C3 REPORTS

Travel Trends: 2021

The travel market in 2021 – a research study into the impacts of Brexit and Coronavirus upon consumers and their travel plans.

INTRODUCTION

Ahead of 2020, like most, we anticipated there would be a significant disruption in the travel sector – primarily because of Brexit. However, contrary to our expectations, Brexit’s impact upon the travel industry has become far less significant than that of COVID-19. After all, the damage caused by new travel restrictions, border policies and newly requested documentation became irrelevant when we became unable to travel at all.

In order to assess whether consumer behaviours and attitudes towards travel have changed ahead of the 2021 summer holiday period, we created this report, which outlines consumer behaviour using search data, social media listening, keyword research and data from respondents gathered through surveys and user groups.

We will reveal key trends travel brands should prepare for in the year to come, to ensure that when customers do start looking for a holiday their brand is well positioned to answer their needs, with relevant marketing messaging.

The data for this report was compiled in late 2020, and at the time of launch (March 2021), we Brits have provisionally been told that travel will be permitted from the 17th May – subject to the lockdown exit stage criteria being met.

REPORT CONTENTS

ONE: TRAVEL TRENDS SURVEY RESULTS AND ANALYSIS

TWO: USER RESEARCH ANALYSIS – DEEP DIVE

THREE: KEYWORD RESEARCH AND CONSUMER SEARCH ANALYSIS

FOUR:  HOW ARE TRAVEL BRANDS REACTING TO THE CURRENT MARKET

FIVE: OVERALL FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Ready for take off?

MARKET RESEARCH

UK CONSUMER CONFIDENCE IN TRAVEL

To begin our market research around the topic of travel, we sent out a survey to a range of participants to understand their views around travelling, how frequently they typically travel, and when they next believe they would feel comfortable researching for their next trip.

Out of a panel of 60 users, we found that the majority of participants weren’t interested in going away in 2021, with 30% unsure about their travel plans as of yet, and the remaining 28% of users looking forward to going away in the next year.

Interestingly, the younger demographic of users between 25-36 years old were more eager to jet off, whilst users aged 45+ were less keen on the idea. Despite this, there was generally quite a lot of uncertainty amongst the panel about when they would next be able to go away without the risk of any travel restrictions, and what financial impact this may have to them.

USER RESEARCH

CONSUMER TRAVEL PLANS:

IN DEPTH SURVEY

Following on from the travel survey, we selected 10 individuals with a range of different views to further discuss their current concerns, which helped us to identify potential opportunities for the travel industry.

We held an hour conversation with each of the users, which consisted of a range of questions, and asked them to demonstrate how they would go about researching a holiday. This allowed us to be able to understand the users on a personal level, whilst also discussing which websites they would use to research; and the learning elements that are important to them.

To ensure that we were targeting the correct demographic, we only selected users who typically go on at least one holiday in a year, and were all employed, for the research.

It’s important to put users at ease as soon as you start the research sessions, so we always take a friendly approach so that it feels as natural as possible for them. We always remind the users that it is not a test of their abilities; and instead, the session is to help inform some of our recommendations.

Therefore, we start the sessions with basic questions so that the users feel comfortable talking to us, but also allow us to find out more specifically about that user – which we use to feed into the remainder of the session. This allows us to have a personalised session that is also as realistic as we can possibly make .

We started the session by finding out the following from each of the users:

  • What sort of holidays interest them?
  • How they research and decide where they are next going to go on holiday
  • What is important to the users when they are looking for a holiday
  • Are they the sole decision maker, or is it a joint process?
  • How far in advance would they typically book a holiday?

Once we found out all the necessary information from the users, we asked them to start sharing their screen so that they could demonstrate certain activities. In this instance, we asked users to showcase how they would go about researching a holiday, to find something that meets their needs and requirements.

At the end of each of the sessions, we allowed some time to summarise the activities completed. This also provided us with the opportunity to ask any concluding questions and overall thoughts about the experience in general. We utilise this part of the session to find out if any of the opinions of the user has changed too.

 

Overall, despite the vast number of opinions from users, the majority were pleasantly surprised at the flexibility of COVID-19 protection that is currently available from travel agents. As many users had not been researching, they found that this was very appealing and made them more likely to consider making a booking for later in the year.

One element that was clear from the research is how savvy users are – they have very specific requirements, and they want to be able to meet these for as little money as possible. This typically resulted in users confessing that they are not particularly brand loyal. However, they would avoid a specific brand if they had a negative experience with them.

