Leisure Travelers Hit The Road — and Take to the Skies — Ahead of July 4th Weekend
With Memorial Day in the rearview mirror, the travel and hospitality industries are anticipating an even busier 4th of July weekend. Memorial Day travel trended around locations within driving distance, over-indexing on semi-local destinations. Now with approximately 56 percent of the U.S. population fully vaccinated (18+ in the U.S.) and roughly 66 percent having received at least one dose, leisure travel is back in popular demand, almost reaching pre-pandemic levels.
For months, the 4th of July was projected to be America’s grand re-opening, with a national goal to get 70 percent of all Americans vaccinated and restrictions lifted across the country. Currently, all but four states are fully open, though there is a strong likelihood that those restrictions will be lifted sometime next month. However, due to a slowdown in vaccination rates, particularly in the South and Midwest, it’s unlikely that America will hit its original vaccination goal in time despite some bold incentives and promotional campaigns.
Leisure travelers are ready to hit the roads — and now, skies — despite the vaccination gap. In fact, more than half of Americans report they got vaccinated because they want to travel, according to Bing. With airports and airlines already struggling to keep up with a surge in demand, the biggest anticipated travel shift between Memorial Day and Independence Day will be the return to more normal air travel patterns, as checkpoint data from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) draws closer to 2019 figures.
With the 4th of July weekend expected to mark a rebound in air travel, late summer and fall travel trends could look entirely different than they did last year. That doesn’t mean interest in road trips and rural destinations will fall to the wayside, but urban travel could see the biggest comeback. Without mask mandates or indoor capacity restrictions, city centers and urban destinations are poised for a great resurgence.
According to TripAdvisor, there’s already rising demand for city destinations, with 25 percent of travelers saying a city is their “preferred option for their next trip,” compared to the 20 percent who would opt for a trip to the great outdoors. With cruises also starting to leave port again, loyal passengers are planning their first voyage back on the seas with various destinations to choose from. Urban attractions like Broadway’s re-opening this fall and the NFL’s return to pre-pandemic attendance limits give travelers more entertainment choices and flexibility to return to the in-person experiences and city destinations they missed the most.
New opportunities are emerging for the international travel market as well. In recent weeks, Spain opened its borders and cruise ports to vaccinated visitors. Similarly, France will allow vaccinated travelers to visit the country from other parts of Europe, the U.S., and other nations without requiring a negative COVID-19 test upon entry. But all eyes are on Japan as the Tokyo Olympic Games draw near. While marketers forge ahead with Olympic sponsorships, many public health officials are still calling for further postponement of the Games, especially since Japan is under a Level 4 (“Do Not Travel”) travel advisory from the U.S. Department of State.
Regardless of the destination, guest expectations have evolved to include a few notable conveniences for the foreseeable future, including booking and cancellation flexibility, onsite amenities, and contactless experiences. After spending so much time at home, guests are looking forward to kicking back, relaxing, and being pampered, with 67 percent reporting they’ll spend more time on self-care and wellbeing during their next vacation, according to TripAdvisor. Of course, some of these expectations may be difficult to meet, as many service industries struggle with staffing and delivering a pre-pandemic level of service.
From navigating through the airports to checking in a hotel or dining at a restaurant, travelers will likely experience longer wait times and fewer open amenities. The TSA reported job shortages across over 200 airports, including some of the nation’s busiest, while Hilton’s CEO cited that the downstream effects of staffing constraints include room occupancy caps and reduced onsite offerings. Air travelers are also experiencing last-minute cancellations and flight changes as many airlines, such as American Airlines, attempt to alleviate operational constraints and staff shortages.
As demand outpaces room capacity across understaffed properties, marketers should find ways to offer value beyond price promotions to promote what can be delivered to their guests (such as proximity and access to nearby open amenities, quality time with family, and more) rather than services that may not be at full capacity.
Moving forward, marketers should keep traditional summer media habits in mind, as people begin spending less time at home this summer than they did last year. While linear TV and other traditional formats had a short-term boost in viewership during 2020, digital channels experienced tremendous growth during the pandemic. Marketers should also pay close attention to what channels drive the most efficiencies while anticipating how summer performance trends can help inform fall and early holiday media planning, especially as more travelers seek international destinations instead of road trips, outdoor destinations, and visits with family. According to TripAdvisor, people who have already booked a trip this year are five times more likely to be traveling internationally than staying close to home. By applying learnings from summer domestic travel trends to international markets, marketers can better prepare international media plans by cross-referencing re-openings, airline preparedness, health data, employment trends, and more to ensure optimal delivery on guest expectations.
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As life returns to normal, it’s become increasingly clear that travelers are seeking escapism and relaxation during their summer vacations. The long-anticipated rebound of the travel industry will be marked by never-before-seen challenges, including staffing constraints and reduced occupancy requirements, and the inability to deliver against guest expectations. It remains too soon to tell how and when travel will fully return to a pre-pandemic sense of normalcy, but occupancy rates, foot traffic trends, and July 4th weekend should give marketers a solid indicator of how travel recovery is faring, and how fall and winter demand will shape the months ahead.
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