Traveller demands are now ‘at an all-time high’ and there are ‘material consequences’ for hotels not prepared, warns SiteMinder annual traveller report

Travellers in the United States of America, United Kingdom and Australia will not be accepting of dropped standards in their hotel accommodation, in spite of the challenges faced by the hotel industry over the past year, new research by SiteMinder, the open hotel commerce platform, has found.

On the contrary, SiteMinder’s Changing Traveller Report 2021, based on the survey responses of more than 800 travellers in each country, shows that expectations are higher than ever before for three-in-five Americans and at least one-in-two travellers from the UK and Australia.

SiteMinder’s research underscores heightened expectations among consumers with pent-up demand for travel experiences, after a year of travel disruptions and restrictions. Compared to pre-pandemic times, 78% of travellers in the US, 61% of travellers in the UK and 60% of Australian travellers say they plan to travel the same amount or more, which SiteMinder says illustrates the need for hoteliers to remain optimistic about business but also work smarter in order to meet the higher standards now expected of them.

“While the last 18 months have been challenging for accommodation providers, our findings show that traveller demands over the coming year will be unrelenting and hotel guests will not be forgiving of dropped or otherwise average standards,” says SiteMinder’s senior director of global ecosystem, James Bishop.

“There are material consequences for hotels that aren’t prepared, including lost business, a tarnished brand and the dreaded negative online review, which is the last thing hoteliers need after the year they’ve endured,” he added.

Positively for accommodation providers, SiteMinder points to the many travellers who support their personal data being used to better their stay. Roughly four-in-five American (80.52%) and Australian (79.23%) travellers, and more than three quarters of those from the UK (77.59%) are not opposed to their personal data being used to improve their stay, which SiteMinder says provides an open opportunity for hoteliers to meet the new highs in standards that are now expected.

“To keep pace and ensure their reputations remain intact, hoteliers must continue to elevate their offering and look to technology to help them through such things as automation and guest data, which gives the ability to understand guests better and personalise communications,” says Mr Bishop.

“Importantly, hoteliers must consider their customers’ end-to-end experience, which means assessing every touchpoint, from their website and payment gateways, to their check-in process, to the minute those guests leave the building and tell their family and friends all about it. Those hoteliers that lean on technology to remain diligent, are the businesses that will be rewarded during this critical time of recovery,” he adds.

The annual Changing Traveller Report series brings insights into the plans, behaviours and perspectives of travellers, which in today’s landscape where travel remains altered, is more important than ever. Here, we look more closely at the research findings from the United Kingdom, Australia and Spain.

United Kingdom – travel is high on the agenda, but travellers now expect more

With free domestic movement again on the agenda for UK travellers, a flurry of summer bookings has meant relief for local accommodation providers and has seen booking volumes surpass 70% of their pre-pandemic levels on the SiteMinder World Hotel Index – their highest point since early Mar-2020.

The UK edition of the SiteMinder Changing Traveller Report highlights that when it comes to accommodation standards, UK travellers now expect more when compared to pre-pandemic times with more than half expecting either higher (33%) or much higher (19%) standards. Only 3% now have lower expectations when it comes to accommodation standards compared to pre-pandemic times.

The research indicates most UK travellers trust hoteliers with their data to better their stay, but less so when making a payment. Nearly four out of every five UK travellers very supportive (10%), supportive (33%) or indifferent (35%) about their personal data being used to better their stay. Only 5.52% of UK travellers are strongly opposed to their data being used in this way.

When sharing payment information, the response is less emphatic, however. When paying for their stay, only 15% of UK travellers trust accommodation providers with their data a lot, while nearly a third either don’t trust accommodation providers much (24%) or at all (8%). Around half of UK travellers (48%) trust accommodation providers somewhat.

Travel remains high on the agenda for UK travellers, but doubts remain. Over the coming year, nearly two-thirds of UK travellers plan to travel either more (26%) or the same amount (35%) than prior to Covid, while more than a third (38%) plan to travel less. Only 1.55% say they will never travel again, which is down from almost 4% in the previous year’s edition.

Booking directly with a hotel remains the most popular approach in the UK with nearly two-fifths of UK travellers planning to book directly with their chosen venue, 28% saying they will book directly online and 10% saying they will book directly via either phone or email, similar levels to recorded last year. A quarter of UK travellers plan to book via an online travel agency (OTA), which is 11% less than last year.

Flexibility remains key and low price is now more important to UK travellers. Due to the ongoing uncertainty created by the pandemic, out of almost 15 potential influences on where UK travellers will stay during an upcoming trip, two-fifths (40%) nominated the ability to freely cancel or modify their booking as one of the top two most important factors to them.

Interestingly, despite this residual caution, low price is now the most important factor for more UK travellers than a property’s health/safety practices. This is a notable shift from last year when more than twice the number of travellers prioritised a property’s health/safety practices over low price. The inclusion of breakfast remains an important feature for UK travellers when thinking about where they will stay. For one in four (24%) it is one of their top two priorities.

