Auggie Insights

Traveling after COVID-19: 7 Emerging Trends

Thursday, Jun 11th, 2020

As a full-service marketing agency, we continue to regularly attend a variety of webinars and travel panel discussions to gauge the impact of COVID-19 on the industry. 

Despite the great amount of uncertainty, travel sentiment is positive. According to U.S. Travel, nearly half (45%) of respondents are currently planning some type of road trip through the end of August. 

As we help our tourism and hospitality clients attract these future travelers through strategic recovery efforts, we’re taking a closer look at seven rising trends we anticipate becoming part of “the new normal.”

New Health and Safety Standards

One of the biggest topics across the globe when it comes to the future of travel is new health and safety measures. A recent study by Travelzoo/STR reports 77% of travelers want to see cleaning guidelines before they book a trip and 54% want to see safety guidelines. 

U.S. Travel notes the travel industry has come together, working with health and medical experts, to reach collective agreement on a core set of health and safety guidance that the industry may adapt to their businesses. From transmission barriers to enhanced sanitation practices, new health and safety standards within destinations will play an essential role as travel resumes. 

Un-Travel (Virtual Experiences)

We’ve all seen virtual experiences take over social media and travel sections of traditional publications at the onset of the outbreak…and they’re here to stay. 

According to The Harris Poll, 67% of Americans are now more likely to have a virtual happy hour with friends versus going to a bar (33%). And even though 46% miss attending sporting events, nearly three quarters (73%) are more likely to live stream sports at home versus attending live in person (27%). 

So how can destinations compete with the sentiment of choosing to move some activities home? DMOs, attractions, wineries, restaurants and more can continue to maintain brand awareness through providing ways visitors can explore their offerings remotely. Whether it’s sticking to virtual tastings, live-streaming events or providing 360-degree photos of attractions, these offerings are important in keeping people engaged and inspired to visit in person in the near future. 

Another reason virtual experiences are here to stay is over-tourism. It’s been among one of the most pressing issues even before the outbreak, and the surprising ecological benefits of shelter-in-place orders across the world proved virtual tourism can ease the industry’s carbon footprint. While virtual travel will never replace real travel, it has the potential to bring destinations closer to people and encourage more travelers to embrace sustainable practices. 

Missed Milestones

2020 will be a year that’s remembered forever, and it’s not just because of the pandemic, but how we celebrated (or didn’t) a major milestone in life. From weddings and birthdays to graduations – travel plans from all over the world were turned upside down this year. But as we begin to ease back into traveling again, these missed milestones will be among the top reasons people will book travel – to celebrate and to reconnect. 

via GIPHY

These celebratory trips may come in two forms – solo or small group travel. If you’ve been around family nonstop for months, you may just take that trip to wine country or to the beach by yourself to get some much needed alone time. 

On the other hand, those travelers who haven’t seen any family or friends for months may find it more appealing to plan a small group vacation as one of their first trips out of the house.

Mid-Life Gap Years

As a result of the pandemic, we, as a society, are re-evaluating many processes and systems in place. 

In light of that, the affluent traveler will also be re-evaluating their priorities in life, leading some to take a mid-life gap year to focus on exploring the world, spending more quality time with loved ones and to no longer postpone that bucket list trip. Additionally, our friends in the travel media world are predicting international trips will become longer, more intentional and meaningful.

Those who do not have the luxury to take a full-on sabbatical might at least become more proactive on National Plan for Vacation Day. According to U.S. Travel, each year Americans leave 768 million vacation days unused. With the pandemic highlighting the joys of travel and reprioritization of priorities, our hope is that people will no longer wait to take a vacation, even if it’s a short staycation.

The Harris Poll also found that despite financial hardship (31% have had to cut back on savings), Americans are nearly twice as likely to be planning major gift purchases when businesses reopen than they were five weeks ago (21% vs. 12%). 

This may also imply booking travel could be among major areas of spending. According to Destination Analysts, travel remains recognized for its positive emotional benefits for families. For those American travelers under shelter-in-place orders, 59.1% feel that traveling together when the coronavirus situation is over would be good for their family.

Road Trips

As we begin to travel again, exploring closer to home will be a consistent desire for travelers. 

According to U.S. Travel, nearly 45% of people are planning some type of road trip (an average of roughly 400 miles away from home) through the end of August. U.S. Travel also found one in five travelers are willing to drive 500 or more miles one-way for a leisure trip during the next six months.

Venturing out is correlated with distance and familiarity, suggesting road trips over long haul flights may be this summer’s top trend according to the Harris Poll. U.S. Travel also suggests road trips and travel to destinations closer to home will likely drive much of the recovery demand as the pandemic fades. The percentage of travelers who agreed that they are more likely to travel by car after COVID-19 passes recently increased from 35% to 47% in just a week. And the percentage who said they are more likely to travel to destinations closer to home increased from 36% to 42% in a week. 

As destinations navigate the new normal – road tips, day trips and staycation getaway itineraries will be key in getting visitors to your area. 

Outdoor Itineraries  

As travel resurfaces, people will likely still stay extremely mindful about taking additional precautions as they venture out. 

Before the pandemic, solo travel was already growing strong. Moving forward, outdoor, open-air destinations that provide a remote, socially distant experience, will be in high demand for travelers across the board. In fact, campgrounds, glamping spots and state/national parks are anticipated to be among the first destinations to see recovery, whether their visitors are coming for a staycation or a long-haul trip.

Destination Analysis reports more than half of those who will take a vacation this year still have not fully decided on where they will go, although beaches, parks and other natural environments appear particularly attractive to this group right now.

Providing potential visitors with itinerary suggestions relating to a destination’s outdoor experiences will keep your travel brand toward the top of the “must visit” list during the trip planning phase of the consumer journey.

The Rise of Second Cities

As the world eases further into the new post-pandemic reality and travel expands, we’re very likely to see the continuous rise of “second cities” – smaller, less known city alternatives to over-populated destinations. 

This was also already a growing trend even before the pandemic. At the beginning of 2020, travelers were starting to look for new destinations that were previously unknown and underrated. 

Not only do second cities and small towns open up new horizons, but they also aid in preserving the most popular destinations. In addition, as travelers begin to seek more remote experiences, they will turn to second cities to provide them an urban vacation without the crowds. This will definitely be the time to shine for second cities, but they will need to ensure their unique offerings and stories are communicated clearly, as travelers will be seeking small destinations they feel a connection with and those they can get a truly immersive experience from.

A crisis always leads to new trends and strengthens the trends that were already in the making. As the industry recovers, it’s crucial to understand these changes in order to create relevant and effective marketing and content campaigns. And, to rise above the competition. 

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