Surprisingly, when we spoke to the users, there was a shift in their requirements and expectations for future holidays. As a lot of the users are typically used to going on 1+ holidays a year, they felt as though they have missed out by not being able to go away recently. The users that typically went on beach holidays and relaxing breaks expressed that due to them not being able to do that much over the last year, their likely next break would be more of an adventure holiday.

Furthermore, in addition to having a spike in interest around holiday excursions, 70% of users commented that they feel as though the next holiday they book will be more expensive – as a treat to themselves.

During our sessions we saw users scour the web, from travel websites such as TUI to independent review websites such as TripAdvisor. No matter what websites our users decided to visit, there were core themes that were an apparent area of improvement for all, and something that should be considered to improve marketing strategies and performance going forward.

KEYWORD RESEARCH

Are the survey results reflected in search?

In order to expand our findings beyond those discovered in the interview sessions with our survey respondents, and user research interviews, we have conducted keyword research into the travel sector, and in particular into the core themes identified in the above sessions.

The key takeaways from the research that we looked to find evidence of in our keyword research included:

  • Booking flexibility – our user group identified this as a core consideration factor for booking a holiday
  • Price of holidays
  • Types of holidays users are searching for
KEYWORD RESEARCH

CONTENT ANALYSIS

Flexibility of bookings, founded in a feeling of ‘nervousness’ or ‘uncertainty’ was identified as a key theme in the user research. As expected, there are a high volume of search queries with users looking for information on the safety of travel, and the risks involved.

‘Where can I go on holiday without quarantine’ had 400 searches in December – likely in reference to the travel corridor, which listed the countries people could return to the UK from, without quarantining. However, what the travel corridors didn’t include, were the countries that allowed UK residents to visit without having to quarantine.

With this information only accessible from the government website; it’s difficult to access, which means people could have technically booked a holiday without realising they had to quarantine at the other end. Other similar questions included ‘what countries are safe to travel to’ and ‘where is safe to travel in Europe’.

Interestingly, even more people were searching for quarantine-free destinations in February 2021 (1100) – perhaps in a bid to book a summer holiday for somewhere that’s deemed to be a safe bet.

There is also search volume around various holiday and flight cancellation queries due to COVID-19. With people looking for ways to get their money back – and many having bad experiences of this.

This would suggest that in order to help encourage people book holidays for summer 2021 and onwards, holiday operators should offer low deposits, with free cancellations and the ability to move holiday dates. This is supported by the interest in flexibility identified in the user research, and the fact that the respondents were surprised at the scope COVID-19 travel protection currently being offered.

Price of holidays – whilst respondents were keen to go on holiday again, they were still keen to ensure they achieved the best deal for their holiday.

In addition to COVID questions and holiday inspiration, would-be travellers are placing an importance on price, by searching for information on how to find cheap deals and offers.

Whilst many people have stated they wouldn’t mind paying more for a holiday, when they’re allowed to travel again; this shows there is still appetite for cheaper flights and package deals; with people perhaps looking for a cheap city break, in addition to a longer, long-haul destination adventure.

In the user research, users were shown more interested in booking adventure holidays, rather than relaxing beach breaks.

Many people were in search of some holiday destination inspiration; and this was likely because there was a restriction on which countries we could visit, with people wanting to know where they were allowed to travel to.

‘Where to go on holiday’ received 1700 searches in the UK in February 2021, with ‘where can I go on holiday’, at 2200. People were also searching for holiday destinations in specific months; which hints people are guessing when it could be safe to travel abroad again, given the provision go-ahead date of 17th May 2021.

There were searches for a variety of holidays too. City breaks were the most popular –specifically cheap city breaks, last minute breaks, and European city breaks. In second place were skiing holidays, with people looking for package trips towards the end of 2021. There were also questions around the cost of skiing holidays, and queries around how to book.

In support of our findings from the user research, beach holidays had the fewest searches, at 10,000 a month – and people too, were looking for cheap breaks, and inspiration on where to go. Having been locked down for a full year now, this suggests that people are looking to steer clear of a relaxing holiday, in favour of something that offers action and adventure.

PAID MEDIA

HOW ARE BRANDS REACTING TO THE CURRENT MARKET?

With the announcement that international travel for Brits could resume from the 17th May, the travel market is set for a long awaited boost.

With that in mind, a number of UK travel operators took the Prime Minister’s announcement as the green light to start promoting holiday offers for 2021 and beyond. We have included a number of the adverts we’ve seen from airlines, travel operators and staycation brands, and have identified the following key themes.

