trips is on the horizon, with a steady rise in database searches for major urban hubs.
Significantly, travelers are also making decisions based on how strongly businesses align with their personal beliefs. Three in five respondents said they’d be willing to spend higher amounts on a travel experience that is more environmentally sustainable. An additional two-thirds of travelers said they would book with travel brands that have inclusive business practices, such as those owned by women, those that openly champion the LGBTQIA+ community, or those who are supportive of people with disabilities.
“We now know that people want to find greater meaning in their travels and that travel is increasingly becoming a reflection of their personal values, so this is an opportunity for travel providers to highlight social value commitments in their marketing listings to build connections with travelers,” said Greg Schulze, senior vice president of transport, cruise and lodging strategic partners, at Expedia Group.
FLEXIBILITY AND CLEANLINESS TO THE FRONT
Before the pandemic, price typically held the top spot when it came to how travelers made their booking decisions. However, as the report highlights, price appears to have taken a backseat in 2021, as factors such as heath, safety, and flexibility become more top of mind in decision-making due to the pandemic.
According to the report, having flexible practices in place, as well as strong health and safety measures, ranked as the highest value and consideration globally across all segments, including hotels, vacation rentals, air, car rentals, and cruise — more evidence of the shift from price as the traditional driver.
Given that travelers’ number one value across all sectors was the ability to get a refund if plans changed — and that they would rather pay more to make sure this is covered — it’s clear that brands and operators need to stay as flexible as possible to cater to this new emerging need.
Naturally, the consistency of this response across all segments and markets speaks to the pandemic’s universal effect, as well as the world’s shared desire to return to relative stability.
“Travelers’ responses to the value index tell us that the way people travel has evolved, and will continue to do so. The results of our research highlight a need to communicate cancellation policies and cleanliness measures to help ease any anxieties and build confidence,” said Schulze.
NOTABLE GENERATIONAL AND REGIONAL DIVIDES
While flexibility ranked highly across the board, there were some interesting differences across segments and regions.
With regard to hotel bookings, travelers under the age of 40 in the U.S. and Japan, for example, ranked cleanliness the number one factor, preferring contactless experiences and premium benefits, instead of mainly focusing on price and refunds.
In air travel, flexibility and cleanliness also ranked highly, though millennial and Gen Z travelers reported a preference for low pricing ahead of enhanced cleaning. Younger air travelers also sought greater contactless experiences — in the U.S. and Canada, Gen Z travelers ranked this 7 percentage points higher in importance than baby boomers.
For car rental, refunds were highly valued across the board, with cleanliness a close second. Cruise travel was the only segment where respondents rated low price as the top value.
“The biggest takeaway for anyone in the industry is that things are simply not going back to the way they were. Across segments and regions, travelers are now wanting — really, demanding — different options. As the global situation continues to evolve, so will their needs,” Nair explained.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR TRAVEL PROVIDERS
Above all, respondents from all regions and age groups were consistent in one major factor: the expectation that travel providers stick to their promises. Knowing these insights, travel providers would do well to focus on marketing messages that meet these touchpoints to connect with travelers who are once again eager to explore the world around them.
The core element here is trust — if travel brands take the time to better understand the nuances of current traveler needs and follow through on their promises, a loyal new post-pandemic customer base will very likely be theirs.
To view Expedia Group’s Traveler Value Index, download the report here.
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