After a one-year hiatus due to COVID-19 and the resulting restrictions, financial concerns and the stress of virtual work and school, the summer travel season is back.
According to Deloitte’s new report, “Keen But Cautious: U.S. Travel in COVID’s Second Summer,” Americans of all ages and income levels are ready to get away and are making travel plans. The study is based on a survey of more than 2,000 Americans fielded during the week of April 17-24, who expect to take a trip that includes a flight and/or a stay in paid lodging between Memorial Day and the end of September. The responses focus on the longest trip these travelers plan to take and underscores new optimism for the travel industry, despite continued health considerations.
More than a year into the pandemic, there is optimism for the travel industry as four in 10 Americans plan to take at least one vacation this summer, a percentage similar to pre-pandemic summer travel of 2019. A desire for health safety continues to weigh on travelers more so than finances. At least 75% of travelers are considering factors such as COVID-19 restrictions, crowd avoidance, vaccination status, social distancing and CDC guidelines when selecting their vacation destination.
However, adventurers are willing to pay for an escape. More than 60% of travelers will spend about the same on their summer trips compared to 2019; only 13% will spend significantly less.
More than half of work from home travelers (56%) will be adding three or more days to their trips. Work from home travelers are twice as likely as other travelers to increase trip budgets over 2019.
While hotels are the leading form of lodging for most travelers, the pandemic has increased demand for private rentals. Both hotels and private rentals provide varying benefits to attract travelers and enhance their experience. However, this presents the opportunity to convert first-time private renters into regular customers beyond the summer months.
A majority of summer travelers (85%) will stay in a hotel, compared to 23% who will opt for a private rental. More than a quarter (28%) of rental travelers have stayed at a private rental for the first time during the pandemic or plan to this summer. Furthermore, two-thirds of pandemic-minted renters say they expect to stay in rentals for at least half of future trips.
Choosing where to stay is about more than location. For hotel guests, 89% cited enhanced safety measures as the main reason for their selection. Meanwhile, for those booking a private rental, 86% are driven by an amplified sense of control over COVID-19 exposure and their own safety.
Supply of private rentals is an ongoing issue that leads rental travelers to cross-shop three and a half times more than hotel travelers. For example, 53% of rental travelers will consider a hotel for their trip, compared to just 15% of hotel travelers considering rentals. The lure of a luxurious hotel experience and loyalty rewards are contributing factors as well.
An added boon for both the hotel and private rental sectors, Americans who work from home are more likely to extend their summer vacations to work remotely. More than half of work-from-home travelers (56%) will add three or more days to their vacations, and they are twice as likely to spend more on travel compared with summer 2019, and 1.7 times as likely to plan international travel.
“The pent-up demand for travel, coupled with the flexibility of remote working options, will drive more Americans to hotels and private rentals this summer, as an escape from the everyday,” said Ramya Murali, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP/U.S. hospitality sector leader. “Lodging suppliers have been diligently adapting their policies and offerings since the pandemic began—they should continue to ease traveler safety concerns, instill confidence, bring back the joy of travel and, ultimately, drive loyalty.”
While many Americans are ready for a summer vacation, lingering health concerns continue to impact travel decisions. According to Deloitte’s Global State of the Consumer Tracker, COVID-19 remains a leading driver of anxiety even as its lead over financial stress continues to wane. As a result, travelers are incorporating criteria into their travel plans that they would not have considered prior to the pandemic. And for those not traveling, health concerns (41%) are a bigger reason than financial concerns (30%) to stay home this summer.
Nearly three-quarters of Americans (71%) planning to travel expect at least half of their party to be vaccinated at the time of their trip. However, uncertainty around vaccine penetration and infection rates, as well as local attraction capacity and quarantine mandates, is affecting travel plans.
Despite ongoing health concerns, more than a quarter of travelers (27%) plan to visit a city on their summer vacation. Beaches lead all destinations (34%), followed by the great outdoors (18%).
Moreover, vacation spending is rebounding, with trip budgets similar to summer 2019. For those willing to spend more than two years ago, middle- to higher-income households are re-prioritizing experiences (35%), just as lower-income Americans are redirecting savings for travel (41%).
While concerns about air travel persisted throughout the pandemic, demand for flights is now on the rise. More than half (55%) of American travelers say their longest trip this summer will include a flight. Amid Transportation Safety Administration reports of increased passenger volume, consumers are also considering new factors for mitigating the health and financial risks of flying.
Most domestic flyers will opt for a nonstop flight. Only 11% of passengers surveyed are considering a domestic itinerary that includes at least one connection, most likely to reduce exposure to airport crowds.
International travel is on the rise as well. More than one in four (27%) respondents plan to take an international flight this summer, underscoring the lure of global destinations despite continued health concerns.
While 69% of the respondents will reserve their flight directly through an airline’s website, more than half of travelers (57%) have not booked any aspect of their trip yet. Only 18% say they will leverage an online travel agency to book the flight for their longest trip this summer.
Although price is the main purchase driver for flights, new pandemic-driven factors are having an impact as well, including cancelation or rebooking policies, the availability of direct flights and airline safety protocols.
“As many Americans return to the skies this summer, the impacts of the pandemic continue to influence the entire travel experience, from the time of booking to landing at the final destination,” said Anthony Jackson, principal, Deloitte & Touche LLP/U.S. airlines leader. “And although travelers are proceeding with caution, airlines have plenty to be optimistic about with summer travel intent near pre-pandemic levels. Still, with ongoing health concerns, airlines should remain flexible to accommodate shifting preferences for direct flights, as well as last-minute reservation and flight changes.”