It’s no secret that 2020 was a difficult year for many industries, but no industries were hit harder than travel and hospitality. As COVID-19 restrictions kept business travelers, sightseers, weekenders, and families at home, every level of tourism was affected, from restaurant hotspots and hotels to car rental companies and Uber.
In fact, according to the U.S. Travel Association, the pandemic cost the U.S. travel economy $492 billion in cumulative losses from the beginning of March through the end of 2020. Global travel and business travel losses were even steeper.
But there’s a silver lining here. If your destination managed to limp through the pandemic and come out on the other side, now is the ideal time to attract new and returning travelers.
Rosalind Hunter, Partner in Simon-Kucher’s Leisure, Travel and Tourism Practice, points out:
“The prolonged lockdowns and restrictions on travel have created pent-up demand and increased the urge to travel, while many consumers have been able to save money from not going on holiday. As a result, they have significant budget that they expect to splash out in 2022 on travel, which is a positive sign for the battered travel industry.”
The data backs up her predictions for the travel industry. The TSA screened 10 million passengers at airports July 1-5. In a survey of more than 900 Americans completed the week of June 28, almost nine out of 10 said they expect to take at least as many business trips over the next year as they had in the year before the COVID-19 pandemic was declared. Many respondents cited the need to meet in person to rekindle relationships with customers, suppliers, and business partners.
Of the Americans questioned, 54% said they planned to take their next domestic flight in the next three months, and more than three-quarters would book a trip before the end of the year. Based on federal air travel data and current travel trends, it’s been predicted that the traffic out of U.S. airports will match and may even exceed the rate of pre-pandemic travel sometime in early 2022.
Top 8 Travel Trends for 2021
So how can you capitalize on all this movement and pent-up demand? In a world where everyone wants to go somewhere, here are eight travel trends you can cater to if you want to lure travelers to your destination:
More Domestic Travel
It seems like very few people are ready to risk travel to another country yet. Between going through customs, rapid COVID testing requirements, and the possibility of quarantine, an international trip doesn’t feel worth the hassle right now.
In April, international travel to the U.S. was 87% lower than pre-pandemic levels. This lack of improvement in recent months may initially seem like a bad thing for U.S. destinations, the reverse is also true. Most Americans aren’t traveling internationally either, choosing to spend their time closer to home. Overall, this means that more travelers are looking for U.S. destinations, and many of these newly-minted domestic travelers also have larger vacation budgets.
This is all great news for the U.S. travel economy. To take advantage of this trend and these homebound jetsetters ready to spend money in your city, focus your marketing strategy on local travelers within your city, state, or region. Positioning your resort or spa as a quiet getaway to recharge instead of a busy, activity-filled resort vacay will help attract more attention to your destination.
Staycations are Here to Stay
Many travelers are sick of their own homes by now, but that doesn’t mean that staycations are going anywhere. Instead, travelers are spending more on luxury experiences and weekends away right in their own backyards – with the added benefit of helping their own communities recover from the economic effects of the pandemic.
To capitalize on this trend, think very local. Get out your community event calendar and build staycation packages around festivals and concerts. Offer special discounts for guests in certain zip codes. Talk to restaurants, breweries, bike rental shops, or other vendors in your area to put together local experiences for your guests. Getting creative and helping people in your own community explore their area with new eyes will pay off big time.
Solo Travel is On the Rise
You know who the pandemic has been particularly rough on? Introverts. It may seem counterintuitive, but stay with us here. Millions of people across the country who value their alone time have been forced into close quarters with immediate family, kids, and roommates for over a year with nowhere to escape for even a few minutes. Even committed extroverts could use a little time to themselves by now.
Maybe this is why solo travel, which was already on the rise pre-pandemic, has really picked up steam in 2021. According to a recent survey by CheapOAir, the number of solo travelers rose from 15 percent to 25 percent between January and March of this year. Even more telling, 43% of survey respondents said they plan to take a solo trip in 2021 or 2022.
Take advantage of this accelerating trend by creating special offers that cater to these solo adventurers. You could offer them a more personal getaway with one-on-one guided tours, one-on-one cooking classes, or other one-on-one experiences. Other ways to attract more of these solo travelers: get rid of single-occupancy supplemental charges and offer solo-only group trips to make those traveling alone feel more welcome.
Business travel is picking back up even more quickly than leisure travel, and many people who have been cooped up are looking to get more bang for their tourism buck by planning a workcation.
