Understanding traveller demand trends and behaviours – confidence to travel remains fragile and travellers are reassessing their type of trips, but the desire to travel remains very strong

Another week begins with positive news about another COVID-19 vaccine and the raising of hopes of the entire travel industry. But this news reminds us just how fragile the industry has become over the course of 2020. While the long-term outlook is more favourable, the short-term remains a challenge with infections continuing to increase across the world, albeit at a slowing rate across many countries.

Travel sentiment is fluid and changes by the day, even the hour, as news stories provide an update on infections rates, mobility restrictions, new travel bubbles or quarantine rules. Travel platform Tripadvisor and global travel market research specialist Phocuswright have now released findings of a new research paper into the shifting trends in global travel demand and traveller behaviours, charting the industry’s road to recovery in the wake of the ongoing pandemic.

The report, entitled ‘2020 – A Year in Travel: Charting the Travel Industry’s Path to Recovery‘, analyses Tripadvisor’s first-party data on travel planning behaviours around the globe, as well as consumer sentiment across six major markets – Australia, Italy, Japan, Singapore, United Kingdom and the US – from a biweekly survey of up to 2,400 consumers per survey, in partnership with Qualtrics.

The findings reinforce the view that after positive signs of recovery in domestic leisure travel over the summer, demand for accommodation is now falling back in a number of markets as infection rates rise. Europe experienced the strongest leisure travel recovery during the summer, with the number of travellers researching domestic hotel stays reaching 2019 levels of demand for a sustained period in late July and August. However, the recent re-introduction of lockdown restrictions in countries like France, Germany and the UK has seen demand for rooms drop.

In the US, the domestic hotel recovery “was slower but steadier than major markets in Europe,” according to the paper. By the first week of September, domestic hotel clickers in the US – likely driven by leisure travellers – actually outnumbered those in the same week in 2019, according to its research. Signs of recovery in Asia-Pacific were “less obvious across the region as a whole” between June and October, it acknowledges, though some markets – such as Singapore – saw a surge in demand for domestic stays.

All this illustrates that confidence to travel remains fragile, but with big variations by market. Of consumers surveyed across the six country markets, confidence to travel was highest among US respondents (48% said they felt more confident it would be safe to travel in the next three months compared to the previous three) and lowest among respondents in Italy (just 12%).

Notably, the research indicates that travellers are reassessing the type of trips they want to take. The findings show almost two-thirds of consumers surveyed (65%) feel the ability to avoid crowded places when traveling is now a more important factor in their choice of destination than it was pre-pandemic, and more than half (52%) believe they are more likely to take an outdoor/nature trip than they were before the pandemic.

Tripadvisor’s own traffic data shows that between May-2020 and Sep-2020, outdoor activities, nature and parks accounted for thirty-four percent (34%) of all attraction page views, up from 25% in 2019. This change in behaviour means that travellers’ choice of destination is also shifting.

Looking at year-on-year data in October, ski and seaside resorts, as well as other rural destinations, dominated the list of fastest recovering destinations in Europe for domestic accommodation searches on Tripadvisor, with Zermatt in Switzerland and Adler in Russia topping the list based on year-on-year demand. Similarly, over the same period, destinations like Key West, Myrtle Beach and Sedona were recovering quicker than larger destinations like New York and Las Vegas in the US, based on year-on-year demand for domestic accommodation searches.

A desire to enjoy the outdoors is not just informing travellers’ destination choices, it is factoring into their choice of accommodation too. In hotel searches on Tripadvisor during Sep-2020, clicks to properties categorised as ‘quaint’ or ‘romantic’ were recovering quicker than the average, while ‘centrally located’ properties were recovering at a below average rate.

The changing behaviours is just one illustration that sentiment to travel remains strong. In fact nearly two-thirds (65%) of respondents to the survey are still thinking about where they want to travel next. “The good news is that consumers’ desire to travel remains incredibly resilient, and that pent-up demand bodes well for the travel industry in the long run, especially considering the advances announced last week in the development of a vaccine,” says Steve Kaufer, chief executive officer, Tripadvisor.

It has been a long and very unpredictable year for travel, but the industry and those using it have shown tremendous adaptability “Our research consistently shows that travel remains a key part of consumers’ lifestyles and travellers are keen to indulge their wanderlust again,” says Charuta Fadnis, senior vice-president of research and product strategy, Phocuswright. It is clear that the deployment of vaccines and therapeutics in the not to distant future will further boost the nascent recovery and the industry can start to look forward to brighter days ahead.

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