In a year of cautious optimism, rescheduled plans, changing restrictions and requirements, and holiday hope, travelers’ resilience and resilience have been tested. However, many are willing to do what it takes – pre-departure testing; Test on arrival Show evidence of vaccination Reschedule — to get back on the road and into the sky.
Over the course of 2021, we conducted quarterly surveys of US travelers, as well as analyzed our booking data for six major US holidays — Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years — to understand not only how travelers feel. About travel during the pandemic, but also the types of trips they book as well as when (and how) they actually travel.
Looking back across countless data points, four Travel Behaviors rose above the rest. Here are the top trends that shaped the world of travel this year.
1. Road trip and car rental bookings prevailed
2021 was the year of the road trip – and the rental car. Americans hit the road in record numbers, and rental car bookings data reflected this increase in travel behaviour.
Back in March, when vaccine launches were going strong in the US, we predicted that road trips would likely prevail as the preferred mode of transportation for summer travel. At the time, 83% of Americans said they would be ready for a road trip with a personal car, and 60% said they would be willing to take a road trip with a rental car or RV, by June of this year.
In particular, for those planning to travel:
- 64% of travelers planned to drive on Memorial Day.
- 64% plan to drive on the Fourth of July.
- 61% planned to drive on Labor Day.
What we saw in our data
If the rental cars are stock, you’ll be happy with the year-end return on investment, as booking numbers have gone up (and up) over the course of 2021.
Our booking data showed that Memorial Day 2021 car rental bookings were 220% of 2020 levels. These numbers remained high not only during the 4th of July summer road trip increase (262%) and Labor Day (413%), but also on Christmas. Thanksgiving (390%), as well as Christmas and New Year’s Day (404%).
2. The ebb and flow of the traveler’s confidence and interests
While the rental cars were more like a rocket ship, the travel process itself was more like a roller coaster. In fact, travelers have had to comply with ever-changing travel restrictions and requirements – sometimes with only a few days’ notice.
The tides and flows of the epidemic—dynamic infection rates, vaccination campaigns, changing demands, and especially new variables—have all played their part in shaping travelers’ levels of confidence and anxiety.
In March, 54% of travelers said airlines had measures in place to limit the spread of infection, such as requirements for masks, reduced flight capacity, sanitation measures, and temperature checks, which contributed to their confidence in returning to air travel.
In addition, 50% of travelers said that airport procedures — social distancing guidelines, contactless check-in procedures, mask requirements, and sanitation procedures — helped them feel more comfortable while traveling.
By May, when 93% of survey respondents had been vaccinated or planned to be vaccinated, survey data revealed that travel concerns were generally waning. Less than a quarter of respondents expressed concern about each of the myriad aspects of travel.
Among those travelers who expressed concerns, keeping up with travel restrictions and guidelines and knowing how to adjust reservations were the top concerns — the latter down 21% from our March survey. Concerns about understanding rates of vaccine and infection and infecting friends or family when returning from a trip also declined, dropping by 27% and 47%, respectively.
May data revealed new concerns: One in four travelers said uncertainty about the rules for those who are vaccinated and those not vaccinated is worrying about the next time they travel.
In August, survey data showed that passengers’ comfort level with flying is increasing; Those who travel comfortably in conditions (at the time) are up nearly 79% since May. And while there is still an extreme need, the importance of airline safety measures has fallen by 29% — thanks to vaccines (more on that below).
But by October, the Delta variant put traveler confidence in its wake — as many Americans (26%) booking flights they were willing to cancel or change. A quarter of travelers (25%) said they are delaying plans due to the delta variable.
That’s not all delta change. October survey data showed that nearly half (47%) of travelers said in order to feel comfortable while flying, they would need proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test required for passengers. 42 percent of travelers wanted to see airlines continue or increase their safety measures, such as mask requirements and COVID-19 testing mandates. Additionally, more than a third (38%) of travelers said that asking for a vaccination or COVID-19 test for airline employees would make them feel comfortable flying. (Shortly after this survey was sent out, many US airlines began doing just that.)
