Travel Returns, But Not How Marketers Might Expect

Travel is back, but most are taking to the roads in cars, campers and on motorcycles such as the 80th annual ride in Sturgis, South Dakota. The massive motorcycle event typically brings in crowds of about 500,000 during the 10-days of races. Many attendees are in the critical COVID-19 ages.

Consumers are traveling, but mostly to COVID hot spots in the United States such as California, Florida and Nevada. International locations include Portugal, Croatia and Turkey, among others.

Recent analysis by USA Today of data from Trivago, a platform for searching and booking hotels, after dropping 92% below 2019 levels in April, Trivago hotel searches started coming back in May and June as states reopened.

Florida was among the states that have progressed the farthest back to normal booking level -- moving from 95% below 2019 levels at the start of April to just 18% below normal in mid-June.

Trivago measures hotel search volume, which reflects travel requests and booking queries based on users’ link clicks. Last month’s volume was off 73% from the same time in 2019.

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It’s no secret that the world’s tourism industry has been one of the hardest hit verticals by COVID-19, with an estimated loss of $1.2 trillion during the span of just four months, according to Captify. The data shows those who live in the cities are most ready to travel again, representing a bit more than 30% of those with a positive sentiment toward travel.

Still, nearly 65% of consumers are concerned about their health and safety and remain cautious, especially tourists, business travelers and grandparents.

Among those who are ready to get on the road, the following destinations have seen a huge search boost compared to pre-lockdown, early January to mid-March: 

  • Portugal (search interest increased 5.8 times)
  • Croatia (search interest increased 5.7 times)
  • Turkey (search interest increased 5.5 times)
  • New Zealand (search interest increased 2.7 times)
  • Not surprisingly, search interest for travel has decreased in countries hit the worst by COVID-19, including France, Italy and the U.S.

Expedia, LastMinute.com, and Airbnb were some of the top searched-for brands during lockdown, driven in part by travel bans and interest in last-minute cancelations, refunds and vouchers rather than purchase intent.

Captify data also shows that searches within the entertainment vertical rose 334% in July driven, in part, by the Sony PlayStation 5 reveal.

Next year will be a huge year for weddings, after thousands were postponed due to COVID. The delay is expected to have a positive impact on the travel, fashion, jewelry and beauty industries in 2021.

COVID-19 has impacted audience search behavior, driving shifts in search interests across different audiences.

  • Gen Z took home delivery from a convenience to a necessity, with a 96% increase in search interest.
  • Grandparents have been combating isolation by streaming and gaming for the first time. While prior to lockdown, finance had been the most-searched vertical, it was entertainment that saw a 614% search interest increase since June 1.
  • Family shoppers and parents have also driven searches across the entertainment vertical, up 878%, as they seek creative ways to keep kids busy and entertained while at home.
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