When individuals begin travelling in large numbers again, we’ve determined in Recovery and Rediscover: The Modern Traveller that each will have their own level of comfort and looking for different things in a vacation. But when will we reach pre-pandemic levels again? And when we do, how will each group book their vacation? Finally, where are they hoping to go? The modern traveller has been putting their plans in place for the last two years. Advertisers hoping to gain the attention of their target demographic need to understand with precision when they are making their travelling decisions and appeal to their needs and unique habits for booking.
It's happening now. And will continue to increase all year as more individuals organize their thoughts and finances. The end of 2021 saw a huge spike in people booking for the next year, one agency remarked, “bookings were going “gangbusters” this year, I would estimate that 70% of the people whose tickets I refunded [in 2020] have rebooked for 2022.” Finally, the dam has broken on travel and people are ready to be out again. And since the flood of bookings has begun, it's likely the spike in bookings will continue throughout the year. Much like the phenomenon of “revenge spending” that emerged at the end of the first wave, individuals are going to look for not just one vacation, but multiple different experiences. So, while a large number of travellers have already rebooked their lost vacations, there are plenty of opportunities available for advertisers to capitalize on the travel enthusiasm.
Destination Canada's Resident Sentiment Report outlines the readiness of Canadians to travel themselves as well as accept travellers into their province. Those ready to travel domestically are increasing steadily while many still remain hesitant about international travel.
For Atlantic Canada alone, the percentage of those who feel safe to travel to other provinces jumped 17% since November 2021, and 10% for those feeling safe to travel internationally, showing the growing confidence of individuals in adventuring outside their own communities.
We expect this confidence to grow as Canadians take the plunge and book their first experiences, creating a great opportunity for the tourism industry to provide support and guidance on not only where to go but how to book and travel safely and confidently.
And even as confidence grows among the general population, marketers should keep in mind that travellers are still wary of their safety as a top concern. Google Trends reported that during March 2022, related queries to "travel to Canada" saw a large increase in asking whether vaccinations were needed in travel in and out of the country. Those hoping to travel, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, are still wary of the way restrictions will impact their trip and this will continue as the situation develops into 2023 and beyond. Advertisers should be wary of this and prepared with up to date information on their websites, socials, and, if possible, in their ads.
Like many industries, individuals have shifted more toward digital means. Those who may not have been comfortable booking through an online agency and opted for an in-person meeting are now more likely to book online.
Not only this, but the “when” and the “what” of booking have shifted as well. As for the "when", “The booking window for flights is shrinking when compared to two years prior, according to travel search engine Kayak. And this is especially the case for international travel: Searches for flights within seven days have increased 50% as travellers become increasingly more flexible in their travel plans.” To avoid concerns about the spread of variants worsening changes to travel, people are either waiting until the last minute to book or taking vacations whenever they find the current circumstances appealing. Booking several months in advance is no longer smartly planning ahead, but putting the traveller in a place of limbo, not knowing what the world will look like far in advance. Thus, travellers are taking the leap when they feel the storm has quieted rather than planning and hoping their trip lines up with better times.
For changes in the “what” of booking, individuals who can afford it are opting to pay for premium airline seats. Some individuals – the Go-Getter or the Jet-Setter – are using their saved-up money to take more trips, while some demographics like the Explorer, may take this chance to treat themselves to a more luxurious experience.
As to "how" individual groups are booking their trips, we've seen changes in how cautious travellers are being when booking their trips. In March 2022, related topics to "travel" on Google Trends showed that not only were individuals still worried about their personal safety, but when booking, cautious about the safety of their trip. Travel insurance is now a must for many hoping to book in 2022 as they take actions to ensure that if they do book well ahead of time, they will be able to re-book easily for another date. Many that had never previously considered travel insurance will now pay the extra to make their whole experience safer.
To further understand these shifting habits, we looked at how each of our demographic groups has chosen to book, comparing the last year with 1-3 years ago. These shifts show not only someone's preference in booking through an agency website versus a hotel website, but where each group is most comfortable and what kind of trip they are likely taking.
Our youngest demographic, the Go-Getter, who is 20-29, prefers to book online. The percentage of this group that has booked online is higher than those who choose to book directly through an agent or airline. Though the hotel booking percentage is quite high as well, this would likely be for those vacations that don't require flights. As we determined in our last blog, the Go-Getter is taking small trips and one very expensive trip. They would be more likely to book their longer and larger vacations through websites - whether the airlines or agencies such as Travelocity or Expedia - and book hotels separately for both small and large trips.
This group was under-indexing against the national average traveller for the last 1-3 years as they focused more on local, small trips during the pandemic, and are now over-indexing on most bookings as they plan more elaborate travel. This is an enthusiastic group that can be reached and delighted in the online spaces they are comfortable with.
