Last month, while researching leisure vacations in neighboring countries, I was somewhat puzzled – some countries had 14-day quarantines, some lacked affordable flight and accommodation options, some were simply closed for travelers and some were just too far. After all the research, I ended up opting for domestic travel due to the convoluted patchwork of travel rules I would have to follow if I were 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 am not alone in facing this conundrum.
Data showed that 38% of respondents are still not comfortable being in crowded places such as airports or planes, 26% are worried about the affordability of travel options and 22% of restrictions that may arise during their trip. I certainly understand their concerns as COVID and its many variants continue to play hide and seek in countries around the world.
But, given that the same research also showed that 43% of respondents said they plan to travel as much or more than before the pandemic in 2019 over the next six months, is there anything what can travel agencies do to reassure travellers?
Are we ready?
When we look at Accenture’s Travel Readiness Index, which provides a multi-country view of travel readiness by assessing factors such as health risk, ability to move around the country and economic , we can see that in October the index had reached 0.73 (on a scale of 0 to 1). An increase of 6% compared to September and -23% compared to the pre-Covid benchmark. Good news, right?
Our index tells us that, overall, the “propensity” of countries to travel is increasing. The data shows us that pent-up demand is increasing. But here’s the catch – ease of movement is not.
If brands are to capture this pent-up demand over the next few months, it’s important they know how the consumer has changed in these trying times to understand what they’re looking for when it comes to ease of travel.
Consumer expectations and needs have become more complex than ever. According to Accenture’s Life Reimagined survey of more than 25,000 consumers in 22 countries, motivations shifted from price and quality to values such as health and safety, ease and convenience, care, trust and reputation.
Unsurprisingly, 72% of consumers expect the companies they do business with to understand how their needs and goals have changed during this time of disruption, and to respond to those new needs.
An example for travel would be ensuring destinations are marketed to consumers based on which places are open and accessible to them at that time and reassuring them about cancellation policies.
Interestingly, our research also indicates that customers are willing to pay more for brands that can give them exactly what they want. Nearly half of respondents said they would pay travel and hospitality companies extra for offers and options focused on sanitary and safe environments. And they said they’d change if they found no value.
There is no doubt that these new needs stem from the pandemic, and we need to understand what will make them comfortable enough to travel again.
New priorities in action
Accenture’s US holiday shopping survey shows that 34% of respondents consider refund clarity a priority. 29% place timely travel information at the top of their list, and nearly a quarter believe health and safety provisions are the most important factors to them.
The positive effects of these kinds of measures can be seen in our Travel Readiness Index if we take a look at Turkey, which took the top spot in October. From the very beginning, the country has kept its travel communications clear and timely1. Travel agencies have launched early booking campaigns for the 2022 tourist season, promising “attractive and inexpensive prices”2.
When we look at demographics, the same survey showed that, in fact, more than half of Gen Zers and younger Millennials are interested in spending on experiences and were eager to travel during the holidays. Nearly half of the younger generation said they are interested in spending on domestic travel, virtual experiences and booking vacations, while nearly a third consider traveling abroad, while the older generation is more cautious.
Looking towards the new year
As we enter 2022, there are certainly cause for concern and potential hurdles in the form of new variants, but there are also plenty of signs of optimism.
At this point, we cannot expect the index to return to 2019 levels. There are a whole host of other factors that brands now need to consider, such as sustainability, health and safety and clear communications. Being where you were before the pandemic is no longer the best barometer of success.
Travel agencies have a unique chance to reset and rebuild. Their future success will be determined by their ability to meet the needs of their “new” customers.
1 The role of travel ads on the resumption of travel
2 Turkish tourism agencies start booking early for 2022 to make travel ‘affordable’