What US travellers are looking for in 2022 and beyond

By Kate Birch
From tailored trips and longer stays, to flexible bookings, outdoor adventures and philantourism, here’s what US travellers will want in 2022

International travel is starting to get off the ground again. Following a 69.4% decline in global international spending on travel in 2020, a loss of almost US$4.5 trillion, spending has risen 9.3% in 2021, according to the New Trending in Travel report from WTTC and Trip.com Group.

And alongside the easing of country restrictions and continuing rise in vaccination rates, global spending on travel is expected to rise significantly by 93.8% in 2022, overtaking domestic spending.

And the Americas is expected to lead the recovery with 36.8% projected growth of travel and tourism GDP compared to the 31.7% global average, with the Caribbean out in front, followed by North America and Latin America.

But when travel does return more evenly in 2022, it may look very different to how it has been in the past, the pandemic having altered irrevocably consumer demands and behaviour long-term.

As well as demanding more sustainable travel options, wellness-focused retreats and holidays that feature outdoor activities, travellers will be looking for longer stays, tailored travel and more flexible bookings. And younger travellers, reportedly the most willing to return to the skies, will be inspired increasingly by social media and especially Instagram.

Here, we summarise the Trending in Travel report to reveal what consumers will want from travel in 2022 and beyond and how traveller behaviour has shifted, from how they book to what they expect.

Staycations likely to continue as holiday mainstay

Fluctuating restrictions on international travel have resulted in the booming of domestic tourism with domestic hotel bookings surging more than 200%. Staycations are likely to remain in demand and even increase, with more than half of travellers in the US planning to take a domestic holiday in the next 12 months, according to YouGov research.

Longer stay trips and workations

Holidaymakers are looking for new ways to have meaningful travel experiences by working around current restrictions, including taking longer trips. Global Data found that one in four travellers favoured staying 10+ nights during 2021, while the average trip length in 2019 was 4.45 days (domestic) and 9.22 days (international).

This trend towards extended stays is expected to remain in the longer term as travellers attempt to make the most of trips taken, and also to have more meaningful experiences.

According to an American Express survey, more than half of respondents in North America and 73% in Mexico say they are interested in taking extended trips to experience new destinations. And if travellers can combine a holiday with remote working, something becoming increasingly likely with workforce hybrid models, then even longer stays are set to trend upwards and 'Bleisure' (business meets pleasure) trips will be more in demand.

Shorter booking windows and flexible bookings

Uncertain and fast-changing travel restrictions have resulted in a shift in travellers’ booking habits, with consumers less willing to book travel months in advance and seeking flexible bookings. Travellers are increasingly choosing flights and accommodation based on simple cancellation policies, with 76% saying they would be more likely to book a hotel with flexible cancellation and refund policies in 2020 compared to less than 20% pre-pandemic, according to research from Skift & Oracle Hospitality.  

Shorter booking windows are also becoming more common too, with Trip.com’s data revealing that hotel booking windows dropped from 32 days in the first quarter of 2019 to 10 days in 2021, and Hyatt said in a statement that 65% of full-service hotel bookings were made four days in advance during June 2020 in the US, the shortest transient booking window the company had ever seen.

Nature-based, outdoor and philantourism trips

In the wake of COVID-19, consumers are increasingly seeking out secondary cities and places, rural areas and nature-based destinations. American Express research found that over half of consumers are likely to take an outdoor trip now than before the pandemic and 47% want their next trip to be in nature. This is particularly prevalent in the US with 7 in 10 travellers anticipating visiting an outdoor destination such as a beach, lake, mountain or desert, according to data from Phocuswright.

Pent-up wanderlust has also given rise to increasing demand for adventure, with 69% of travellers interested in visiting lesser-known destinations, according to American Express. And as travellers increasingly look to lessen their footprint and enhance their social impact, nearly three-quarters are hoping to support local communities through their travel, with 59% interested in ‘philantourism’ – where you choose an experience or vacation to support a destination through tourism.

The philantourism trend was already picking up traction pre-pandemic, with 51% of global travellers willing to exchange their original destination for a lesser-known but similar alternative if it had a smaller footprint and greater community impact, according to Booking.com. This trend remains on the rise, with increasing consumer interest in sustainable travel, philantourism and rural tourism. 

Sustainable travelling and hotels

Globally, the pause in travel inspired 83% of global travellers to make sustainability a priority in the future, finds 2021 Booking.com research. When it comes to waste and recycling, 84% of travellers plan to reduce their waste and recycle plastic when visiting a destination and would be more supportive of hotels that did not provide disposable products.

Following consumer demand for more information on the environmental impact of their flight choices, Skyscanner launched its Greener Choice label which indicates which flights emit 4% less CO2 than the average emissions for a specific route.

Wellness packages and self-care holidays

In April 2021, McKinsey found that 79% of consumers believe wellness is important and 42% consider it a top priority, with consumers in the US and Brazil reporting a substantial increase in the prioritisation of wellness over the past two to three years.

Surveying consumers in 48 countries in 2020, the Wellness Tourism Association found that 78% already included wellness activities when they travelled, while in 2021, according to Tripadvisor.com, 45% of US leisure travellers said they were seeking relaxation on their next trip. This supported the sentiments of 67% of consumers in an Accenture survey who stated they would spend more time and money on self-care and wellbeing in 2021.

Evidently, consumer sentiment and activity around wellness travel shows increased interest in this type of tourism, and with prolonged travel restrictions into 2021 and heightened awareness of wellness, the desire to spend more time and money on self-care, wellness, and stress relief is likely to continue growing.

Tourism Fiji is successfully positioning itself as a wellness destination. With Fiji’s 333 islands set to reopen for tourism in December 2021, Tourism Fiji has packaged the destination to meet the needs of wellness travellers, with the website allowing travellers to choose an activity they enjoy, helping them define their holiday by what activity signifies wellness and self-care for them.

Enhanced health and hygiene measures

The implementation of enhanced health and hygiene measures remains a top priority for consumers worldwide, because while price still drives bookings, consumers are now equally focused on health and safety.

Amadeus found that 47% of global travellers cite a COVID-19 related factor as the most influential criteria in choosing a destination and two-thirds expect an understanding of the COVID-19 prevention measures in place prior to booking. And more than half said that knowing the pandemic prevention measures upfront before booking either flights or hotel was very important.

More inspiring travel stories via social media

When it comes to how people book travel, there is a clear generational divide. Unsurprisingly, Visa found that younger generations are predominantly booking through smartphones.

Social media and digital marketing have been powerful marketing and selling tools for travellers and will continue to be in the long term, requiring more destinations and businesses to continue to respond with innovative and engaging strategies. As travellers plan and book their next trips, younger generations will continue to seek engaging and interactive content on digital channels when choosing where to go. Millennials and Gen Zers who are not already travelling will plan to travel in the short to medium term while older generations, who are more risk-sensitive on average, are likely to travel thereafter.

Tailored and personalised trips

Travellers will seek to limit COVID-19 exposure by creating more tailored trips to meet their needs, according to 2021 research from Flywire.com. Nearly three-quarters of leisure travellers across the US and Canada plan to spend more money on travel in 2022 than they have in the past five years and 76% to spend more for a trip with additional health and safety protocols.

The luxury travel market, which was valued at US$945.6 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach US$ 1.12 trillion in 202762, has always offered more exclusive access to amenities and travel products making it an enticing way to travel for those interested in limiting their exposure to those outside of their travel group.

 

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Read the full Trending in Travel report

 

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