Happy New Year!
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic flipped the travel industry upside-down. Navigating the pandemic has meant learning about what guests want during COVID-19 and tracking important travel trends in order to keep pace, such as the increasingly essential role of online travel agencies.
Now it’s time to look at what lies ahead—not only by exploring potential travel trends for post-COVID, but by investigating growing travel trends in the 2021 forecast as a whole.
This past October, Expedia conducted a study that engaged 11,000 people across 11 different countries, including the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. The data revealed that one in two travelers feels optimistic or even excited about going on a trip in the next year.
Even better: 57% of travelers said they'd be ready for a trip if a vaccine 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?
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 comments. With that in mind, let’s explore a handful of travel trends to watch in 2021, as well as some marketing tips to ensure you’re ready for the incoming travel wave.
Trend #1: Heightened Hygiene Protocols Will Continue
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 key 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.
Trend #2: Flexible Booking Policies Are A Necessity
Cleanliness is currently the top priority for travelers, but flexibility is a 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.
Trend #3: Spontaneous Last-Minute Trips Are Totally In
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...
Trend #4: Rural Vacations Are Also Totally In
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 accommodation searches last year, which was a 143% increase compared to 2019.
Trend #5: Solo Trips Will Remain Below Average
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 avoided 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 driving factors in the coming year.
The Travel Wave is Coming: Are You Ready?
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 the owner of a rental property (or properties), 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:
- Broadcast Your Changes: Okay, so you’ve done it all. You’ve ramped up your cleaning protocols, enforced the use of masks, minimized contact points, and completely overhauled your booking policies for enhanced flexibility. Now you need to share that information! In your listings, highlight all the changes you’ve made and make sure potential guests know just how much you care about their safety and financial wellbeing.
- Use Multiple Outlets: Take it a step further by sharing your up-to-date protocols through different outlets, such as social media or on your property's website if you have one. Deploy positive messaging and imagery to convey your top selling points, whether it’s extremely meticulous hygiene regimens or the fact that your rental(s) is tucked away in a spacious rural area.
- Inspire Travelers: Ultimately, people just want to escape. Maybe it’s pandemic fatigue, or maybe it’s something else. Either way, you’re in the position to provide that escape to whomever needs it. So even though your content and messaging needs to be reassuring in regards to the ongoing pandemic, it should also reassure travelers that they’re going to get exactly what they’ve always wanted: rest and relaxation.
Have a wonderful 2021!