The travel bug will outlive the Covid-19 virus, but an already service minded industry needs to become consumer-obsessed

The world is no longer what it was just a year ago. Our surroundings and context have transformed to something different… changing our needs, expectations and, as a result... our behaviour.

Every step of the way from researching to returning home, COVID-19 concerns will be on the consumers’ radar.  

What worked for brands before, might not work anymore.

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Facilitating tourism as a transformational behaviour

The urge to travel is unlikely to be permanently dimmed by the pandemic. But COVID-19 is lasting long enough to turn temporary behaviours into structural shifts.

Some behaviours are likely to return to a pre-crisis normality – socialising can be considered a sustainable behaviour.

But some specific social activities, such as going to a night club, are likely to return with fundamental changes to the experience.

Travelling is also a so-called transformational behaviour that will depend on changes to propositions and protocols to regain consumer confidence.

The travel bug will outlive the Covid virus

20.20’s recent consumer study confirmed that there is an underlying demand for travel.

When the respondents were asked about planned ‘big ticket’ purchases within the next 12 months, booking a new holiday was the most coveted (30%).

With the vaccination currently being rolled out, anticipation is further accelerating pent-up demand.

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A new framework for holiday

The framework of what a holiday is, and when, where it is enjoyed, have blurred.

While the pandemic limits us to domestic travelling, remote working could enable many to pursue a get-away at their own convenience.

Most of us will eventually return to the office, but agile working is here to stay.

From a short term perspective, this means:

·       Travelers might not necessarily have to take time off work

·       Reservations are made later than before

·       Flexibility allows for longer weekend stays at ‘untraditional’ times

From a long-term perspective, the traditional framework of a holiday is likely to stay changed with the institutionalisation of agile working – driving a permanent need for products that offer more choices beyond the traditional seasons and holiday breaks.

Nomading is the new jet-setting

This year, people are reevaluating the types of trips they take and how they travel, in order to minimise risk (GWI).

Short term, the desire to social distance from strangers will drive a preference for self-catering (including transportation)and rural, coastal accommodation over crowded cities.

According to Pinterest, people are in the phase of researching for their getaways in 2021. Based on user data, the platform predicts that Pinners are planning road trips and exploring the great outdoors.

According to GWI, holiday trips in 2021 will be characterised by being short, outdoors and closer to home.

…and loyalty is more important than ever

While Gen Z is still yearning for new experiences, older consumers are craving familiarity in 2021.

According to GWI 32% of vacation planners in the U.S./U.K. say using a travel provider they already trust is important to them when booking a trip in these times of uncertainty.

Loyalty programs are reassuring their members that they still value them, because now more than ever, vacationers are ready to turn to them for support.

Age doesn’t matter...that much!

Not surprisingly, we uncovered in our study that Baby Boomers were the highest percentage of respondents to identify holidays as their most desired big-ticket item for the next 12 months.

Initially these older age groups have ‘vaccination confidence’ to plan ahead and travel before those of younger age.

Another factor that will trigger holiday spending in 2021 will be a question of value and having the financial liberty to travel in the COVID-19 climate.

This means that the travel industry will need to look beyond basic demographics and traditional holiday buckets, and offer clear value tiering, in order to capture the available demand this year.

A looming mental health crisis and a pursuit of wellbeing... beyond physical health

Our study demonstrated that consumers were patiently constrained in 2020, but with continued lockdowns imposed across Europe, a dawning frustration and restlessness are building up (GWI).

Financial uncertainty, loneliness and a perceived loss of safety, are likely to drive mental health challenges beyond2021.

Covid has strengthened the case for a life of preventative wellness and is fueling healthier lifestyle changes.

Our respondents perceived wellbeing to be an extension of physical health, primarily linking it to the idea of fitness, a healthy diet and mental health.

The travel industry must continue to embrace wellbeing as it already offers the easiest escape from normality and home pressures.

TUI Marella Explorer by 20.20
TUI Marella Explorer by 20.20
TUI Marella Discovery by 20.20
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Acknowledging the whole customer journey

The holiday experience takes place beyond the physical stay. The time leading up to (and after) can spike a lot of excitement too.

The customer experience can therefore be elevated by catering to the planning and anticipation of the upcoming get-away, as well as completing the customer journey through proper “after-care”.

Expectations of digitalisation, personalisation and hosting

Digital acceleration and the increased flexibility it brings, driven by the pandemic, are likely to open Pandora’s box in terms of customer expectations in a post-pandemic world.

Vacationers will be expecting holistic customer journeys that they can tap in an out of as they please, personalisation and flexible policies allowing last minute bookings and cancellations.

With health likely to become as central to travel as tickets and passports, safety standards will become more of a selling point, requiring better trained staff.

Therefore, the travel industry needs more sophisticated segmentation buckets seeking to understand different personas —their motivations, expectations and behaviours — to provide a more personalised experience tailored to their (new) unmet needs and preferences.

Accommodating a healthy holiday

The lower hanging fruit to encourage transformational behaviour in the short term, is mitigating safety concerns pre, during and post-stay.

Yet, after a long trauma, people are likely to have more incentive to spend on experiences that make them feel good and relaxed in the present, without worrying so much about the future.

Prioritising health and wellness is a time consuming task in the everyday life. The shift towards a healthier lifestyle is therefore an opportunity to help guests pursue physical and mental wellbeing when spending time away from home.

From a short term perspective, leveraging the outdoors is crucial. But in the long run, supporting holistic health should be embedded in the product offer as a whole.

So, while the industry is experiencing a "staycation" boom this summer, the bigger opportunity is hidden above the lower hanging fruit of a trapped audience in 2021.

By re-thinking who your target audiences are, understanding why they travel and what their needs are, and most importantly – reimagining and taking ownership of all touchpoints on the journey – you have a unique opportunity to adapt to the evolving travelling behaviour we will witness in the next couple of years.

Of course, don’t underestimate the fruits of2021

...this is the year when you might get to meet many of your future guests

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