Expedia reports optimism from travelers

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Hari Nair, senior vice president of media solutions at Expedia Group, presenting during Explore 20.
Hari Nair, senior vice president of media solutions at Expedia Group, presenting during Explore 20.

New research from Expedia Group has found that travelers are optimistic about taking a trip in the next year.

Hari Nair, senior vice president of media solutions at Expedia Group, presented research from the Traveler Sentiment and Influences study during Expedia's Explore 20 virtual conference Thursday.

According to Nair, travel changes after major disrupting events like the coronavirus pandemic. After 9/11, air travel came to a grinding halt, travel recovered as new security measures were put into place. After the 2008 recession, travelers were still traveling, but taking less expensive trips.

The Covid-19 crisis caused massive declines in travel searches at first, Nair said, citing travel search data from Expedia's brands. Since then, though, searches have fluctuated, making it difficult to pinpoint any one trend. 

Overall, searches started to increase in May and peaked in early June, but then declined again. A rise in searches began in August, and in November there was a bump Nair attributed to good vaccine news.

What has remained relatively consistent through the pandemic is a shortened booking window, with most travelers searching in the zero-to-21-day window. 

Additionally, domestic travel searches in the U.S. have far outweighed international travel searches with many borders closed. In total, 96% of travel searches in the U.S. have been for domestic travel. That statistic varies around the world; for instance, in Mexico, only 28% of searches were for domestic travel.

Starting in April, Nair said, Expedia began studying why travelers were visiting its websites. It broke reasons into four categories: cancel or change travel; to check travel status; to dream about travel; or to actually shop for travel.

As expected, he said, cancellation or change visits were the most common. Shopping has seen a little uptick since the summer. But consistently, shoppers have visited Expedia's websites to dream about travel.

In October, Expedia conducted a survey with Northstar Research Partners that garnered 11,000 respondents from 11 countries. Of those respondents, six in 10 have had to cancel trips due to Covid-19. One in two feel optimistic about taking a trip in the next 12 months.

"We have to provide assurance to the other half," Nair said.

When travelers are most likely to take a trip depended largely on the region they call home. In North America, participants were found to be most likely to travel in the later part of 2021.

In total, seven in 10 said they will feel more confident traveling in the next year if they have more flexibility, such as that afforded by travel insurance and trip protection.

Expedia also found that travelers are reassured by suppliers strictly following CDC guidelines on cleaning and hygiene, with 86% of respondents stating they will make transportation decisions for future travel based on health and safety measures implemented. Mask enforcement tops the list.

Car travel has become increasingly important to travelers, as well. Seven in 10, Expedia found, are willing to drive up to six hours for a leisure trip during the pandemic.

As far as air travel, most travelers said they would be more comfortable if they had more room and empty space around their seat, whether that comes in the form of being seated alone in a row, flying in business or first class or in a window or aisle seat with an empty seat next to them. Overall, six in 10 said they would be most comfortable flying with social distancing measures like that in place.

Travelers will also look to accommodations to provide reassurance to travelers, who want accommodations providers that keep up to date with Covid-19 protocols, regularly deep clean and disinfect and tell customers they have disinfected thoroughly, Expedia found.

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