The good news for travel professionals is that almost half of the world’s population with the means to travel have decided that embarking on a trip is the most effective way to shake off the cobwebs of lockdown. The bad news is that this comes with a couple of caveats.
An international survey published by Travel Lifestyle Network (TLN), a global alliance of industry specialists who conduct annual surveys in conjunction with global firms that do both qualitative and quantitative research, polled thousands of people across a number of demographics in 28 countries to find out what their likely plans were for travel during and after 2022.
The results, for roleplayers within the tourism industry, can mean one of two things (depending on whether you are a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty type of marketer):
There is still a lot of uncertainty and I need to stick to the safe and trusted formulae for advertising my wares; or....
There is still a lot of uncertainty and therefore this is the best possible time to be daring and adventurous and look for new markets.
A look at the data shows some very clear trends and preferences.
Almost half of the people polled worldwide (46%) listed travel as a personal interest. Many other surveys and opinion polls agree with this and take it even further, identifying travel as a desired activity in order to make up for the isolation and deprivation that people had experienced during the global lockdown. There was a general consensus that leisure travel is energising and inspiring – venturing out, reconnecting with other people, finding new experiences, getting other perspectives, these were all ‘food for the soul’.
However, on average – according to the survey - 13% were interested in international travel while 24% were determined to explore their own country. The reasons were partially because respondents felt that the costs and complications associated with international travel during these early days still needed to be navigated, but also because many people had come to the realisation during their forced isolation that they should take a closer look at their own country.
It’s a well-known phenomenon. Many people plan to visit their local attractions sometime in the future because ‘they will still be there tomorrow’. Very often, residents only patronise local or domestic attractions because they are hosting visitors themselves. But the global travel ban, the shuttering of many tourism landmarks, and the tragic impact of lives lost made people aware that, perhaps, they or their bucket-list items might not be there tomorrow. There is therefore a growing resolution to find out more about their own backyard while they still could. This was particular true in the United States, partially because the size of the country means that there are a vast number of local attractions to sample, but also because Americans, historically, have never been a nation with a marked preference to getting out of their domestic comfort zone. Only 37% of Americans have ever had a valid passport.
The survey also polled potential travellers to find out what type of travel, in particular, they had in mind. Some reasons were obvious: many people wanted to explore new places and experience new things and reconnect with loved ones. In many cases these two needs were conflated into one large family holiday – organising to take the whole menage to some exotic getaway or leisure resort in order to share the experience.
The less obvious reasons, backed up by a number of other studies, were to take a relaxing break in a place with better weather or new types of food, or to try out a new lifestyle experience such as an educational course or volunteer holiday. However, when it came to the factors that decided the actual choice of destination or the type of trip, one feature stood head and shoulders above all the others: value for money.
This did not mean that people necessarily wanted cheap holidays, discounts or special offers. But it did mean that people wanted to know that their money was well spent. This could translate into something like ‘impact tourism’ where the visitor felt their tourism spend was directly benefiting the communities they visited, or simply that they wanted the best services and experiences that they can afford. For most people, there was a trade-off between cost and convenience.
A breakdown of the different regional markets, according to the survey, delivered few surprises. On the one hand, Europe’s tourism industry was the hardest-hit by COVID, but it was also the one market bouncing back the fastest. North America’s rebound was equally dramatic, but Americans and Canadians were more interested in exploring their own wealth of national treasures before they wanted to venture abroad. Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East were showing the slowest recovery, while the Pacific countries (Australia and New Zealand) were somewhere in the middle.
Marketers, therefore, have a choice: undertake an intensive marketing push into the low-recovery countries in order to be ahead of the curve and make it easier or more attractive for the reluctant travellers to take a trip, or tap into the mushrooming interest in domestic and international travel in the boomerang markets.
The most interesting statistic, which could almost be unnoticed amongst the wealth of data in the study, is the following: While almost half of potential travellers are already researching possible destinations, not everyone has reached a stage in their planning where they are ready to start booking, and only a small percentage have actually nailed down their travel plans. While the actual statistics in the survey cover only 6 markets (Brazil, China, India, Italy, UK and the USA) it is a significant statistic that can very likely to extrapolated to other markets.
This is so important that it is worth repeating: almost half of your potential market is currently doing research into holidays and travel, but only a few of those have already concluded their arrangements. This leaves the field wide open for resourceful operators and marketers who can reach those potential customers and help them finalise their plans.