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As travel returns, Expedia Group’s Traveler Value Index 2023 examines the need-to-know changes taking place within the industry — from the perspective of both consumers and travel professionals — and provides actionable insights to guide decision makers in the year ahead.

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Now that travel around the globe has ramped back up, the industry is taking stock of just how much the pandemic changed consumer behavior and attitudes. As Covid-19 concerns become more manageable, new challenges are arising to replace old ones.

Expectations around safety and flexibility are still high, but travelers are also putting more consideration around the climate, inflation, and how to weather economic uncertainty. However, there is reason to be optimistic: Business and international trips are back, and the pandemic pause served as a reminder of how important travel is.

“This year’s Traveler Value Index research shows the highest levels of industry optimism since 2020,” said Ariane Gorin, president, Expedia for Business. “From a boom in both international and business travel to a new focus on traveling for self-care, the trend is clear: people value travel more than ever before and will continue to make time and save money for it.”

Here, we share insights from Expedia Group’s Traveler Value Index 2023 research that reveals the gaps between what people want from travel and what the industry is currently delivering.

Permanent Preferences

People began to travel again in 2021 after the peak of the pandemic the previous year, and this resurging interest in travel will continue to grow well into 2023. Close to half (46 percent) of people consider travel more important now than it was pre-pandemic. To wit: A significant number (43 percent) plan to increase their travel budget in the coming year. While this is a positive development for the industry, there is a gap between planned budget increases and travel professional expectations as the majority (58 percent) expect consumers’ spending on travel to increase.

The number of people traveling is also on the rise, with nearly 80 percent of people agreeing they plan to take a leisure trip in the next year — up 3 percentage points from a few months prior. On average, people expect to take two leisure trips next year.

The preference for flexible travel options increased at the beginning of the pandemic and has not let up since. Being able to change bookings without a fee or penalty ranked in the top four values by consumers, showing how important it is to consumers to be able to adjust their travel plans if necessary.

In response to the unpredictability of the last few years, many travel providers introduced more flexible rates and reservation policies to adapt to travelers’ needs and give them the confidence to book. Nearly all businesses (96 percent) said they offer refundable services or credits, with a good number of them (77 percent) introducing some refundable offerings for the first time because of the pandemic.

And though many travel providers cited refundability and flexible booking options as being important to consumers, the data shows providers are underestimating just how important. ​In fact, only 63 percent said they will continue offering all or most flexible options.

Temporary Trends

Despite attitudes and behavior that have become ingrained over the course of the pandemic, some trends are less likely to stick around permanently. Business and international travel took a beating during the height of the pandemic, but borders have since opened and businesses have drafted new workplace policies, which will influence a rise in both international and business travel in 2023.

When asked in July 2022, around half of consumers said they’re likely to book or have already booked an international trip in the next 12 months. This is a positive development compared to May 2020 when only 12 percent said the same.

Earlier this year, a majority said they weren’t planning any business travel. Currently, one in three people are planning on doing so — and 85 percent are looking forward to their next work trip. The industry, particularly hotel professionals, are similarly optimistic about business travel: 70 percent say they expect it to return within two years to pre-pandemic levels.

After vaccines became readily available, cleanliness standards became less of a priority than they had been throughout 2020 and 2021. This isn’t to say that health and safety no longer matter to travelers, but inflation has replaced concerns about spreading the virus as the top issue affecting consumers’ travel plans in the next 12 months.

Fluctuating Factors

As inflation rises, so does consumer price sensitivity. When asked about booking all elements of a trip, atypical, low pricing reappeared in the top spot: Over one in four people agreed it is what they value most when booking travel — the biggest change from last year. In contrast, industry professionals are underestimating this current sensitivity to price. Among refundable rates and flexible policies, low pricing is a top three concern for consumers — yet professionals don’t rank pricing in consumers’ top three at all.

Yet, a renewed focus on price doesn’t mean consumers are hunting for the cheapest rates. With 43 percent of consumers agreeing their travel budget will be larger in 2023, this tightening of purse strings is more about travelers getting their money’s worth rather than tracking down rock-bottom deals.

According to one-third of consumers, the most appealing promos when booking travel were complementary add-ons, such as free parking or free breakfast and discounts for early booking.

How to Take Action

During the pandemic, consumers not only grew more discerning — a pent-up urge to travel also meant their expectations were higher when they began to book again. Several factors, including price and flexibility, will come into play when researching and booking travel in the coming year.

To prepare for a successful 2023, travel industry leaders should maintain refundable rates and flexible policies, be thoughtful about discounts and perks, and set realistic expectations with not only travelers, but staff as well. Travel leaders should also appeal to travelers’ desire for relaxation, lean into and showcase brand values, and keep a pulse on traveler feedback to understand how they perceive their experience.

“We’re all evolving with the rapid changes in travel behavior and learning where there are disconnects between the industry and the traveler,” said Gorin. “And as we continue to better understand each other, I’m confident that there is a bright future ahead for travel — because when the traveler wins, we win together.”

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

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Tags: business travel, expedia group, leisure travel, SkiftX Showcase: Destinations, Travel industry

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