And though many Canadians are still uncomfortable with international travellers in their province, young people aged 18-34 from the United States polled much higher than older demographics on feeling safe about vacationing in Canada. 64% believed that Canada was safe to travel to compare with only 52% of those 35-54 and 44% of those 55+. This confidence comes from research they likely did online, with 40% believing most Canadians to be vaccinated while those numbers were only 26% of those 35-54 and 19% of those 55+. This demographic is ready and willing to learn what they need to feel positive about where, how, and when they are travelling. Advertisers will have plenty of opportunities to get in front of this demographic, with the biggest issue being an oversaturation of messaging to shine through.
The Busy Bee is a more neutral demographic when it comes to travel. Unlike the Go-Getter who sways heavily in one direction, inclined toward booking digitally, the Busy Bee is closer to the national averages across all types of booking. What is most fascinating about the booking habits of the Busy Bee is the clear shift in the last three years. While they surveyed as over-indexing on all forms of booking 1-3 years ago, they under-index on all forms for the last year. This shows their clear hesitancy for travel in the last year, especially large trips where they would need to book through a package or agent. When they have been booking, they prefer to do so individually for hotel and their airfare and are more inclined to book through a third-party site like Hotels.com or Expedia for the entire trip rather than on the service's website or calling the service to book. However, 60% of the Busy Bee demographic has been booking hotels directly through the hotel in the last year because these are likely the small, local trips they have been taking that they can drive to and thus, don't need to book through a third-party site for the best deal.
We anticipate that as this demographic does begin to travel again they will begin by continuing to book through third-party sites and as they take larger trips, we will see them turning back to the package tours they over-indexed on by 52% before the pandemic. According to the American Express 2022 Global Travel Trends report, "Seventy-six percent of respondents say they plan to travel more with their family in 2022 than they did in 2021, and 70 percent agree that they are planning to take their first international trip with their children since the pandemic." The pent-up demand for travel in this demographic is ready to burst, and though we expect to see a lot more vacations planned for the Busy Bee, they will still be looking for experiences that are safe for younger children who still may not be vaccinated.
The Jet-Setter, like the Busy Bee, is a demographic that sits closer to the national average on most of their booking choices. This is a group that travels more often than the other demographics and has continued to travel to further places even as the pandemic has slowed tourism. Through some of the shifts we can see in their booking habits, it's clear that more often they are turning to digital means of booking, likely being more comfortable in the last year to use these platforms. However, when it comes to larger and more extravagant trips, this demographic still relies on agents or packaged tours to create their experiences for them, opting to trust in established booking strategies.
We expect this demographic to travel more not only for leisure, but aid in the resurgence of business travel. Unlike pre-pandemic business travel, however, McKinsey points out that most of the return in the next few years will be to cultivate relationships with clients or businesses, rather than for meetings or operations trips. Advertisers targeting business travellers will need to switch up how they reach this group as their reasons for travelling have changed, "The bulk of business travel (60 percent of business-travel expenditure in 2019)—which will likely drive the rebound of corporate travel—will be fueled by the FOMO segment." The "Fear Of Missing Out" travellers will be looking for additional experiences to tack onto their business trips, or looking for experiences they can take with their clients or team.
Advertisers should be creative with their marketing strategies with this group as they will be travelling for unique experiences both in leisure and business travel.
The Explorer under-indexes across the board for booking habits but in the past year has greatly over-indexed in using a full-service agent to book travel. This indicated that this age group would be more comfortable handing over the control to another person, allowing research to be done on their behalf to ensure the best result.
Advertisers will need to address this demographic in a way that delights them without creating stress. Though many members of older groups have become more familiar with technology in the last few years, when booking something as important as travel, they are more likely to ask for help. Therefore, this demographic will be more fond of traditional advertisements like brochures or commercials that they can easily reference when gathering the help of an agent or family member.
With all of the changes in travellers' habits in the last few years on how they book, how can we tell what the future of the tourism industry will bring?
Even though marketers will have to keep a close eye on these changing habits, there are a few trends we anticipate will continue:
- Younger demographics will continue to take smaller trips, for the most part, occasionally taking a large trip to celebrate a big occasion.
- The Go-Getter and the Busy Bee will continue to rely on online means to book their trips, with older demographics slowly adopting this method over time.
- Older demographics will rely on agents and packages for booking to ensure they are creating a safe and well-researched trip experience.
- Business travel will continue to grow based on trips for connection rather than for management, slowing the return to "normal" for this type of trip.
While keeping these in mind, advertisers should use this time to try new things and be creative. The options will seem limitless for those who have been building trip anticipation for over two years and it is a marketer's job to show them why they should make one choice over another. We are stepping out into a different world and a good advertisement for any of these groups will focus on the unique experiences offered while maintaining a safe environment.