You can’t keep a good traveller down: consumer searches are on the increase with short trips and smaller groups likely to dominate in early stages

16 June, 2020

Travel platform Tripadvisor has released results of a multi-month survey of consumer habits since the first signs of the Covid-19 pandemic. Taken from numerous surveys as well as from site behaviour, the report is able to show how the different phases of the pandemic have influenced how consumers look at travel.

Tripadvisor has split the recovery into five distinct phases:

  • Decline – as the pandemic spread and countries imposed restrictions so travel declined sharply;
  • Plateau – the stay indoors mantra being used around the world kept travel to a minimum;
  • Emerge – as lockdowns are gradually lifted so people begin to venture out again;
  • Domestic – confidence in travelling first translates to domestic travel;
  • International – the last part of travel to recover as people become more comfortable travelling abroad.

The good news is that even in the early days with air travel shutting down and forcing trips to be cancelled and postponed, consumers were still fairly bullish about future travel with 34% of consumers surveyed in Mar-2020 saying they were optimistic of taking planned trips at a later date rather than cancelling altogether.

While we were all in lockdown, many of us dreamed of our next trip with searches on the increase as we start to look at where to go next. We may have been anxious about going out but we could still see a future which included travel, with 68% reporting in Apr-2020 that they were thinking about travel and where they would book once restrictions had lifted.

CHART – Most markets worldwide have shown significant recovery in year-on-year hotel views when comparing the position at week ending 31-May-2020 with week ending 29-Mar-2020Source: Tripadvisor unique user traffic data

From Apr-2020, Tripadvisor started to see a steady week-on-week increase in traveller search activity, particularly with domestic travel for more than 90 days into the future. This was most prominent in markets such as Germany, Australia and Japan where the early seeds of recovery were being seen.

As many countries emerge from the worst of the pandemic and the curve is on the downward slope, so consumers’ thoughts of travel are on the increase. This is largely where we are today and so consumer activity is particularly relevant to how travel will develop in the coming months.

The biggest concern of all travellers as they look to the future is cleanliness and safety. Nearly nine in 10 consumers (86%) are reporting that cleanliness will be very important when selecting accommodation. Some 82% say that the disinfecting of high contact surfaces is a very high consideration when deciding on tours and attractions.

This concern puts the onus very firmly in the hands of the hospitality industry to make sure consumers are left in no doubt that they are doing their utmost to keep guests safe. The reward of more bookings will definitely go to those that rise to that challenge and successfully implement and communicate to their customers their safety and flexibility protocols.

As has been predicted by many, signs for the early revival of domestic travel is being borne out by consumer searches. Tripadvisor’s site behaviour analysis initially saw this in the early stages of the pandemic with consumers searching for domestic locations 90 days into the future.

As countries emerge, however, interest is growing with some showing early signs of recovery. Norway, South Korea, Belgium, Austria and South Africa all recorded spikes in hotel searches in early Apr-2020. Switzerland, New Zealand, the Netherlands and Germany are all also showing similar recovery signs.

Since mid-May-2020 domestic travel searches for travel within 30 days have grown considerably in the US as well as Italy, France, Germany and New Zealand.

CHART – Searches for domestic travel within the next 30 days are growing rapidly across many key marketsSource: Tripadvisor unique user traffic data

One country that is bucking the domestic travel trend is Canada where consumers have continually been searching trips to warm beach locations such as Aruba and the Bahamas so it may be one of the earliest countries to have their international travel increase.

As to the type of trip likely to be taken, there is a definite leaning towards outdoors destinations closer to home. Road trips are particularly popular as they mean less contact with people, with nearly half (44%) saying they are likely to take a road trip and two thirds (61%) saying they are most comfortable taking a road trip of 3-5 days.

The desire to stay away from crowds is also reflected in the fact that 80% of consumers reported they are more likely to travel with family and 60% saying they are more likely to travel with just one or two friends.

Going somewhere to relax is definitely top of the list with consumers being three times (218%) more likely to go to somewhere remote than before the pandemic, and 59% saying they would prefer somewhere away from crowds.

This is translating into an increase in searches for rural accommodation such as campgrounds, ranches and beach motels, with canoeing, skiing, boating and horseback riding popular activities. These types of holiday clearly combine the ability to socially distance with being outdoors and an ability to relax. City breaks are definitely on the decrease as not relaxing nor easy to socially distance.

The good news is that there are definite signs of international travel beginning to pick up although short haul is likely to be more popular in the near future. However, under half (43%) believe that they won’t be taking an international trip for at least a year, with just over a quarter (26%) planning a trip within the next six months.

These search results clearly show that during lockdown days we have not stopped dreaming of future trips and have spent time doing research to prepare for the future post Covid-19. The frustration of wanting to get back out there is not going to stop many people taking a relaxing trip just as soon as restrictions allow.