SEATTLE—On the second day of its annual partner conference, Explore ’20, Expedia Group revealed key considerations shaping travel decisions in 2021 and demonstrated technology enhancements to help travelers and partners make informed decisions and complete tasks.
Expedia Group is sharing insights and tools to help the global travel ecosystem adapt to the shift in traveler expectations to restore confidence in the wake of COVID-19. The research from Expedia Group Media Solutions, the advertising organization of Expedia Group, shows that travelers need reassurance in critical areas such as flexibility, cleanliness and communication to consider travel now and in the future.
The research reveals that one in two travelers feel optimistic—that is, comfortable or even excited—about taking a trip in the next 12 months. Though consumer confidence in travel varies by country and generation, the importance of hygiene measures, flexibility and financial peace of mind is more universal. Three-quarters of travelers 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.
Globally, two-thirds of travelers had a planned trip cancelled due to COVID-19 and only a third of travelers have taken a trip during the pandemic. Of those who took a trip, eight in 10 traveled for rejuvenation—to enjoy a change of scenery or different weather, or to see family or friends.
“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,” said Monya Mandich, VP of global marketing, Expedia Group Media Solutions. “COVID-19 has driven a seismic shift in traveler 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 travelers as they begin researching, planning and booking again.”
Traveler trends in the next 12 months
- Globally, travelers are more likely to take trips between April and September. Brazilian, Chinese and Mexican travelers show a higher likelihood to travel even earlier, between January and March, which aligns with the positive traveler sentiment also seen in those markets.
- Globally, Generation Z and millennial travelers are 1.5 times more likely than other generations to take a leisure trip in January to March.
- Fifty-seven percent of travelers said they would be comfortable traveling if a vaccine is widely available, which is promising given that this sentiment was captured in October, prior to the recent positive vaccine news.
- Seven in 10 travelers 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 travelers booked refundable rates 10% more often in 2020 than the year before, and the new research indicates this trend is likely here to stay.
Factors influencing transportation and accommodation decisions
- Travelers 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%) will be the leading factors in future transportation decisions, though the importance placed on each varies by mode of transportation.
- For future air travel, six in 10 travelers would be most comfortable traveling if social-distancing measures are in place.
- Proper COVID-19 hygiene protocols will inform future accommodation decisions for more than half of travelers, 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%).
- Travel providers, as well as destination organizations, need to clearly communicate health and hygiene measures, pandemic protocols and flexibility to reassure and attract travelers.
Inspiring future travel
- Travelers 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 organizations and experts. This is reflective of the shift in traveler priorities—with hygiene measures and flexibility overtaking experiences and activities—and the increased importance of credible, up-to-date information from trusted sources.
Technology to reduce friction
The research shows that people will book travel if they are confident in their ability to change plans and stay safe. Expedia Group is investing in technology that provides travelers and lodging 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 Group added new skills to its AI-powered virtual agent that helps resolve the most common enquiries including cancelling or changing trips, receiving refunds, redeeming vouchers and answering questions about safety measures. A recently added feature, one-click cancellation, allows travelers to initiate cancellations for each part of their trip. One-click cancellation works seamlessly 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 travelers with human agents or directly with the travel partner. Expedia Group also extended its virtual agent to provide on-demand support for lodging 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 travelers 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. Travelers can enter details such as their origin and destination, departure date and the country that issued their passport to learn more before their trip.