COVID-19 has impacted stakeholders across the travel and tourism industry in ways that no one could imagine, ranging from employers, employees, travellers and the communities that depend on the industry for their livelihood. In recent months we’ve seen traveller demand and positive consumer sentiment gradually return as governments and businesses begin to ease restrictions on movement that encourage the growth for the sector. With the lingering concern that travel restrictions can change overnight, there have been shifts in the way that consumer travel habits have evolved.
The World Travel & Tourism Council recently released a report for 2021 and beyond which details what these trends are and what they mean for stakeholders across the industry. From a hotel perspective, some of these insights have been evident through what we’ve observed over the last 18 months, but there is additional information that I believe provides important foresight for how we can adapt our strategies as we move into 2022.
Due to the ongoing restrictions on international travel, there has been an increased demand amongst domestic audiences for leisure travel within their own country. According to the report, staycations are likely to remain in demand as travellers face prolonged restrictions on outbound travel, with half of global travellers planning a domestic holiday in the next 12 months.
Destinations in Asia such as Bali, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Shanghai, Seoul and Osaka have all been destinations attracting the most domestic travellers in 2021. This demand amongst domestic travellers is expected to remain for the medium to long term future, as international travel (particularly in Asia) gradually comes back.
As travellers adapt to working with travel restrictions, there has been an increased desire to have more meaningful travel experiences by taking longer trips. According to the report, 52% of global travellers indicated that they have a preference for longer stays, with one in four favouring a stay that is 10 nights or more. This shift has been driven partly by the fact that the pandemic has allowed many people to work flexibly online, with ‘workcations’ and ‘flexcations’ becoming popular for those that are holidaying whilst working remotely.
Now being described as “bleisure”, some hospitality groups have been offering specialised accommodation packages that cater to these types of travellers. This includes facilitating workspaces, business concierge, meeting rooms, supervised children’s activities, and rooms that can be used as an office.
The nature of travel restrictions has been uncertain and fast-changing, which has caused a shift in travellers booking habits to seek out flexible cancellation and refund policies. According to the report, 76% of travellers said that they would be more likely to book a hotel with flexible policies, which was also true for flights with 58% of people stating that they require flexible flight tickets with free changes for dates or destinations.
During the pandemic, shorter booking windows became increasingly popular due to the uncertainty of travel restrictions, but this is expected to be a potentially temporary phenomenon, with same-day bookings gradually decreasing in more recent months. This trend suggests that when given a choice, consumers prefer to book a holiday in advance, rather than a few days prior.
Whilst the travel industry for some time now has been adapting itself to lessen the human impact on the environment, the pandemic has increased the desire amongst consumers to seek out sustainable options. The report highlights that 83% of global travellers are making sustainable travel a priority for their future holidays, which is expected to remain in the long term as members of the public and private sector increasingly support this move.
This shift in consumer behaviour is also reflected in the report with 59% of travellers saying that they are interested in “philantourism”, and 72% saying they hope to support local communities through their travel. As travellers become increasingly mindful of how they travel and the impact it has, 40% also say that they wish to travel to a destination that is less known or unfamiliar.
The pandemic has had a damaging impact on the mental health of many individuals across the world, as well as increasing our attention toward the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This impact has given rise to an understanding amongst consumers that improving mental health and overall wellness is a priority. Global wellness tourism has seen an annual growth of 6.5% since 2015, but due to the pandemic this trend is expected to grow exponentially as we head into 2022 and beyond.
For those that work in the travel industry, it may come as no surprise that these are the trends that have largely shaped their strategy over the course of the last 2 years. The rule book has been thrown out and a high degree of uncertainty has become normalised due to the fast-changing nature of travel restrictions. The pandemic has shown us just how important it is to stay attune to consumer habits, with some changes expected to stay and grow as we head into the future.
To read the full report: https://wttc.org/Portals/0/Documents/Reports/2021/Trending_In_Travel-Emerging_Consumer_Trends-231121.pdf?ver=2021-11-23-101035-507