Booking offers

First Choice, Jet2 and TUI are all offering incentives to book both for this year and summer 2022. These price incentives would undoubtedly appeal to the consumer’s quest for value for money, identified in the user research, and encourage bookings.

There are a mix of confidence boosting ads – seeking to alleviate in the uncertainty that COVID has brought upon the travel market. From refund guarantees to flexibility of changes, the reduced risk offered in these adverts will address many of the concerns highlighted in the user research.

Ads to boost confidence for 2021

There are a mix of confidence boosting ads – seeking to alleviate in the uncertainty that COVID has brought upon the travel market. From refund guarantees to flexibility of changes, the reduced risk offered in these adverts will address many of the concerns highlighted in the user research.

Promises of fun and adventure

Without additional risk of international quarantine and travel restrictions, the UK staycation brands have focused on the adventures on offer.

TAKEAWAYS

Overall findings and recommendations

It may seem obvious, but users are relying on your content to decide their next holiday destination and get inspiration about the potential activities that they could do whilst they are there. Frequently through the sessions we saw that users were needing to go onto multiple websites to find the content that they required, which was a much lengthier process.

Users commented that they would love websites to have a larger amount of personalised content on them, to make the researching process a lot easier and streamlined. They also commented that they believe a website that contains a lot of this high-quality content would make them appear as travel experts, and therefore, make them more desirable to book with.

Potential topics of additional content that was highlighted, included:

  • Where the nearest airport is and what its name is.
  • A brief description of the weather on a month-by-month basis.
  • Personalised recommendations such as places to eat or drink, activities to do in the local area, and any excursions that may be of interest.

6/10 of the users commented that photography was really important to them, often being one of the key deciding factors when deciding on a holiday. We witnessed users often looking for photography on travel agents’ websites, on Google Images and on TripAdvisor. User generated photography was often thought to be more reliable and expected to represent the destination most accurately.

Some of the users even commented that they would go to the social accounts of a particular hotel or destination to see further photography. Therefore, we would recommend integrating all these platforms together directly from your website, to make it less time-consuming, and provide users with a more accurate picture of what they should expect. If users are likely to do this anyway, then it would eliminate one of the steps in the booking and researching process.

Recent events have shown how holiday plans can easily change out of our control, so it is more important than ever for holiday companies to offer flexibility to customers, making them feel confident that they will not lose money. Although some websites were able to offer flexibility, users would like this to be a permanent change. Some of the suggestions included:

  • Low deposits, with the option to be able to amend or change a booking at any point before the final payment is made.
  • The option to be refunded in money rather than a voucher, as users do not want to be tied down to one travel company.
  • Customers being able to change their holiday date or the destination that they visit, for more of a varied number of reasons.

While our research found that would-be travellers are happy to spend a bit more on their next holiday as a treat to themselves, they still want to find a good deal.

Tying in quite nicely to flexible booking options, if you are offering any discounts or promotions, make sure to shout about it on your website – whether you offer package holidays, or just flights or accommodation.

Users are ever more conscious about their spending, and will hunt around for the best deal. As well as this, they will often use cashback websites to identify where the priced holiday is. In the research sessions, users demonstrated how they would look for the same holiday across a range of different websites, and even look at booking all the elements individually rather than as a package, if it would save them money. Despite users investigating the costs of booking flights, hotels and transfers separately, there was still caution about the lack of security that this option may provide customers.

For 2021, holiday operators should offer low deposits, with free cancellations and the ability to move holiday dates.

CONCLUSION

Final thoughts

At the time this research was conducted, in December 2020, users were optimistic about travel, looking into safe travel and deals for Summer 2021. Following this research, the third lockdown (starting 26th December 2020) came into place, and with it came an international travel ban.

However, by February 2021 at the time of writing, we are working towards May 17th 2021 as the return for international travel for UK residents. This travel will however, come with the same challenges as that at the time of the research, including quarantine a potential, and uncertainty around trips going ahead. It also seems that adventure-style holidays will continue to be increasingly popular, as we all seek to take that long awaited trip we’ve been holding out for.

The above research offers travel brands the opportunity to offer a comprehensive on-site experience for consumers, negating concerns around booking, offering detailed travel advice and trip ideas, and attractive pricing packages which discourage users from shopping around.

We hope that this is useful to travel marketers looking to optimise their site performance ahead of summer 2021.

Our user research, content, and paid media pages offer further information on the teams and the processes used in the collection of this data. For more information on any of the findings of our research, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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