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Travel after coronavirus: tracking emerging trends impacting the industry's rebound

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OMD EMEA look at the trends currently surrounding the travel industry and consider how marketers can respond

As travel corridors opened briefly last summer, travel brands tried to predict who would reignite the travel industry after its sharp decline. However, after another wave of strict lockdowns and the global vaccine roll out, consumer behaviours have shifted once again. In this evolving landscape, where mindsets are in constant flux, understanding consumer tensions will be crucial for travel brands to adapt at pace and thrive as the travel industry opens once again. We’ve identified three tensions that we believe will be critical to recovery.

While younger audiences yearn for freedom to travel, older audiences will have the protection and means in the short-term

Younger audiences showed an initial willingness to travel.

Travel during the summer of 2020 was no doubt driven by young cohorts, with less risk aversion, less health risks, and a greater likelihood to prioritise exploration. As travel brands plan their recovery strategies then, they may be considering how they can appeal to younger travellers.

However older travellers may have the means to travel first.

Studies indicate that younger generations have suffered the greatest financial impact as well as uncertain future job prospects, putting older generations in better financial health. In addition, vaccination roll outs prioritise older, vulnerable audiences which has already impacted behaviours in the UK, where Tui announced 50% of bookings since last summer came from over 50s. In markets with slower vaccination roll outs this may be more pronounced.

This means travel brands shouldn’t rely on younger audiences to drive recovery alone.

Brands should consider their core proposition and where both short- and long-term demand is likely to come from. If your brand traditionally wins with Gen X and Babyboomers, pivoting heavily towards younger travellers is unlikely the answer.

It has never been more important to look beyond static, demographic audiences. Instead travel brands should have an empathetic understanding of individual traveller motivations and the ability to harness this shifting demand in real time.

Travellers are dreaming of bucket list destinations, however connection with friends and family comes first

People haven’t stopped planning their dream trips.

In fact, AMEX’s travel report indicates that 76% of respondents are actively creating wish lists ahead of travel resuming. Those with the funds are also looking to indulge, with 61% planning to spend more than usual on a trip and many reports citing exploring new or preferred destinations amongst the top motivations for travel.

However, time with loved ones comes first.

The reality is that international travel is unlikely to be back in full swing in 2021. This, along with extended time away from loved ones means that before experiencing far flung adventures, people are likely to prioritise connecting with friends and family with a relaxed and safe trip, according to Airbnb.

This means travel brands should consider a phased approach and harness advocacy to motivate travellers.

In the short term, focus on domestic trips with loved ones, pushing group accommodation and road trips to those showing an interest in travel. To kick start international travel, repeat visitors and VRF (visiting friends and relatives) will be key. Brands should consider how they harness the experiences of these initial travellers to instil wider confidence through advocacy.

For the longer term, continued use of aspirational channels and messaging remains crucial, to ensure travel, in particular your brand, is at the top of consumers priorities when the time is right.

While some can’t wait to get back to culture, for others it will be a cautious re-entry

Open space and sustainable travel are front of mind for travellers.

After so long in isolation we have become accustom to open space and keeping distanced from crowds, with over 60% of people globally saying they are ‘avoiding crowded public spaces’ according to OMD’s proprietary Fast Start Dashboard. This is reflected in the needs of travellers, with Trip Advisor reporting a significant rise in rural and nature focused trips searches. The pandemic also shone a spotlight on the negative side-effects of tourism, driving a renewed interest in sustainable travel solutions such as eco lodgings.

Yet a yearning for culture means there is still a place for city breaks.

While there is a desire for sustainable travel, not everyone is ready to sacrifice indulgent and cultural travel experiences. Recent reports suggest that culinary travel is still one of the top requirements for travellers, giving hope for urban tourist hotspots around the world.

To succeed travel brands will need to work hard to provide new and exciting experiences without compromising on sustainability credentials.

Reimagining well known locations by highlighting lesser-known aspects, allowing travellers to play their part in reducing the impact of that tourism will be fundamental. As highlighted in OMD's Travel Revolution, embracing AI developments will allow travel brands to innovate and gain distinction while helping more travellers get off the beaten track. Tech that empowers and diversifies consumer choice will grow in importance as we expect to see people take less, longer likely see a shift in frequency of travel too, with a likelihood of consumers taking less trips, but doing so for longer periods impacting the construct of the ‘city break’ as we previously knew it.

Carly Whiteford, strategy director at OMD EMEA

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