Airbnb: 2021 Will Be the Year of Meaningful Travel

INTERNATIONAL REPORT—Airbnb has released a new report and highlighted how 2021 will see a shift toward more meaningful travel as the pandemic continues to limit mass tourism and afflict the industry overall. When travel returns in 2021, it will be about connecting with loved ones through more personal trips, with mass tourism unlikely to return at any scale this year.

In the report, U.S. consumers say their near-term travel priority is to spend time with family and friends in comfortable, familiar and secure settings. Reconnecting and traveling safely are leading reasons for wanting to get a vaccine. Airbnb’s said its highest priority is the safety of its host and guest community and the communities in which it operates.

Airbnb Co-Founder/CEO Brian Chesky said, “Once people feel safe to travel, they will. But it will look different than before the pandemic. Travel will be viewed as an antidote to isolation and disconnection. People don’t generally miss landmarks, crowded shuttles, and lines and lobbies packed with tourists. Mass travel is really just a different form of isolation—you are anonymous, herded around with other travelers, never really experiencing the people and culture of a community. What people want from travel now is what they’ve been deprived of—spending meaningful time with their family and friends.”

Among the key points surfaced in the research:

Americans are feeling isolated and lonely

  • 53% feel less connected to their extended family; 53% feel less connected to their friends; 56% feel less connected to their local community; and about three in five feel less connected to their fellow Americans (58%) and the rest of the world (59%).
  • One-quarter of Americans (24%) report feeling either loneliness or emptiness.

They miss traveling

  • Travel for pleasure is the out-of-home activity Americans have missed the most—over going to restaurants and bars and attending sporting and other live events.
  • Just thinking about travel makes people feel significantly happier (by 18 percentage points) and more hopeful (by 9 points) than they otherwise do on a typical day.
  • A majority is ready to travel again: 54% have either already booked, are currently planning to travel, or expect to travel in 2021. This includes 57% of 18- to 29-year-olds, and 60% of 30- to 49-year-olds.

Travel will come back because people want to connect

  • The type of travel people have missed the most is visiting with family and friends. Business travel is the type of travel they have missed the least.
  • Connecting with family and friends is also the type of travel that has grown most in importance as people look to travel after the pandemic: 41% say such travel has become “much more” important to them, almost twice the percentage who cite travel to accomplish personal goals (22%).
  • By 52% to 21%, Americans would prefer to leave their phones at home than bring them along and visit traditionally popular places to get social media content.
  • The ability to reconnect with friends and family (37%) and to feel safe while traveling (32%) are leading motivations to get vaccinated.
  • Family travel has not only grown in importance for people post-pandemic, but other recent research conducted for Airbnb suggests that family travel is the type of travel communities most want.

First trip, next trip

  • One attribute specific to the first post-pandemic trip is that people are seeking a sense of calm and security. The top emotions they want to feel during that first trip are “relaxed” (44%), “comfortable” (34%) and “safe” (33%).
  • Looking beyond the first trip, Americans still prioritize travel to be close to family (32%), but equally prioritize a new experience or destination (31%), preferably nearby, followed by a return to a favorite destination (25%). Older Americans (50-plus) are most interested in future travel to be close to family (33%) and to revisit a favorite spot (32%), followed by a new experience or destination (29%). Younger Americans remain most interested in a second trip as a new experience or destination (35%), followed by being close to family (31%), being close to nature (23%) and returning to a favorite place (23%).

Based on this research and Airbnb’s own data, Airbnb expects these trends to inform travel in 2021 and potentially beyond.

Business travel as we knew it is not coming back

  • It is the type of travel people miss the least: 6%, versus travel to spend time with loved ones at number one with 48%. More than one third of people surveyed (36%) expect to travel less for work after the pandemic compared to before it began.
  • The pandemic has institutionalized remote working for many companies—two in five Americans (41%) are able to work or study from home at least some of the time. In another recent survey commissioned by Airbnb, 35% of respondents say it will become more common post-pandemic for people to relocate to new places so they can take advantage of the ability to work remotely. As employees become more widely distributed, a greater share of business travel will likely consist of employees traveling from these locations to gather at their workplaces.

People want to travel nearby, by car

  • 56% prefer a domestic or local destination versus just 21% who want to visit someplace international and farther away.
  • One in five want their destination to be within driving distance of home. Travel by car is the only means of travel that draws majority interest, beating air travel by 17 points. These sentiments echo the shift we saw in use of Airbnb from H2 2019, when trip distances more than 3,000 miles were most popular, to June 2020, when trips between 50-500 miles returned to year-over-year growth.

They are flexible on when and where they travel
There is a strong desire to avoid the crowds of popular destinations

  • One in two (51%) are more interested in being isolated beyond major tourist areas than they are in being “surrounded by people and energy” (24%). On Airbnb in H2 2019, most nights booked were in larger cities, but in 2020, smaller destinations within driving distance of big cities saw major growth in demand.
  • Before the pandemic hit, Airbnb’s top 10 destination cities for the second half of 2019, by nights stayed, were Barcelona, Lisbon, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, New York City, Paris, Rome, Seoul and Toronto. In 2020, smaller, lower-profile destinations saw major growth in demand. These types of destinations have been among the largest year-over-year increases in searches for 2021 bookings: Derbyshire, UK; Rodanthe, on the coast of North Carolina; Forks, Washington, the main setting for the Twilight series; and the Muskoka Lakes, a few hours’ drive from Toronto.

Remote work and learning are giving many people more freedom to choose when they travel

  • One-quarter of Americans are open to traveling during off-peak times of year and days of the week. One-quarter also see themselves undertaking more long-term stays, while nearly one in five (19%) say they already have rented a vacation home for a stay of more than28 days since the pandemic started.
  • In September 2020, Airbnb saw more bookings for stays of  more than 28 nights than in September 2019. Overall for Q3 2020, nights booked for stays of more than 28 days also increased over Q3 2019.

People want travel that is affordable

  • Affordability is the top priority overall when it comes to choosing accommodation not just for the first trip but for future travel indefinitely (54%), beating health and safety protocols by 10 points. Nearly three in five Americans (58%) earning less than $50,000 per year say they are booked, planning or expecting to travel in 2021. Based on ongoing Airbnb guest survey data, a majority of guests—including 53% of all homes guests in 2019—tell Airbnb they choose Airbnb to save money while traveling.

People want to stay safe

  • One third (32%) want the “vast majority of people” at a destination to also be vaccinated in order to consider traveling there; 30% will want testing to be available there; and 29% will want to have urgent care available.

Sustainable travel is also top of mind

  • 56% of those under age 50 say they would be “much” or “somewhat more likely” to use an online platform which offers the ability to search for alternate energy and green accommodations. Only 28% of those aged 50-plus say the same.

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