Travel trends in hospitality as pent-up demand outweighs global uncertainties

Jul 20, 2022
Pent-up travel demand sees Americans eager to experience adventure or visit friends and family, outweighing concerns about current events and COVID-19. What's more, travelers continue to plan indulgent trips, acting on what’s known as “revenge travel,” where people finally follow through on events like weddings and vacations that were canceled or postponed during the pandemic. In fact, 57% of 2022 travelers consider themselves “revenge travelers,” according to an AdTheorent Report.

While the global travel industry recovery is at 75% compared to what it was in 2019, U.S. travel already reached 99.3% of it 2019 levels as of May 2022. Aviation performance is up to 85%—upward from its 58% levels in April 2022. Meanwhile, hotel performance already reached and surpassed its 2019 levels.

Though cases remain high, primarily due to the emergence of new subvariants, travelers concerns about COVID-19 continue to decline as pandemic fatigue takes hold. As of April 2022, only 23% of survey respondents indicated they are very concerned about the outbreak, and 21% report life strongly impacted by the outbreak—roughly half of the levels reported during this time in 2021, just before vaccines were widely available to adults in the United States.

While Americans are concerned about the economy and personal finances, they continue to plan for travel, with a high rate of 34% expecting to spend more on travel in the next 12 months and 83% planning to splurge this year, according to AdTheorent.

Shifting motivations for travelers

In addition to relaxing and spending time with loved ones, a recent Morning Consult report finds that a significant portion of travelers express a desire to travel to change their current perspective, seeking a new environment, mindset, or achieving a goal. The American Express 2022 Global Travel Trends Report shows that impact and purpose drive booking decisions, with 81% of respondents wanting to travel to destinations that support cultural immersion and local economies. Additionally, 62% of respondents agree that they want to be more thoughtful about where and how they travel. As such, top activities that interest consumers regarding positive local impact include:

  • 55%: Eating and shopping at small businesses
  • 42%: Visiting a landmark or heritage event
  • 40%: Visiting a national park
  • 37%: Visiting a farmers’ market
  • 36%: Visiting museums or attending cultural tours
  • 35%: Partaking in outdoor activities

The same study also found that 86% of respondents expect to spend more or the same on travel in 2022 compared to a typical year prior to the pandemic and that 65% agree that they would rather take a dream vacation than purchase a new car. Of millennials surveyed, 58% are willing to travel solo to visit their dream destination.

As the world continues to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic and motivations shift for travelers, we see four key trends impacting travel and hospitality loyalty:

  1. Inspiring the next (group) travel destinations
  2. Repositioning business offerings
  3. Increasing program utility
  4. Reducing friction throughout the journey
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Trend #1: Inspiring the next (group) travel destination

Travel companies are packaging travel inspiration in the form of group travel, appealing to traveler demand for new experiences that help them get away, experience something new, and visit bucket-list locations. The American Express 2022 Global Travel Trends Report finds that 79% of respondents are most looking forward to traveling with their family in 2022, and 76% plan to travel more with family this year than in 2021. Additionally, 58% agree that they are more interested in multi-generation trips than ever before.

Preferred Hotels & Resorts are taking group travel to the next level. With travelers planning to spend more on upcoming trips, Preferred Hotels & Resorts’ Buyouts offering is appealing for those looking for a luxurious experience at boutique properties. For a limited time, guests can book a full floor—or even an entire property—for group events. Today’s travel planners are able to demand and receive a more personal experience that includes the choice and convenience of a more inclusive and exclusive space for their groups.

Screen tourism is also inspiring fans to travel to set replicas of their favorite TV shows, many of which they binged during the pandemic. Popular tour group Contiki partnered with Amazon Prime to offer a Hawaii trip based on the theme of “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” In Britain, fans of “Bridgerton” can attend Lady Whistledown-themed teas for a glimpse of high society. In Wyoming, fans of the hit drama “Yellowstone” can cosplay as characters when visiting the national park. These types of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities create an emotional connection to the specific trip that keeps travelers wanting more.

Group travel is also luring travelers who express interest in exploration, slow travel, mindful connection, and lifelong learning. An example of this in action is through group travel company Sojrn that allows people to “study abroad” while working remotely. Unlike the digital nomad who will travel from place to place for extended periods, the study abroad travelers are set up with housing, workspaces, and communities of support for their industry or areas of interest for a month at a time. This fulfills a growing desire that millennials and gen z-ers have to fully immerse themselves when they travel by living like a local.

Opportunity: Help travelers fulfill their (trip) purpose  

Brands can be proactive in helping fulfill a sense of purpose for their customers. Whether it’s helping them to relax, make memories with friends and family, or experience something new, travelers want to create memorable experiences that help them make up for lost time. To support these goals, leverage existing trip add-ons or services, partnerships, and member data to provide personalized offers.

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Trend #2: Repositioning business offerings  

Travel companies must prepare for the future of business travel. At the moment, we see “business” perks rolled into benefits for frequent travelers with offerings targeting specific types of business travelers beyond the corporate traveler.  

Overall, business travel bookings are 66% below pre-pandemic levels according to industry trade group Airlines for America. However, the share of business trips that included a weekend increased by 23 percentage points to 38% since 2019. Frequent pre-pandemic business travelers are reemerging, with one-quarter saying that they plan to travel for business within the next three months. Those who said that they would never travel again for business dropped from a high of 42% in February to 35% in March.  

When it comes to “bleisure” travelers—those combining business and leisure—fast and free Wi-Fi is table stakes, followed by easy access to relaxing activities. According to a Morning Consult report, the majority of trips among bleisure travelers are less than a week in length, and more likely to involve traditional hotels and domestic flights.  

