Good news for travel marketers, 2021 travel planning has returned to a similar pattern as 2019. Despite the various uncertainties in the world, Americans' appetite for travel has not diminished, and in fact, continues to grow. Even better news released this week, the Biden administration announced they would ease travel restrictions for all vaccinated air travelers worldwide beginning in November, putting an end to an 18-month ban. With this news we can expect to see more searches and bookings to the US in the near future. In fact, airlines revealed during Skift’s Global Forum that they’re already seeing an increase in holiday bookings due to this announcement.
To assess the state of holiday travel as recovery continues, we’ve compared 2021 to 2019 levels, as 2019 shows a “normal” pre-covid booking pattern for holiday travel. In 2020, there were virtually no holiday travel bookings until September as flight capacity was cut, destinations were locked down, and people were concerned about health and safety. Many families spent the holidays at home and cancelled travel plans. In 2021, people are vaccinated, flights are operating at high capacity, and numerous destinations are open. Our data shows that many people are comfortable making solid plans for their holidays, with longer lead times than in 2020. With travelers excited to get back out and spend the holidays with loved ones, or in the mountains or on a beach somewhere, if you haven’t already, now is the time to activate those holiday travel campaigns to get in front of travelers as they search and book.
Bookings for 2021 holiday travel met or surpassed 2019 levels after the vaccine rolled out, until mid-July when the rise of the COVID-19 Delta variant slowed down trip planning and travelers adopted a “wait and see” approach. However, according to a recent survey conducted by vacation rental site Evolve, 32% of travelers are not factoring the Delta variant into their travel plans at all. Many travel companies are predicting a surge in last-minute bookings as they monitor travel restrictions in the coming weeks. Given the current conditions, domestic travel is also expected to surge, and Kayak’s VP of Marketing says they could experience another car rental shortage as they’re seeing an increase in those searching further in advance for car rentals than years prior.
The chart above indicates good news for travel intent–people are searching a lot. In 2021, holiday hotel searches shot up far beyond 2019 levels. Hotel bookings remained at similar levels to 2019, until cases began rising again. Visits directly to property websites have increased as travelers are more cautious and doing their research and due diligence. They want to know all of the details of where they are staying and feel safe booking travel. However, while people are more eager than ever to travel, they are slower to book due to various uncertainties that come with the pandemic and destination restrictions. With the increase in holiday travel searches, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, & Travel Tuesday deals can help drive those searches into bookings.
Not only are travelers doing their research directly on property websites, they're making more direct bookings as well, as booking on third-party sites throughout COVID-19 posed problems with flexibility around cancellations, refunds, and the like. Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) remained relatively unchallenged over the past few years, but the shift of the market share to more direct bookings due to lost trust caused OTAs in Asia like Expedia and Agoda to lose as much as 40% of the market share. Travel brands’ websites have improved over the past year, as many airlines, hotels, destinations, and attractions spent the time to improve their digital experiences during the pandemic. For example, United Airlines said they spent more to encourage going direct so they could control the messaging around COVID-19 guidelines. As a travel marketer, these visits to your site mean you can connect directly with your customers. Think upsells, sharing discounts, engaging after the visit to build loyalty, and offering an overall improved, more personalized experience than a third-party site can.
When looking at bookings as of August for 2019 and 2021 holiday travel, the greatest percentage of bookings remains in the US. Interest in the Caribbean and Mexico also take large slices of the pie in 2021. Though there are large parts of the world with significant travel restrictions, holiday demand was still up for most of 2021. People have shown that they are flexible with adjusting their travel plans.
The average length of stay for holiday travel has increased in 2021 vs 2019. This is likely a new normal, as the pandemic has allowed the population to adopt more flexible work and school environments and schedules. 2020 remains an outlier, due to quarantine or a percentage of the US population spending months working remotely out of the family home. Key Trends: