AMSTERDAM—Digital travel site Booking.com has combined research from more than 20,000 travelers across 28 countries and territories with insights from proprietary search and endorsement data as well as more than 20 years’ of travel expertise to reveal nine predictions for the future of travel—in the coming year and beyond. With more than half (53%) of global travelers responding that they won’t be comfortable traveling until a coronavirus vaccine or treatment is in place, it may be a long time before travelers experience the world as freely as they did previously, but the industry will continue to adapt at pace, satiating the appetite to travel whenever it’s safe to do so.
Arjan Dijk, SVP/chief marketing officer at Booking.com said, “2020 has been a year like no other and while it will be some time before travel returns to pre-pandemic levels, all signs point to the fundamental and enduring role that travel plays in all our lives. It continues to bring moments of joy and inspiration to people across the globe during times of uncertainty, whether through dreaming and planning, or cherishing the trips we have been able to take. Enhancing our understanding of one another and our common desire to explore beyond the horizon, I believe that travel has a unique potential to come back stronger than ever in the years ahead as a primary driver of growth, equality and prosperity for people everywhere. In the meantime, with our mission to make it easier for everyone to experience the world, we will be there for our customers offering the widest choice, great value and the easiest experience from anywhere and on any device so travelers can enjoy all of the unforgettable experiences this world has to offer.”
Amid new waves of travel hiatuses, restrictions and continued uncertainty, the innate human desire to travel has not been dampened. During recent lockdowns two-thirds (65%) of travelers reported being excited about traveling again, while 61% indicated they are more appreciative of travel and will likewise not take it for granted in the future. Travelers also report that they plan to take a similar number of trips both domestically and internationally in the 12 months after travel restrictions are lifted in their country, as they did in the year pre-pandemic (March 2019-March 2020).
The time at home has made people crave the world outside more than ever with over half (53%) of respondents asserting a heightened desire to see even more of the world and 42% wanting to travel more in the future to make up for time lost in 2020 (rising to 51% for Gen Z and 49% of Millennials). More than a third (38%) intend to plan a trip to make up for a celebration missed due to coronavirus (such as a milestone birthday or wedding), while two fifths (40%) intend to rebook a trip they had to cancel. With this, people can expect travel companies to get creative in 2021 with new itineraries and recommendations designed to capture the imaginations of travelers who missed out on trips in 2020 and who will be looking for somewhere to explore to make their next trip more meaningful.
The financial legacy of coronavirus will inevitably see people demand more bang for their buck in the future. 62% of travelers will be more price-conscious when it comes to searching and planning a trip in the future and 55% are more likely to hunt down promotions and savings, behaviors that Booking.com predicts will last years.
But the value consumers expect will go beyond price tags with three-quarters (74%) stating they want travel booking platforms to increase their transparency about cancellation policies, refund processes and trip insurance options. Furthermore, 46% consider refundable accommodation a must-have for their next trip, as do almost half (36%) when it comes to the flexibility to change dates without being charged.
And while travelers are keen to support the industry in its recovery (70%) and want their future bookings to help rebuild communities around the world (67%), they will expect a lot more from the travel industry in return. The industry will need to come together to respond inventively to offer deeper value, better choice, increased flexibility and transparency as well as more thoughtful experiences for tomorrow’s travelers as they scrutinize spend in 2021 and beyond.
Familiarists Not Tourists
In a new coronavirus world, local travel has risen to the fore as it remains easier, safer and happily often more sustainable. Looking ahead, staying closer to home and becoming familiarists rather than tourists will continue to be at the forefront of travel agendas. 47% of people still plan to travel within their own country in the medium term (7-12 months’ time), with 38% planning to do so in the longer term (in more than a year’s time). When it comes to local travel, 43% plan to explore a new destination within their home region/country and 46% will take the time to appreciate the natural beauty of their home country, while—locally or not—half (50%) intend to travel somewhere they’ve already been previously for its familiarity.
Travelers will not write off the love of long-haul getaways, though. Appreciation for familiarity will sit alongside enduring love and anticipation of longer-haul travel as almost a quarter (21%) of people intend to travel to the other side of the world by the end of 2021, compared to only 6% by the end of 2020.
The appetite to consume travel content, get creative with travel plans and share travel dreams with each other will continue to grow exponentially over the coming year. Seeking comfort and distraction during weeks in lock-down, the majority (95%) of travelers spent time looking for vacation inspiration, with more than a third (38%) looking at potential travel destinations as often as once a week. As restrictions continue to ebb and flow, Booking.com expects destinations and accommodations to come up with even more inventive ways to capitalize on travelers’ heightened desire to escape reality and connect them with the experiences that await—from accommodations revamping their social media presence by leveraging content created by influencers who visited pre lockdown, to local tourist boards creating inspiring Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) content to visually showcase the best these places have to offer.
Yet, social media is not the only source of inspiration for global travelers when day-dreaming about their next trip, with 36% also opting to have a good old-fashioned chat with friends and family to spark their travel creativity. In addition, one third (32%) of people feel nostalgic looking through old photographs from previous vacations to help them decide on a future trip, recognizing that analog inspiration will also have a recognizable resurgence on social media feeds.
Safety Cleans Up
Global travelers (79%) will take more precautions due to coronavirus and will look to the travel industry to help them gear up for this new normal. Governments, travel associations and providers will have to work cohesively to set consistent standards to help keep travelers safe, and with expectations heightened, some destinations and businesses will need to work harder to regain travelers’ trust. 59% of travelers will avoid certain destinations (rising to 67% of Baby Boomers), and 70% expect tourist attractions to adapt to allow for social distancing. At the same time, 70% will only book a particular accommodation if it’s clear what health and hygiene policies it has in place, with three quarters (75%) favoring accommodations that have antibacterial and sanitizing products.
