Last month, while looking for a leisure vacation to nearby countries, I was somewhat nonplussed – some countries had 14-day quarantines, some lacked affordable flight and accommodation options, some were just closed for the travelers and some were simply too far away.
After all the research, I ended up opting for a domestic trip because of the complicated patchwork of travel rules that I would have to navigate if I was to travel further afield.
The data speaks volumes
The US Holiday Shopping survey that Accenture conducted in August 2021 of more than 1,500 US consumers shows that I’m not the only one facing this conundrum.
The data showed that 38% of those asked are still not comfortable about being in crowded places such as airports or planes, 26% are worried about the affordability of travel options and 22% about restrictions which might come into place during their trip. I certainly understand their concerns as COVID and its many variants continues to play peek-a-boo in countries across the world.
Source: Accenture 2021 US Holiday Shopping Survey. Q37: If you are not planning to travel (but would like to), what factors prevent you from doing so?
But, given that the same research also showed that 43% of those asked said they are planning to travel as much as or more than they did pre-pandemic in 2019 in the next six months, is there anything travel companies can do to reassure travelers?
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How ready are we?
When we look at Accenture’s Travel Readiness Index, which provides a multi-country view on travel readiness by evaluating factors such as health risk, the ability to move around the country and economics, we can see that by October, the Index had reached 0.73 (on a scale from 0 to 1). An uptick of 6% from September and -23% from pre-Covid baseline. Good news, right?
Our Index tells us that overall, countries’ “readiness” to travel is increasing. The data shows us that pent-up demand is increasing. But, here’s the catch - the ease of travel is not.
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If brands are to capture that pent-up demand over the next few months, it’s important they know how the consumer has changed during these difficult times to understand what they are looking for when it comes to ease of travel.
Consumer expectations and needs have become more complex than ever before. According to Accenture’s Life Reimagined survey of more than 25,000 consumers across 22 countries, motivations have shifted from primarily price and quality to values such as health and safety, ease and convenience, care, trust and reputation.
Not surprisingly, 72% of consumers expect the companies they’re doing business with to understand how their needs and objectives changed during this time of disruption, and to address those new needs.
One example for travel would be ensuring that destinations are marketed to consumers based on the locations which are open and accessible to them at the time and providing them with reassurance around cancellation policies.
Interestingly, our research also says that customers are willing to pay more for brands that can give them exactly what they want. Almost half of those questioned said that they would pay travel and hospitality companies extra for offerings and options focused on sanitary and safe environments. And they said they would switch if they didn’t find any value.
There is no doubt that these new needs stem from the pandemic, and we must understand what will make them comfortable enough to travel again.
New priorities in action
Accenture’s US Holiday Shopping survey shows that 34% of those surveyed consider clarity on refunds a priority. 29% put timely information on travel near the top of their list, and almost one-fourth believe that provisions for health & safety are the most important factors for them.
The positive effects of these kinds of measures can be seen in our Travel Readiness Index if we take a look at Turkey, that holds the leading position in October. From the very beginning, the country has kept its travel communications clear and timely1. Travel agencies have begun early booking drives for the 2022 tourism season, promising "attractive and inexpensive pricing"2.
When we zoom into the demographics, the same survey showed that actually more than half of gen Z and younger millennials are interested in spending on experiences and were eager to travel during the holidays. Almost half of the younger generation reported being interested in spending on domestic travel, virtual experiences and booking a vacation, while almost one-third are thinking about overseas travel, whilst the older generation is being more cautious.
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Looking to the new year
As we embark on 2022, there are certainly causes for concern and potential stumbling blocks in the shape of new variants, but there are also plenty of signs of optimism.
At this stage, we can’t expect the Index to return to 2019 levels. There are a whole host of other factors that brands need to take into account now such as such as sustainability, health and safety, and clear communications. Being where we were before the pandemic is no longer the best barometer of success.
Travel companies have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to reset and rebuild. Their future success will be determined by how well they respond to their ‘new’ customers’ needs.
1 The role of travel announcements on travel recovery
2 Turkey's Tourism Agencies Start Early Bookings For 2022 To Make Travel 'affordable'