The name “workcation” comes from long-term stays that mix business and pleasure, and they’re becoming one of the hottest 2021 travel trends. The trend has been fueled by the coronavirus: while flexible living was already popular pre-pandemic, the dramatic increase of remote work has made it a possibility for far more people than ever before.
To cater to travelers who are planning a workcation, consider offering discounts for long-term stays of two weeks or more. Another way to bring in more workcationers is offering child care or partnering with day camps for kids. Parents who feel free to bring their children on their business trip are more likely to extend their stay into a workcation.
During the pandemic, many people joined together into small groups, or pods, in order to do everything from weekly meal prep to virtual schooling for their kids. These makeshift groups allowed parents in particular to share the burden of having their children at home while also keeping their families safe.
In 2021 and beyond, people will travel with members of those pods, whether formalized or not. Pod travel allows families who have grown close to have memorable experiences together, and it allows travelers more control over who they see and how much risk they take on while traveling.
To take advantage of the travel trend of pod travel, make sure your marketing positions your destination as amenable for small group travel. Attracting these pods of travelers to your area will benefit all of your local businesses and attractions. Consider group travel discounts, small group tours and experiences, and virtual experience add-ons to familiarize these travelers with your area. Keep in mind that these pod travelers are likely to be some of your most safety-conscious guests, so continue to focus on cleanliness protocols, adherence to COVID-19 guidelines, and contactless interactions as you market your destinations as an easy place to practice social distancing.
Flexcations are a Win for Small Towns Across America
One of the biggest boons for 2021 and 2022 travel will fall to small towns in the U.S. During 2020, young, affluent, and educated people moved in droves from the densest neighborhoods in the biggest cities to smaller towns and suburbs nearby.
Now, they’re still working remotely and are ready to explore the communities around them. The upshot: as families continue to take advantage of flexible work and school schedules, they’ll take flexcations together to drivable locations and spend money in these smaller communities.
Don’t miss out on this 2021 travel trend! Your small town has a unique charm that you can use to draw the attention of travelers seeking a less touristy and more budget-friendly vacation experience. Highlight smaller experiences, local dining venues, cottages and villas that are family-friendly, edutainment opportunities, and outdoor events to draw these wandering families to small-town America.
More Road Trips & the Rise of RV Travel
According to Forbes, RV travel began to rise steeply in 2020 and shows no signs of slowing down in 2021. Similarly, a recent Airbnb survey shows 56% of Americans prefer destinations closer to home, while only 21% want to travel internationally.
This travel trend makes a lot of sense. Not only do road trips remove public transportation travel from the safety and logistics equation, they also provide travelers with an opportunity to explore at their own pace and go where the road takes them – something they have more time to do now.
When marketing your destination to travel-weary road warriors, focus on campsites with extra amenities such as swimming pools, lakes, and hiking trails. It also can’t hurt to shine a spotlight on nearby natural attractions, national parks, and outdoor adventures and venues like ziplines, rafting, open-air zoos, beaches, and mountains.
Outdoorsy, adventure travel is a travel trend for 2021 that goes hand-in-hand with the rise of RV travel, but it still deserves a mention of its own due to the marked increase in outdoor adventuring.
After so long being stuck indoors, 2021 may very well be the year we all appreciate the outdoors that much more. Outdoor travel has the added benefit of feeling safer and less restrictive. With travel restrictions and social distancing dominating our lives once again, the demand for COVID-safe travel options will continue to rise. For many people, outdoor adventures fit the bill.
Instead of crowded destinations, downtown hotspots, or packed concert venues, travelers in 2021 are opting for fresh air and wide-open spaces like national parks, safaris, and small towns with plenty of options for outdoor activities.
To take advantage of this trend, shift your marketing to highlight your destination’s outdoor activities, including hiking and biking trails, water activities, and open-air entertainment. For hotels and restaurants, think about drawing attention to your outdoor courtyards, pool, or large patio dining. Anything you can do to let travelers know they can spend some time outside will make your destination more attractive to this year’s vacationers.
In the travel industry, like most other industries, there are trends and fashions that influence customers. Capitalize on these travel trends by first and foremost marketing the safety measures being practiced in your area or within your local businesses.
No matter how you choose to market your destination this year, don’t ignore the tremendous opportunities that are created any time an industry is disrupted. Get creative, remember to think like your customers, and you’re likely to thrive in the coming months.