US Travel is Back!

We analyze 2022 search and booking data, and the great growth in the US.

March 14, 2022

The Good News We’ve Been Waiting For 

US Flight Bookings Better Than “Normal”

Sojern’s data shows that domestic US travel is above 2019 levels, contributing to the pattern that we’ve seen since the pandemic began–online bookings have climbed year-over-year since 2019. The strong surge we see in 2022 is likely a result of Omicron cases declining in late January (aligning with the week of January 23 when cases started falling) showcasing that travelers are conscientious about booking when it is safer to travel. 

The Key Takeaway

Travel continues to fluctuate quickly as a result of cases increasing or declining demonstrating the need to remain vigilant. Keep an eye on travel insights in this constantly changing environment to enhance your marketing strategies. When planning your strategies, be sure to activate an upper funnel awareness campaign–getting consistent awareness is important in this environment because when travelers are ready to book, they’ll think of you first. 

How Did We Get Here? 

2021 to Now

This time last year, only Florida and Hawaii metro areas were showing substantial recovery. Most of the other states during this time saw much lower than average booking levels. It’s important to note that Hawaii and Florida are states that chose to remain open to visitors and relax restrictions, which likely contributed to the stronger flight booking figures. With fewer states with relaxed restrictions that travelers could go to, this drove more tourism to these states than to others. 

In February 2022, we see great news for flight bookings, they are nearing or above 2019 levels for the top 25 major US metros. Throughout the pandemic, Sojern data showed travelers heading to rural areas, and in the data above, we see a significant market shift back to urban areas.

It’s also important to note that airline ticket prices are highly dependent on fuel prices. With the recent surge in fuel prices, travel demand could decline, as flight bookings go up in price, road trips become more expensive, etc. We will keep a close eye on our travel data over the coming weeks and months to either confirm or refute this. 

The Key Takeaway

It’s your time to shine again in those metro areas. With summer around the corner in the US, activate campaigns to drive visitation to your destination and direct bookings if you are a hotel or attraction. Target leisure travelers–our data based on an analysis of four major metros (Boston, Philadelphia, New York City, and Washington D.C.) shows leisure travel in 2022 is up 7% compared to travel this time during 2019. Use messaging around planning your trip for a safe return to the city to check out all of your favorite activities again or showcasing that your attraction  is fully welcoming guests for the summer. 

Business travel is starting to show signs of recovery in these areas as well, but is still 50% lower than 2019 levels. Business travel recovery is currently being powered by small businesses as many large businesses are still holding off on conferences and in person meetings, but as Covid-19 cases continue to decrease, this could change quickly. 

If you’re in an area where business travel is common, now is the time to think about getting in front of those business travelers again as well. Hotel marketers should consider highlighting “work from the hotel” opportunities for those business travelers who are flying in for a few meetings and need a comfortable space to work otherwise. Flexibility on change and cancellations policies will also remain a key part of messaging for business travelers. Finally, business travelers are loyal, so be sure to remind them of your offerings around loyalty programs.  

The Return of the Cruise Vertical 

Due to the nature of travel aboard a cruise ship, close-knit quarters and shared public spaces, the cruise industry was hit hard due to Covid-19. The pandemic forced cancellations and the eventual pausing of cruise ships setting to sea at all. While this was detrimental to the cruise industry, the impact was felt in markets where cruise is a strategically important vertical (states like California and Florida). 

Pre-Covid, cruise intent was highest during and immediately following Christmas and New Years, and 2022 shows some early increase in interest in comparison to 2021. Sojern’s data, combined with data from our partner, PlaceIQ, shows that cruise travelers typically stay in town multiple days, dine out at sit-down restaurants, and visit major attractions, which makes this a great audience to target as they spend more when they travel.

Cruise typically has long lead times from booking to departure. In February of 2021, prior to readily available vaccinations, travelers shifted to exceptionally long term planning for end of year and into 2022. The chart above shows that in February of 2022, travelers are returning to more typical planning windows. This predictability should help cruise marketers to activate more strategic campaigns. 

The Key Takeaway 

If you’re in the cruise industry, it’s time to start ramping up those direct response campaigns to get travelers making bookings with your cruise line. For destinations reliant on the cruise industry to boost the economy, begin targeting those cruise travelers to drive economic impact. 

Watch More 

Travel Insights: US Travel on the Rebound 

PlaceIQ’s EVP of Strategy joined Sojern’s travel insights team to look at 2022 travel search and booking data and the great growth in the US. PlaceIQ brings real-world perspectives from US movement data and consumer behavior, to view alongside Sojern's US online travel and booking data, allowing attendees to gain an understanding of current travel behavior and demand. They discuss how marketers can use these insights to better plan their marketing campaigns. 

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