Short-term there will also be a change in transport preference and provisions, with almost half (46%) opting to avoid public transport for fear of contracting coronavirus. This will cause a longer-term shift in how people will travel to and around their vacation destinations, with more people choosing to rent or drive their own car. The ‘new normal’ will also see travelers prioritize and adhere to increased health and safety measures, with many becoming second nature. Just as people have become accustomed to traveling without liquids in carry-on luggage and removing shoes to go through airport security, two-thirds (67%) will accept traveling to destinations that have health spot checks on arrival and 62% will accept wearing a mask in public. Quarantine measures will remain less popular with far fewer (27%) travelers willing to accept these in order to travel to a particular destination.
With more than half (53%) of global travelers wanting to travel more sustainably in the future, Booking.com expects to see a more eco-conscious mindset in 2021 and beyond, as coronavirus has amped people’s awareness about their impact on the environment and local communities. More than two-thirds (69%) expect the travel industry to offer more sustainable travel options and travelers will consequently visit alternative destinations in a bid to avoid traveling during peak season (51%) and overcrowding (48%). This desire also means that 63% will stay away from crowded tourist attractions, indicating that destinations will need to adapt new, smart crowd management measures to appease travelers visiting their country.
Additionally, the impact of coronavirus has inspired more than half (53%) of travelers to consider reducing waste and/or recycling their plastic when traveling once all travel restrictions are lifted, showing that people are not just committed to protecting themselves, but also the places they visit.
Travelers believe that the industry must adapt to this sustainable mindset for the long-term by offering more attractive off-season travel packages (46%) and proposing alternative destinations to prevent overcrowding (36%). There are also strong signals for travel operators to be more transparent about how travelers’ money is being used to rebuild a community, paving the way for more regenerative tourism. Two-thirds (67%) of respondents indicate that they want their travel choices to also support the destination’s recovery efforts, and more than half (55%) want to see how their money is going back into the local community.
Bye Bye to 9-5
Working remotely has entered the mainstream during the pandemic with the knock-on effect that people will look to take longer trips in the future that more effectively combine work and pleasure than ever before. No longer confined to five days a week in an office and desperate for a change of scene from Working From Home (WFH), we’ll see a significant rise in the “Workcation”, with travelers looking to extend their vacation experience in new locales by staying an extra week or two to work remotely—or conversely factoring holiday around a stint of remote working.
More than a third (37%) of travelers have already considered booking somewhere to stay in order to work from a different destination, while 40% would be willing to quarantine if they could work remotely. Travel platforms and places to stay will prioritize showcasing home office facilities and WiFi speed in an attempt to attract this new wave of digital nomads. Likewise, the world of corporate travel will see increasing demand for privacy, cleanliness and longer stays among those traveling for business, requiring alternative accommodations to seriously up their ‘work-friendly’ game. While companies will reassess their approach to business travel in the future, workers will continue to maximize the trips they do take, with more than half of travelers (52%) saying they would take the opportunity to extend any business trips to also enjoy leisure time at the destination.
As people learn to live with the consequences of the pandemic in 2021 and beyond, travelers will be keen to embrace a new and stripped-back way of experiencing the world. So much time spent in homes with loved ones has given birth to adjusted travel priorities and a desire to enjoy more of our natural resources. Use of simple pleasure-related endorsements such as hiking (94%), clean air (50%), nature (44%) and relaxation (33%) on Booking.com have increased since the start of the pandemic, while research shows that more than two-thirds of travelers (69%) will look to appreciate more simple experiences such as spending time outdoors or with the family while on vacation. More than half (56%) will seek out more rural, off-the-beaten-track experiences to immerse themselves into the outdoors.
With the renewed emphasis on privacy, sufficient space and personal control over cleanliness and hygiene, travelers look for accommodation ‘closer to home’ with 42% preferring to stay in a vacation home or apartment rather than in a hotel, contrasting 2019 when 64% of travelers favored staying in a hotel. Almost half (46%) will opt to eat in more as opposed to eating out at restaurants, so a well-equipped kitchen will be essential for any vacation rental in the future. Relaxing trips will also be high on the travel agenda in the ‘new normal’, with more than half (51%) saying it was their preferred type of trip followed by beach breaks (40%) and city trips (29%).
Tech innovation will play a crucial role in rebuilding traveler confidence and people will see the accelerated use of tech to adapt to a new type of traveler. Tech will help regain the spontaneity, confidence and ease of times past, while at the same time help people travel safely and responsibly. Already, 64% of travelers agree that technology will be important in controlling health risks when traveling and 63% say that accommodations will need to use the latest technologies to make travelers feel safe. More than half (53%) will want tech options to make last-minute restaurant reservations and almost a quarter (21%) will want more self-service machines instead of ticket desks. More than half (55%) are also excited about tech’s potential to further personalize their travel experiences in the future.
The next innovations will bring even more change, with enhanced online experiences influencing future travel behavior and planning. More than a third (36%) would feel more comfortable about going to an unknown destination if they could scout it out beforehand by using virtual reality (VR). That being said, only 30% expecting to participate in more virtual/online experiences run by tourist attractions, local tours and workshops, proving that while people trust technology implicitly to bring more convenience, personalization and peace of mind, its prime role will reside in being a conduit for, rather than a replacement (yet), for seeing, feeling and tasting it for yourself.