Travel concerns looked different at the time, too. More than a third of travelers (37%) said their biggest concern is whether they might need to cancel or reschedule a flight due to COVID-19 restrictions, requirements or illness. Keeping up with travel restrictions, guidelines and requirements came second, with 35% of travelers expressing concern about it.
However, despite Delta (and Omicron’s) concerns, our booking data showed strong returns for air travel for Thanksgiving (298% of 2020 volume), as well as Christmas and New Year’s (320% of 2020).
3. Vaccines have boosted Americans’ confidence
It wouldn’t be 2021 if we weren’t talking about the vaccine launch and the subsequent impact of the vaccination situation on the travel world.
Back in March, we asked Americans if vaccinations were affecting their confidence to return to travel. At the time, 59% of travelers said news about a vaccine’s progress made them more likely to book travel. 35 percent of travelers said they would wait to fly again until they were vaccinated. Only 8% of travelers said the vaccine would not change their desire to travel.
In May, our survey data showed that nearly half (47%) of respondents planned to travel as much or nearly as much as they did before COVID-19.
For those who planned to travel more, vaccinations were the main reason people felt comfortable while traveling. Survey data also showed that vaccination was the most important need for travelers to feel comfortable in flight (56% of travelers), outperforming herd immunity by 37%.
We asked those travelers who had been vaccinated, as well as those who had not been vaccinated at the time of the survey – but were planning to – about their intended travel plans. 68% of vaccinated participants said they had booked a flight since getting their shot or planned to book soon; 66% said they planned to book a flight after vaccination.
How did Americans feel about passports for vaccinations?
Sentiments in our surveys toward digital health passports (also called health passports, vaccine passports, or COVID vaccine passports) remained steady throughout the year.
In March, the possibility of a type of digital health passport that provides proof of vaccination resumed 81% of travelers. These travelers said they would be willing to use a digital health passport if it meant they could travel freely.
When we asked travelers in August if they would use a digital health passport and how they felt about it (love, like, hate, hate), 84% said they would use a passport, regardless of whether they liked the idea (49%), liked the idea ( 18%) or hated the idea (16%). Only 16% of respondents said they would hate the idea of a digital health passport and would not use it.
In October, 60% of Americans (who had traveled in the past six months) said they had carried their CDC COVID-19 vaccination card with them on a trip and 15% used a vaccine passport application on their trip.
4. Vacations were (consistently) all we wanted
Why were Americans willing to jump through all these hoops and comply with the myriad requirements? One word: vacations.
In fact, since the beginning of the year, vacations have been the number one and consistent reason Americans plan to travel.
This is what the travelers told us:
- In March, 73% of those planning to travel in 2021 planned a vacation.
- By May, that number had risen slightly to 77% of Americans who had planned to take a vacation.
- By August, 87% planned to take a vacation — a 10% increase from our previous survey.
- By October, 77% said they planned to take a vacation next year (still the main reason).
As for where Americans have traveled for vacation, our data showed a number of trends for this year:
- warmer climate Hawaii, California and Florida The top destinations were during 2021. This trend took off over Memorial Day weekend and continued into the end of the year.
- With a nod to 2020, External sites The destination ratings continued to rock. places like Moab, Utah; Anchorage, Alaska; Yellowstone, Wisconsin; And Colorado Springs, Colorado, was popular with American travelers.
- While metro grand (Las Vegas, New York, Chicago, and the like) started the year, by Labor Day, they were back to claim their numbers of one, two, and three places (respectively) for accommodation reservations.
The travel world was shaped in 2021 by the tides of a pandemic. Although we can’t yet say what travel will look like in 2022, we are confident that Americans will continue to do what it takes to see (their corner) of the world – perhaps by renting a car, but certainly for vacation – with a vaccination card, face coverings, and results. Negative tests and travel documents today in hand.