In 2021, travelers are planning to get back out there – at least, that’s according to Expedia’s recently released 2021 Travel Trends Report, which taps into its own massive database of search and demand data.
While the report predicts that 2021 will still be filled with road trips to nearby small towns and other regional remote destinations, it also showed that vacation-deprived Americans are once again returning to research far-flung destinations and larger cities. So much so, they grouped the top-researched destinations by two types of travelers: island escapists and urban returners – you can see the full list of Expedia’s 11 most-searched destinations as reported in this Condé Nast Traveler article. The top five alone: Cancun (#1); the neighboring resort towns of Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum (#2); Las Vegas (#3), Orlando (#4), and Punta Cana (#5).
But destinations aside, the report also detailed the latest in traveler priorities – essentially, what travelers are taking into account as they plan future trips, like refundable booking, average booking windows, and the kind of accommodations they are looking for. So whether you’re a DMO (destination marketing organization) or a hotel/resort in a small town, a tucked-away remote destination, an island, or a large city, this is the part of the report you should really be tuning into. Because if you’re not responding to these traveler priorities and preferences, you’re missing out on potential visits to your destination and bookings. We outline each of the listed priorities and how your property should be planning your strategy accordingly.
Flexibility Isn’t a “Nice-to-Have,” It’s Required
In 2020, travelers booked refundable rates 10 percent more often than they did in 2019. While this is purely related to how they booked on the OTA, what hotels should be taking away from this is that flexibility in reservations and booking is going to continue to be key in 2021. That means lowered or none-at-all cancellation fees (within smaller windows of before arrival time, say 24 hours, rather than 48), shorter required stays, pausing or lengthening the expiration date of hotel reward points, even rolling out “Book Now, Pay Later” rates or certificates valid for longer periods of time (Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas offers a Plan Now, Play Later deal that offers an additional 20 percent bonus that may be used towards upgrades or on-property purchases that its valid for three years).
No, your hotel shouldn’t be giving too many things away for free or completely getting rid of penalties, but simply relaxing the rules and restrictions – and showing that you are – will go a long way with future guests.
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Health & Safety Advancements
This was a big concern as hotels and resorts reopened in 2020 and it will continue to be so in 2021. Yes, that means continuing the enhanced cleaning, social distancing, and other guest safety measures, but also the latest ways to show your still prioritizing the effort, like exploring these in the rapidly evolving trends in the world of touchless tech.
In fact, there are now-available technologies that allow lobby doors to slide open by holding a phone to a scanner, contactless check-in via a facial recognition software, keyless entry that requires just a press of a button on your phone, elevator sensor panels that know when a finger hovers over a button (without having to actually touch it), and contactless concierges that provide digital travel information (no more paper brochures or maps at the front desk).
Majority of Travelers Booking Less than a Month Out
Before the pandemic, the average U.S traveler was booking his or her flight 46 days in advance of their departure date, but the new normal (since August) is showing average bookings of just 29 days out – according to Expedia, this is the first time in years that that number has dropped below the 30-day mark.
This spontaneous trip-taking and shorter booking window means that hotels and DMOs need to be syncing their marketing materials to these buying patterns accordingly. For example, when you might have previously tailored much of your content and email marketing sends to talk about all there is to do in your destination starting in three months to the coming season, now is the time to not shy away from what’s immediately happening in the coming month, whether that’s local events, current seasonal to-dos in full swing (peak foliage, animal migration, etc,), or special deals or rates (your own and of local business partners).
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Growth in Alternative Accommodations
In 2020, retreats like castles, ranches, cabins, chalets, and cottages saw the biggest growth when it came to types of accommodations that travelers were searching for most, and it’s a trend that is expected to continue in 2021 as people look to travel safety. Whether you’re a small hotel or B&B that can be booked out entirely or a resort property that offers stand-alone lodging, the name of the game is, again, tailoring your hotel marketing strategy and messaging to establish yourself as a dream social-distancing property and pushing that out.
For example, that might mean revisiting your website landing page to show splashy images or video that largely focuses on your collection of stand-alone accommodations, whether cabins, cottages, bungalows, villas, or casitas – much like how Sorrel River Ranch in Moab, Utah, and Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort in Solvang, California, do. Or, if you keep a blog, create posts around why you’re a “social-distancing dream resort” and pushing that out via your various email campaigns, social channels, and even paid campaigns. If you have no time for blogging, there’s also been an onslaught of digital listicles from a multitude of travel resources sharing their top social-distancing resorts – chances are, you could be on one or even several, much like Garden of the Gods Resort & Club in Colorado Springs is (which is something they point out on their website landing page).
Maximizing the Trip
While many travelers gravitated to virtual tours and activities to satisfy wanderlust during the lockdown, Expedia reports once again seeing more and more activities being booked (their top-trending activities include the Philadelphia Flower Show, boat tours of Biscayne Bay, and ATV and ziplining adventures in the Ruta de los Cenotes).
What this means is that hotels should be delivering the information potential guests are craving by integrating local to-dos into your website (if you don’t already). A couple of obvious ways to do so: mix it into the content of your landing page (Barnsley Resort in Adairsville, Georgia, does a great job of this) and build a destination-dedicated page (or pages) that are rife with insights about the status of local events, restaurants, tour operators, and hidden gems (i.e. Phoenix Park Hotel’s “Drive DC” page).