Well, we made it.
It is officially 2021, which can only be good news. Right?
Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic flipped the travel industry upside-down. Navigating 2020 meant learning about what guests want during COVID-19 and tracking important travel trends in order to keep pace, such as the increasingly vital role of online travel agencies.
Now it’s time to look at what lies ahead—not only by researching travel trends for post-COVID, but by investigating growing travel trends in 2021 as a whole.
This past October, Expedia conducted a study that engaged more than 11,000 people across 11 different countries, including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K., China, and Australia. The data revealed that one in two travelers feels optimistic, comfortable, or excited about going on a trip in the next year.
Even better: 57% of travelers said they would be ready for a trip if vaccines became widely available. Considering the Expedia study happened in October, prior to the positive vaccine news that arrived in the year’s final two months, it’s safe to imagine that number being even higher today than it was a few months ago.
So does that mean travel will return to a predictable, pre-pandemic form in 2021? Not quite.
In November, HomeToGo travel expert and head of public relations Caroline Burns told Forbes, “We’re observing more travelers looking for responsible ways to satisfy their desire to explore, an increase in last-minute bookings, and an emphasis on rural, quieter destinations.”
Results from Expedia’s study certainly mirror Ms. Burns’s claims. With that in mind, let’s explore six growing travel trends in 2021, as well as some marketing tips to ensure you’re ready for the incoming travel wave.
It’s an obvious trend, but its importance cannot be overstated. Last year, data showed the vast majority of travelers—upwards of 90%— were booking rentals based on health and hygiene protocols. Perhaps that number will begin to decline in the weeks and months ahead, but you should still make sure to follow COVID cleaning guidelines from VRMA or other trusted organizations.
Becoming familiar with what makes travelers comfortable during their stay is also good practice. Mask enforcement, for instance, is still a top consideration. But properly cleaned linens, staggered check-in and check-out times, keyless locks, and minimal contact points, in general, are also big selling points.
If cleanliness is the top priority for travelers (and it is!), then flexibility is a very close second. In fact, according to Expedia’s research in October, roughly 7 in 10 travelers want added flexibility: travel insurance, trip protection, full cancellations, and refunds. The data also showed another growing trend: travel shoppers booked refundable rates 10% more often in 2020 then they did in 2019, a number that is only expected to increase in 2021.
This past November, HometoGo—the largest vacation-rental search engine in the world—did some research of its own. One striking trend it uncovered was the rise of last-minute trips: the average number of days between booking to check-in in 2020 was 50 days, which was a 37.5% decrease in lead time when compared to pre-pandemic data.
What was behind that sudden surge of spontaneity? For starters, pandemic fatigue is real, and pent-up demand has led to many travelers saying, “The heck with it, we’re getting away!” Only now, when travelers log on to browse online travel agencies for the perfect short-term vacation rental, many of them aren’t clicking “Book” until they check some very specific boxes—such as those covered in the first two trends here, and this next one…
The emergence of social-distancing measures has led to a major spike in travelers venturing out to rural destinations. Safety is more important than ever; a big part of that is cleanliness and hygiene, but the other part is simply space. That’s why HomeToGo’s researchers expect cabins and other rural getaways to be especially appealing in 2021. Those types of rentals accounted for one-third of total accomodation searches last year, which was a 143% increase compared to 2019.
In 2020, bookings for single accommodations on HomeToGo plummeted by 44% as solo trips got put on hold. That trend is certainly expected to continue into the new year, which begs the question: which type of trip will be most popular? Family trips skyrocketed last summer, and all told, most shoppers on HomeToGo planned to travel with an average of six companions.
Even further, the number of domestic car trips soared in 2020 as travelers shunned airplanes in favor of safely cruising the open road. Combine that fact with the rise of rural vacations, and the picture becomes quite clear: travelers—especially families—are jumping into cars and driving to places relatively close to home. Safety is still their top priority, meaning hygiene protocols and space to spread out will remain key factors in the coming year.
Like everything else, the travel industry was undeniably roughed up by 2020. According to data from the Expedia study, globally, 67% of travelers cancelled a planned trip due to COVID-19 last year. But the tides are turning.
These trends might signal a new chapter for the world of travel, but most importantly, they signal a significant rebound. People want to travel, and they know what they’re looking for. What does that mean for you? As a property manager, you need to show travelers that you know what they are looking for. Reassuring content will be a critical component to your success this year—here are a few ways to utilize it:
Let’s have a wonderful and profitable year, everyone!