More consumers want to travel this holiday than they did pre-pandemic, according to data from our annual Holiday Outlook. Whether they actually will travel depends on a variety of interlocking factors, chief among them public health.
What we do know is that travel demand is high. In past years, our data revealed that roughly a third of the population traveled during the holidays, typically to visit family and friends. That held true even last year, when holiday travelers swapped air travel for road trips using personal vehicles.
This year, however, more than half our survey respondents (52%) told us they plan to travel. Rising vaccination rates continue to fuel pent-up demand after more than a year of pandemic-related anxiety. On the flip side, the fear of variants has kept many would-be travelers homebound.
By a wide margin, travelers who’ve taken at least one trip since the onset of the pandemic are enthusiastic about traveling again. They also recommend it to others: More than 70% would recommend flying and more than 60% would recommend overnight stays to those who are still uncertain about travel.
Of those who do plan to travel this holiday, most will go by car (72%). Meanwhile, a sizable minority (40%) plans to travel by air. For those with household incomes above $150,000, that percentage is substantially higher, at 57%. Most travelers will stay with family or friends or at branded hotels this holiday. Millennials favor branded hotels while Gen Z prefers short-term rentals.
To stay current with consumer preferences, demand intelligence tools can help assess leading indicators of travel and discover what appeals to various segments of travelers.
Regardless, a consistent refrain from consumers is the importance of public-health protocols: 70% told us they favor vaccination verification while traveling. And more than half (56%) support policies that would prevent those without proof of vaccination from traveling.
Lingering public-health concerns continue to affect travel choices. More than half (56%) of consumers told us they believe brand-name hotels are safer than short-term rental properties.
And 28% plan to stay at higher-end properties than they did before the pandemic, associating them with better health protocols.
This level of brand trust offers hotels the opportunity to cement customer loyalty as demand rebounds — by demonstrating the ability to adhere to safety standards at scale. In response to consumer public health and safety concerns, travel providers have upgraded safety protocols and infused policies with more flexibility. Many of those changes appear likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future.
Consumers told us in no uncertain terms that they want to hear from their travel providers. They want to receive clear, consistent, up-to-the-minute information about safety measures that protect their health. In fact, 80% tell us their choices about where to stay or how to get there will be largely based on communications from travel providers.
Having already implemented a raft of comprehensive safety protocols based on the most current guidance from medical experts, travel providers are well-positioned to communicate the breadth of those safety measures to reassure consumers.
Consumers are hungry for accurate information in both digital and physical channels. Clear, consistent, ongoing information about safety protocols can provide the reassurance they need before making travel plans.
Digital channels can also help mitigate potential service disruptions during what could be a busy holiday travel season, compounded by labor challenges. Digital apps for airline and hotel check-ins — as well as other customer-service options — can help cope with the crush of holiday travel.
As more travelers download and use digital apps, travel providers have the opportunity to offer more personalized service by training staff to respond to specialized needs.
Not only do consumers want to travel this holiday, they also have the financial wherewithal to do so. PwC analysis of economic indicators finds that US households are sitting on record amounts of excess personal savings — perhaps as much as $1.5 trillion — despite all the job losses, furloughs and other hits to income that accompanied the pandemic.
Higher-income households are likely to drive increased spending on leisure, hospitality and travel since these consumers spend more on discretionary services. Customer data analysis tools can help identify and tailor specific messages to these travelers.
By all accounts, demand for travel is poised to rebound this holiday season as consumers plan to reconnect with family and friends.
Consumer Markets Sector Leader, Cyber, Risk & Regulatory, PwC US
US Hospitality & Gaming Advisory Lead, PwC US