To address the evolving “business traveler,” companies are offering business perks by way of partnerships for the frequent (versus business-defined) traveler. For example, for a limited time in 2022, top-tiered Mosaic members in JetBlue’s TrueBlue loyalty program can utilize complimentary Business First upgrades on the Heathrow Express and a FoundersCard membership, which provides travel-related discounts all over the world for entrepreneurs and other business travelers. Adding value and utility through partnerships is a smart way to keep travelers participating in loyalty programs between business trips.  

Companies are also reimagining remote work. As an example, World of Hyatt added a new package to its Work from Hyatt offerings. Guests may now choose to host a team offsite, where the agenda can include curated team-building experiences like wine tastings, art tours, or karaoke, in addition to tailored meeting spaces and catering, without requiring attendees to stay overnight. Providing travelers with choice and flexibility is a great way to demonstrate empathy, as wants and needs change based on who they are traveling with and the purpose of their trip.  

Looking to appeal to niche business travelers, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts plans to launch “Project Echo” in Summer 2022. This is the company’s first economy extended-stay brand that will cater to essential workers, relocating workers, or construction workers. These properties will offer 300-square-foot studios with kitchenettes as well as public amenities like fitness centers and guest laundry. Recognizing that both business travel is becoming more diverse and investing in a business model to meet the new demand shows an understanding of traveler data and their needs.  

Opportunity: Recalibrate business offerings 

As many brands have increasingly focused on leisure travel, business travel still exists—though it may look different than before. Travelers are bringing work on vacations or adding vacation days onto existing work trips. Repackage “business” perks as benefits for frequent travelers who may be traveling for both leisure and business or offer them as “add-on” services for any traveler to purchase on a use-by-use basis.

Trend #3: Increasing program utility

Pandemic behavior has significantly impacted frequently changing program value, from increasing point utility, rewarding everyday earnings, and placing more power into guests’ hands by offering them more control in their experience.

American Airlines simplified and relaunched its AAdvantage loyalty program earlier this year. Now, members only need to track one metric—miles—to earn status. The intent behind the change is to provide more ways for members to earn status, whether that’s through everyday spending with co-branded credit cards or partners, or completed flights.

Another example of a redesigned loyalty program extending value is Margaritaville Hotels & Resorts. The company launched a new program that does away with any type of status-tied perks, replacing it with a “surprise and delight” program. Choices include things like room upgrades, property credits, and more. The expectation is that over time, perks will become more personalized based on guest engagement.

Some brands are selling membership outright. IHG Hotels & Resorts offers IHG One Rewards members the option to automatically earn Platinum Elite status for $200 or 40,000 points when they purchase an InterContinental Ambassador membership. The ability for travelers to buy their way to a more exclusive experience has become more important since the pandemic drastically impacted the number of points, miles, and/or perks earned in a typical year for many elite members.

Opportunity: Assess your program’s attainability and value 

When it comes to increasing program utility, now is the time to evaluate the sustainability and value of all loyalty programs. Achievable benefits that are also valuable keep programs sticky. Furthermore, brands that clearly differentiate unique value are more likely to become lifestyle brands with a dedicated base of highly-engaged members who are also advocates. Partner with everyday, non-travel brands to stay engaged with travelers when they aren’t in the air or on the road.

Trend #4: Reducing friction throughout the journey 

Innovative technology is a constant trend, especially when it comes to traveling. As always, the heart of the travel experience is about meeting and exceeding expectations when it comes to convenience and value. According to Travel Daily News, the new tourism consumer is more digital. The use of digital channels in making reservations has almost doubled with 47% of consumers buying their tickets online, on a computer or smartphone, compared to 28% in 2019, according to Arival.

Taking advantage of using digital tools to streamline the travel journey, Icelandair passengers flying between Iceland and North America or Europe can now pre-purchase in-flight meals at least 24 hours in advance of takeoff. By allowing passengers to make selections in the same place they manage bookings, Icelandair can better prepare in-flight service and cut down on food waste, supporting sustainability goals while improving the experience.

Volario, a new online booking platform, is also using the digital space to reduce pain points for travelers. Volario makes it easy for travelers to plan complex itineraries that may include multiple flight segments, passport checks, and gate changes. When the trip starts, Volario delivers travel updates, coordinates baggage check-throughs, and offers other troubleshooting support, including hotel replacement, if needed. Providing both proactive and reactive communication to travelers throughout their journey helps make the experience more enjoyable as it alleviates the unknown.

Similarly, VeriFLY is a digital app that airlines and other travel brands use to verify passenger credentials and documentation required for travel, like COVID-19 test results or passenger locator forms. In addition, travelers using the app experience a smoother check-in with partnered brands like American Airlines and British Airways.

Opportunity: Continuously improve the travel journey 

Technology is always evolving to alleviate customer pain points. While it’s important for brands to keep up, those who lead the way or offer unique value through new innovations gain a competitive advantage. Keep an eye on potential partnerships with tech start-ups with a focus on making the travel journey more seamless.

Brands continue to evolve to meet changing traveler expectations

Travelers seek adventure and connection, despite worries about new strains of COVID-19, inflation, stock market performance, or the ongoing Russia-Ukraine War. Savvy brands are reevaluating their offerings to meet traveler expectations around why people want to travel and how people want to engage with brands and their partners. While consumers with high purchasing power look forward to traveling, the biggest opportunity for travel brands to leverage pent-up demand is to acquire and nurture new customers, as well as deepen their relationships with existing customers to convert them into loyal members.