Chief Marketing Officer
Recent traveler patterns indicate that we’re in a period of “fear fatigue.” While news of the Omicron variant sounded alarms across news outlets, more travelers are booking anyway. After nearly two years of a roller-coaster news cycle, the underlying sentiment by many travelers is that it’s time to get out there again, regardless of the headlines.
This is a shift from the travel trends during the pandemic. Within a general lull in travel due to the overarching dangers of Covid-19, there were measurable upticks in bookings on good news (vaccine discoveries, talks to open US borders). These increases happened just on the rumor of good news, even before official rules and schedules were defined. At other times, travel was held back by bad news, including tightened borders and the Delta variant, especially in business travel.
That’s why traveler behavior through this recent Omicron episode is so notable. What we see reflects consumer fatigue with the ongoing fears and a level of confidence in the effectiveness of vaccines and other treatments – or an indifference to the potential consequences.
Recent Surges in Air and Hotel Bookings
In particular there has been a surge in domestic travel, particularly for business, singles and couples leisure travel. While the complexity of family travel and kids without vaccines has slowed that group a bit, new fears of inflation and uncertainty over future travel restrictions is likely spurring people to take action now despite the new variant.
Hotel bookings for unmanaged business travel (smaller companies) are up over 5X and up almost 3X for solos and couples on leisure trips. This dramatic shift is evident in the chart, which shows business, leisure family and non-family travel surges.
For air, the gains since 1 November are up almost 3X for business and double for leisure solos and couples.
Europeans are still eager to travel to the US, (except for still cautious families.) The trajectory for business bookings is steep—up close to 300% for hotel bookings since November first. Business and non-family travelers are looking for big city amenities as metros such as LA, NY and Miami top the destination list. From the macro view of travel volume, there’s massive improvement from 2020, although still well below 2019 volume. We aggregated booking volumes for 2019, 2020 and 2021 across the same time frame (1 Nov to 6 Dec) to compare year-over-year performance. As we’ve seen throughout 2021, volumes continue to lag 2019, but are dramatically ahead of 2020. Further, the hotel vertical consistently performs better than air.
- -55% vs. 2019 and +107% vs. 2020 for air
- -42% vs 2019 and +241% vs 2020 for hotels.
Interestingly, US families are eager to vacation in EMEA. Hotel bookings are our best indicator of demand and they are up over 140%. Business travelers are making a last-minute push to get their trips and meetings booked before their colleagues shift into holiday mode. Aggregate hotel booking volume vs. 2019 is -46% vs 2019 and +452% vs 2020. UK, France and Spain are all in the top 5 of the international travelers list (both business and leisure).
Capture New Growth With Creativity
It seems that consumers are using a new calculus to evaluate risks, inconveniences, and the rewards of travel. The winning brands will be those that can best find the travelers who are ready to get out there despite ongoing uncertainties.
- Surgical approaches are best: Country by country, state by state, travelers continue to show significant differences in behavior. For example, some of the biggest increases in travel to Los Angeles were from Salt Lake City (up 181% over 2019) and Washington, D.C.. For Orlando, the traditional origin markets of New York and Miami continue to be important, but Dallas posted the biggest increase over 2019 at +13%.
- Vaccination rates matter: Travelers today are highly informed. The data proves it out. Portugal, with their high vaccination rates, is a top European destination. In addition to focusing messaging on these destinations, educating travelers about additional safe options, such as secluded resorts and effective testing or airport protocols in other locations can encourage them to look more broadly.
- Keep an eye out for border restrictions: If people can’t travel easily now, they are still inclined to book, but are more likely to plan trips further into 2022. Varying marketing messaging to be in sync with current restrictions will help.
- Other news matters, too: While the pandemic rattled travel to its core in 2020 and 2021, 2022 will have other factors to account for. There is the fear of inflation, as well as the inevitable shift in work. People relied on government relief, which is being depleted, but many people may go back to work as a result. These economic factors will compete with Covid-19 as people weigh the pros and cons of travel.
To connect with travelers in 2022, travel brands need to get creative. It will pay off to know who is planning a trip when. Keeping an eye on a wide variety of indicators, from searches to social media behaviors, will help brands not only know when to spend, but also how to tune messaging.
Travelers have new habits and new patterns that they’ve picked up through the past two years. They can work from anywhere. They buy more on their mobile devices. And they interact more with new channels like streaming media. These all represent opportunities for travel brands to reach travelers in relevant, exciting ways. Now that fear fatigue is setting in for consumers, it’s time for travel brands to shed their own fears and be bolder with their approach.