The pandemic has certainly changed everyday life in America and that extends to travel as well. Despite many stay at home orders and social distancing, travelers are finding new ways to explore the world, albeit closer to home.
Virtuoso travel advisors understand that now is the time to reimagine the industry during this downturn. There is an overall agreement that travel will look different coming out of this experience, and many believe that it will be six months to a year before bookings will come back.
Virtuoso has identified some current new travel trends that reveal how travel has been transformed by COVID-19.
The luxury network has found that before the pandemic, short, weekend getaways were one of the most popular types of trips. Now, with work from home and virtual learning, people are taking trips that are weeks long.
“We see really extended stays,” said Philippe Zuber, COO and incoming CEO at Kerzner International. “It’s not unusual to have a guest ask for 28 days of vacation. They are really asking for more stability, trust and a longer engagement with the resort and I believe that will continue in the future.”
Another trend is multi-family travel, which has in some ways replaced multigenerational travel. Families are forming travel pods.
“We are seeing vacation pods and travel pods coming up when two families or more who have the same philosophy on social distancing come together,” said Misty Belles, managing director of global public relations at Virtuoso.
In Virtuoso’s recent Flash Five Survey on July 24, results showed that 79 percent of families would take part in a travel pod.
Jetsetting has, for the moment, been replaced by road-tripping, which many see as a safer option to flying during the pandemic. Jet-setting has also largely halted for Americans since they are no longer allowed entry into many countries around the world due to the severity of the outbreak in the country.
Eighty-seven percent of travelers surveyed by Virtuoso replied that they wanted to take a road trip this summer. However, although travelers may have pressed pause on a jet-set lifestyle for some socially distanced road tripping, they don’t count air travel out just yet.
Sixty-six percent of respondents to Virtuoso’s survey indicated that they would get on an airplane right now and that they would also pay extra to keep the middle seat open with 73 percent saying they would be willing to.
Another trend is the abandonment of the sought-after turndown service, which has now been replaced by the turning down of services. Travelers want as little intervention by others in their travel experiences at the moment. They want contactless everything from hotel check in to room service to car rentals and more.
Global entry’s allure has also been replaced by the idea of an immunity passport, identifying travelers as safe to explore and COVID-free.
One of the greatest benefits of the pandemic to the travel advisor: The age of the DIY vacation experiences is over. The allure of planning a trip independently has been marred by images of passengers stranded in airports around the world without flights or hotels and everything canceled.
For travel advisors making new bookings, ocean cruising and beach vacations are some of the most popular trips requested at the moment and heading into 2021. Right now, these bookings are largely domestic beach vacations, but that is slowly changing to international trips.
Seventy-six percent of travelers asked where they were dreaming about going currently by Virtuoso said the beach.
Virtuoso’s survey data shows strong bookings for cruising in 2021, currently outpacing 2018 levels. This interest is buoyed by river cruising, which is up 14 percent in 2021. Ocean cruising is down by just single digits, and traditional cruise clients are still willing to sail. However, just 37 percent of people would take a cruise right now.
“The people who cruise and know that product are very loyal and will be back,” said Belles.
One of the biggest shifts to come as a result of the pandemic is a desire for clear, transparent and flexible cancellation policies. “People do not really want to be locked into a decision and that really speaks to a lot of the unknowns that are in the world right now,” said Belles.
Looking at who wants to travel, it’s not a surprise that older travelers are largely choosing to wait out the pandemic while younger ones are ready to go.
One hundred percent of 18- to 25-year-olds responded they were ready to travel in the Flash Five Survey. Gen-X and Millennials were about a 60-40 and 50-50 split on their willingness to travel now, and just around 20 percent of those over 56 years of age were willing to go now.
“There’s a huge desire for wanting to travel,” said Geoffrey Kent, founder and co-chairman of Abercrombie & Kent. “They aren’t canceling but taking their bookings from 2020 to 2021.”
Navigating the new normal is different for travel advisors, too.
“Travel advisors need to know where clients can get a COVID test,” said Becky Powell, president of Protravel International. “Health and safety is the number-one concern of clients who are wanting to travel. They want to know all of the requirements; will they have to quarantine when they get there, when they get home; what are their employers allowing?”
“We were training our travel advisors on destinations,” she added. “Now we are training them on the health and security of a country and we are having to partner with companies that we usually work with on the business travel side. They are training our advisors to make sure that they have the most up-to-date information.”
Once society can move beyond the pandemic, the key trends of the future will also look different from the norms of pre-pandemic travel. Advisors will need to go forward in a new normal.
One of the trends that Zuber sees for the future is interest in large-scale accommodation. “One of [the new trends] is that we see our larger suites, private homes and big villas are selling out first. People really love to enjoy a bigger space than they used to and a private pool is a must,” he said.
When cruising returns, Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, president and CEO of Celebrity Cruises, sees a different experience. “Guests will want to engage with destinations different,” said Lutoff-Perlo. “One of the opportunities is to accelerate what we have been trying to do, which is to partner closely with these destinations in order to immerse guests in a new way.”
Classic aspects of the cruise experience will also go digital such as Muster 2.0, which is an online version of the muster experience, meaning no more large gatherings on ship decks for safety drills.
One thing that hasn’t changed is travelers’ passion for adventure, which Kent predicts will be of even more interest in the future.
“Adventure and experiences is what travelers want,” he said. “Major cities are going to be out and they will look for villas and experiences for the family.”
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