Australia – almost 1-in-4 travellers will be working on their next leisure holiday

From fresh adventures after weeks of home, to snap lockdowns and international dreaming, the pandemic has followed a different course in Australia than in the UK. But, with international travel restricted, for many, it’s been a chance to explore pockets of their home state and country.

For the majority of Aussies, travel remains a priority and they also expect more. Over 60% plan to travel either the same amount (35%) or more (25%) than prior to COVID and only 1.59% say they will never travel again, which is down from around 8% this time last year. In almost all cases, expectations around accommodation standards have not lessened in Australia, compared to before the pandemic began, including 54% who expect either higher or much higher standards.

The research indicates that Australians will be spending more time in the wild and small, and getting their tips from friends. Compared to prior to COVID, 3.11% more now intend to stay in a holiday park or camping site on their next trip, 1.99% more in a vacation rental, 1.86% more in a B&B, and 3.73% less in a big chain or resort.

Overwhelmingly, Australians are turning to those closest to them, as they decide where to travel to. Of the 10 options listed, friends and family are one of the two biggest influences for approaching half (43%), while almost one in four see themselves combining their holiday time with some working hours this year: a trend SiteMinder projects “will likely continue to grow locally, as the ability to work from anywhere becomes further entrenched in corporate culture”.

The vast majority of Australian travellers are okay with hoteliers using their personal data to better their stay, but less are sure when making a payment. Nearly four out of every five Australian travellers very supportive (9%), supportive (33%) or indifferent (37%) about their personal data being used to better their stay. Only 7.21% of Australian travellers are strongly opposed to their data being used in this way.

When sharing payment information, the response is less emphatic, however. When paying for their stay, only 12% of Australian travellers trust accommodation providers with their data a lot, while over a third either don’t trust accommodation providers much (24%) or at all (10%). Half of Australian travellers (50%) only trust accommodation providers somewhat.

Booking directly with the venue remains the favoured approach of Australian travellers with approaching half (43%) planning to book directly with their chosen venue, with 31% saying they will book directly online and 12% saying they will book directly via either phone or email. This is 6% more than last year. Just over one in four (27%) Australian travellers plan to book via an online travel agency (OTA), which is 6% less than last year. Three percent less plan to use a travel agent this year, compared to last.

Spain – travellers remain loyal to OTAs, and costs aside are eager to tick locations off their bucket lists

A strong sentiment means local accommodation providers are “back to seeing near the same high reservation volumes” they experienced prior to the pandemic, according to SiteMinder’s World Hotel Index, with roughly seven in ten Spanish travellers seeing themselves travelling much more (10%), more (25%) or about the same (35%) than prior to Covid in the coming year.

But like other nationalities, Spanish travellers are expecting more when it comes to accommodation standards. In almost all cases, expectations from travellers around accommodation standards have not lessened during the pandemic, including from the 45% who expect either higher or much higher standards.

Interestingly, a growing number of travellers are now seeking out the comforts of home when travelling as well. While over 50% still plan to either stay in a big hotel chain or luxury boutique property, comparing their pre-pandemic accommodation preference to today, an additional 3.24% will now be opting to stay at their family or friends’ place, while 2.9% more will now be holidaying in a vacation rental.

Flexibility and low price are now important to a larger number than well promoted health and safety practices. Due to the ongoing uncertainty created by the pandemic, out of almost 15 potential influences on where Spanish travellers will stay during an upcoming trip, over 43% nominated the ability to freely cancel or modify their booking as one of the top two most important factors to them.

Interestingly, despite this residual caution, a property’s health/safety practices are now the most important factor for less than half the number of travellers that listed low price as key. This inverts the results of last year’s report, where travellers prioritised a property’s health/safety practices above all else.

Following the trend, most Spanish travellers trust hoteliers with their data to better their stay, but less so when making a payment. Nearly four out of every five travellers very supportive (8%), supportive (52%) or indifferent (20%) about their personal data being used to better their stay. Only 3.24% of Spanish travellers are strongly opposed to their data being used in this way.

When sharing payment information, the response is again less emphatic, however. When paying for their stay, only 26% of Spanish travellers trust accommodation providers with their data a lot, while 27% don’t trust accommodation providers much (23%) or at all (4%). More than two-fifths (43%) trust accommodation providers somewhat.

Local travellers are particularly eager to tick locations off their bucket lists, but cost will hold some back. From a list of ten potential influences, being able to tick an item off the bucket list is one of the two most important factors for over 60% of Spanish travellers, as they decide where to venture to. Further showcasing Covid’s impact, cost will be a deciding factor for some as they plan these trips, with 40% of Spanish travellers listing budget as one of the top two influences on where they will travel to.

Booking via an online travel agency (OTA) is still the most popular approach for Spanish travellers with 42% planning to book via them. While this remains the most popular approach for local travellers, 12% less will book in this way compared to last year. By contrast, a growing number are now booking directly with the venue, with 33% planning to book directly this year, compared to just 22% in 2020.

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