The research from Expedia Group Media Solutions, the advertising organisation of the group, unsurprisingly shows that travellers need reassurance in critical areas such as flexibility, cleanliness, and communication to consider travel now and in the future, and provides insights into shifts required to boost in traveller expectations to restore confidence in the wake of COVID-19.
The study used an amalgamated group of best-in-class panels in Oct-2020 with 11,000 travellers across 11 countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the UK, and the US. The respondents represented a variety of generations and demographics.
Positively, the findings reveal that one in two travellers 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 travellers 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, it shows two-thirds of travellers had a planned trip cancelled due to COVID-19 and only a third of travellers have taken a trip during the pandemic. Of those who took a trip, eight in 10 travelled for rejuvenation – to enjoy a change of scenery or different weather, or to see family or friends.
COVID-19 has caused a seismic shift and driven significant changes in in travel preferences and influences. “Understanding these changes is critical to recovery efforts and future marketing strategies,” says Monya Mandich, vice president of global marketing, Expedia Group Media Solutions, noting that the research provides insights into the steps travel brands can take “to reassure and connect with travellers” as they begin researching, planning and booking again.
“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, we know the pent-up demand for travel will grow,” she adds.
An interesting aspect of the research is the breakdown by countries and traveller demographic. For instance, while globally travellers are more likely to take trips between Apr-2021 and Sep-2021, Brazilian, Chinese, and Mexican travellers show a higher likelihood to travel even earlier, between Jan-2021 and Mar-2021, which aligns with the positive traveller sentiment also seen in those markets. The research also indicates that globally, Generation Z and millennial travellers are 1.5x more likely than other generations to take a leisure trip during this Jan-2021 to Mar-2021 timeframe.
The arrival and deployment of vaccines will bring a step change in sentiment. Even before this news when this survey was captured with more than half (57%) travellers said they would be comfortable traveling if a vaccine was widely available. That level will likely rise now we are no longer guessing when that will be, but as CTC – Corporate Travel Community has already highlighted, despite unknowns and uncertainties, there are reasons to be cheerful and finally a light at the end of a very long tunnel.
For reassurance, seven in 10 travellers will still look for flexibility, such as travel insurance and trip protection, full cancellations and refunds on transportation and accommodations prior to booking. Expedia’s own lodging data shows that travellers booked refundable rates 10% more often in 2020 than the year before, and the new research indicates this trend is likely to remain.
The research also shows travellers want reassurances that travel providers and brands are following and enforcing pandemic protocols and travel providers, as well as destination organisations, need to clearly communicate health and hygiene measures, pandemic protocols and flexibility to reassure and attract travellers.
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, according to respondents.
For future air travel, six in 10 travellers would be most comfortable traveling if social distancing measures are in place, while proper COVID-19 hygiene protocols will inform future accommodation decisions for more than half of travellers, 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%).
The research also identifies that travellers are turning to online travel agencies for information and travel planning 24% more than pre-pandemic, while destination websites saw a 20% increase in use as a planning tool. Pictures and informative messaging in travel advertising are 20% more influential than pre-pandemic, along with travel organisations and experts. “This is reflective of the shift in traveller priorities – with hygiene measures and flexibility overtaking experiences and activities – and the increased importance of credible, up-to-date information from trusted sources,” says Expedia.