While demand is ticking back up toward pre-pandemic levels across certain sectors of the travel industry, COVID-19 will have a lasting effect on traveler preferences and booking behaviors.
According to a report from Expedia Group, travelers not only have new expectations on health and safety, but they’re also putting more emphasis on things like values-based booking decisions, such as finding accommodations that match their beliefs on inclusivity and sustainability.
The online travel giant’s Traveler Value Index, which surveyed 8,000 people from eight countries and was conducted in partnership with Wakefield Research, highlights these evolving preferences as well as what travel providers can do to capture post-pandemic demand.
According to the report, nearly three-quarters (72%) of consumers say they plan to take a trip in the next 12 months. More than a third (35%) of travelers say they have larger travel budgets now compared to in 2020, and nearly one in five (18%) expect travel to be the thing they spend the most on in 2021, on par with major spending items like home renovation projects (18%) and ahead of entertainment (12%).
Across travel segments (hotels, vacation rentals, air, car rentals and cruise) travelers now value full refunds or enhanced cleaning above all other considerations – a significant shift from conventional wisdom that price drives booking decisions. In fact, one in four travelers say they most value the ability to get a full refund across all travel experiences.
For hotel stays, while 24% of all travelers value the ability to get a full refund on cancelled bookings, there are generational splits: In the United States and Japan, travelers under the age of 40 rank enhanced cleaning the most important. These travelers also value contactless experiences and premium benefits, indicating that younger groups are less focused on price and refunds.
Across regions, higher shares of women select enhanced cleaning as their top value at hotels, particularly in Mexico, where 33% of women rank enhanced cleaning as their top value compared to 25% of men.
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Meanwhile, the ability to get a full refund is valued by a larger margin (26%) of travelers for vacation rentals, and enhanced cleaning in rentals ranks lower as a value.
Travelers rank flexible policies that allow them to change reservations without penalty as their fourth overall value, however the value of flexibility in rentals rises based on the number of children traveling.
In Mexico, 27% of travelers strongly value affordable pricing for vacation rentals (27%), and in Japan, environmentally friendly policies rank third for vacation rentals (14%), notably higher than in other markets.
Air travelers also most value the ability to get a full refund, particularly in the U.K. (31%) and Germany (34%). Low pricing and enhanced cleaning (both 18%) are the next most important values for air travelers except millennial and Gen Z consumers, who rank low pricing ahead of enhanced cleaning.
For car rental and cruise, the ability to get a full refund is again most valued by travelers, however cruise is the only segment where respondents from numerous countries say they value low pricing the most. Gen Z travelers in North America also say they value environmentally friendly policies second when considering a cruise.
As travelers return to the roads and skies, nearly three-quarters of all respondents (71%) say they are comfortable with the idea of a vaccine passport, and most consumers (81%) from the United Kingdom say they are onboard with showing proof of vaccination.
While vacation rentals in remote areas have surged amid the pandemic, urban escapes are on the rise, with searches in major cities like Las Vegas (+40%), Melbourne (+90%), Paris (+30%) and Sydney (+85%) increasing.
Travelers are also searching for new experiences, with three-quarters of consumers saying they are likely to book a destination they’ve never been to before. More than half (52%) of respondents who have a trip planned are likely to take a mode of transportation they have not before, and 22% of travelers say they’re seeking a once-in-a-lifetime experience on their next trip.
Additionally, nearly three in five (59%) of travelers are willing to increase their spend to make their trip more sustainable, including 76% of Mexican travelers, and nearly two-thirds (65%) of travelers say they are more likely to book with travel providers that identify their practices as inclusive.
Trust is key
According to Expedia Group, building trust early and quickly is key to converting traveler interest into a reservation. As they book trips in the next year, more than half (53%) of travelers say they want to trust that the provider will deliver on their promises.
For online bookings, 57% of travelers say they value a site that provides the right price for the type of travel experience they want. They also want a site that’s easy to navigate (49%), a quick booking process (45%), customer support (38%), a high number of listings (32%) and a variety of travel methods (27%).
Nearly half of travelers say they are open to booking through new companies they haven’t used before, indicating an openness to new options.
The full Traveler Index Report is available here.