Just a third of travellers globally took a trip this year during the COVID-19 pandemic, latest research from Expedia has found.
The OTA group’s Media Solutions arm carried out the consumer study ahead of its Explore ’20 online partner event last week when the results were announced.
It found two-thirds of travellers had a planned trip cancelled due to COVID-19 and only a third of travellers have taken a trip during the pandemic.
Of those who took a trip, eight in 10 travelled for rejuvenation, or to enjoy a change of scenery or different weather, or to see family or friends.
Expedia said its insights will help travel firms to prepare for the return of customers in 2021 by shedding light on what they are looking for and shifting priorities due the pandemic.
The research shows that travellers need reassurance in critical areas such as flexibility, cleanliness, and clear communication to consider travel now and in the future.
One in two travellers feel optimistic about taking a trip in the next 12 months although confidence in travel varies by country and generation.
However the perceived importance of hygiene measures, flexibility, and financial peace of mind is more universal.
Three-quarters of travellers said measures such as mask enforcement, contactless services, and flexibility, including easy refunds or cancellation policies, will inform where they visit on their next trip.
Monya Mandich, vice president of global marketing at Expedia Group Media Solutions, said:
“As the world keeps a watchful eye on vaccine news, and people continue to crave a change of scenery or opportunity to catch up with loved ones, we know the pent-up demand for travel will grow.
“COVID-19 has driven a seismic shift in traveller preferences and influences, and understanding these changes is critical to recovery efforts and future marketing strategies. The new research provides insights into the steps travel brands can take to reassure and connect with travellers as they begin researching, planning and booking again.”
Traveller trends in the next 12 months according to Expedia
- Globally, travellers are more likely to take trips between April and September 2021. Brazilian, Chinese, and Mexican travellers show a higher likelihood to travel even earlier, between January and March 2021;
- Globally, Generation Z and millennial travellers are 1.5x more likely than other generations to take a leisure trip in January to March 2021;
- Fifty-seven percent of travellers said they would be comfortable travelling if a vaccine is widely available (this sentiment was captured in October, prior to recent positive vaccine news);
- Seven in 10 travellers will look for flexibility, such as travel insurance and trip protection, full cancellations and refunds on transportation and accommodations. Expedia.com’s lodging data shows that travellers booked refundable rates 10% more often in 2020 than the year before. Research indicates this trend is likely to stay.
Factors influencing transportation and accommodation decisions
- Travellers want reassurances that travel providers and brands are following and enforcing pandemic protocols. Mask use and enforcement (50%), cost (47%) and easy refunds or cancellation policies (45%) are the leading factors in future transportation decisions, though the importance placed on each varies;
- For future air travel, six in 10 travellers would be most comfortable travelling if social distancing measures are in place;
- Proper COVID-19 hygiene protocols will inform future accommodation decisions for more than half of travellers, and this is the leading factor across all types, from chain and boutique hotels to vacation rentals to staying with family or friends. Additional considerations include contactless room service and takeout (24%) and contactless check in options (23%);
Inspiring future travel
- Travellers are turning to online travel agencies for information and travel planning 24% more than pre-pandemic, while destination websites saw a 20% increase in use as a planning tool;
- Pictures and informative messaging in travel advertising are 20% more influential than pre-pandemic, along with travel organisations and experts.
Technology to reduce friction
The Expedia research shows that people will book travel if they are confident in their ability to change plans and stay safe.
Expedia Group says it is investing in technology that provides travellers and accommodation partners with more choice in how they seek and receive support, while helping them complete tasks faster and make informed decisions.
Virtual agent enhancements: Expedia has added new skills to its AI-powered virtual agent that helps resolve the most common enquires including cancelling or changing trips, receiving refunds, redeeming vouchers, and answering questions about safety measures.
A recently added feature, one-click cancellation, allows travellers to initiate cancellations for each part of their trip.
One-click cancellation works for bookings across Expedia Group’s brands and adheres to cancellation policies of the travel partner.
In the case of complex enquiries, the virtual agent connects travellers with human agents or directly with the travel partner.
Expedia Group also extended its virtual agent to provide on-demand support for accommodation partners including answering basic questions, providing additional resources, and quickly accomplishing tasks such as reviewing cancellation policies for a specific booking, editing cancellation policies, and finding Expedia Virtual Cards for payments and vouchers.
Informing travel decisions: Expedia Group brands including Expedia.com recently launched the COVID-19 Travel Advisor, an interactive tool powered by Sherpa, that helps travellers find up-to-date information about travel restrictions in the destination they plan to visit, such as quarantine, face mask and COVID-19 test requirements.
Travellers can enter details such as their origin and destination, departure date and the country that issued their passport to learn more before their trip.