TORONTO — With vaccinations rolling out, slowly but surely, the light at the end of the tunnel for the travel industry is getting a little brighter week by week.
We caught up with Ian Knox, Vice President, Product & Marketing at Expedia Partner Solutions (EPS), to get his take on Canadians’ confidence levels when it comes to travel as the spring and summer travel months loom large on the calendar. EPS includes Expedia TAAP (Expedia’s Travel Agent Affiliate Program).
Q. Are Canadians still in the ‘planning / dreaming’ mindset when it comes to travel?
Knox: “As with most travellers, Canadians have reservations about traveling right now but remain positive about it in the future.
“In a recent study, we found 50% of Canadian travellers expect to see air, hotel and resort visits eventually recover to pre-pandemic levels.
“Nearly 60% of Canadian travellers highlighted that flexibility will have the most influence on their confidence level when booking this year.
“Destination-wise, almost half (49%) said they’d feel most comfortable traveling to quieter places where local establishments follow safety protocols. They also seem focused on whether airlines, hotels and rental vacations spots are meeting World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.
“It’s clear that the travel and hospitality industry need to work closely together to restore confidence in travel with Canadians who want to get away this year.”
Q. Do you see any positives in other global markets that are heading towards the first stages of recovery?
Knox: “Absolutely, one in two travellers feel optimistic about taking a trip in the next 12 months which is hugely positive. The other half needs reassurance about the flexibility of their booking and the safety precautions that travel, and accommodation suppliers are taking.
“It seems that globally, travellers are most likely to take trips from April to September this year. According to our data, Latin American and Asia Pacific travellers feel more confident travelling and are likely to take a trip sooner. In contrast North American, European, Middle Eastern and African travellers are likely to wait until July at the earliest.
“Throughout last year, as everyone battled with international travel restrictions, we saw a boom in trips to domestic holiday destinations. The impact of news around vaccinations also had an impact in December, with both domestic and international travel searches peaking at the same time. In Canada we saw a particularly dramatic shift with domestic travel search in October moving from 85% to more of a 50-50 split with international travel search in December 2020.”
Q. With all the travel restrictions currently in place, what’s your take on Canada’s travel outlook this summer?
Knox: “While Canadians feel less confident than other countries in the Americas, we’re still seeing almost 60% of Canadian travellers expecting to take a summer trip this year to rejuvenate, get a change of scenery or connect with family and friends.”
KNOX’S FIVE TRENDS FOR 2021
Knox also shared five trends for 2021 for the global travel industry as travel, buoyed by the vaccination rollout, starts to rebuild …
FLEXIBILITY: “Travellers will demand a new era of flexibility: 7 in 10 travellers agree that flexibility – travel insurance and trip protection, full refunds on transportation and accommodation – is a critical part of rebuilding their confidence. Early evidence suggests that the industry is listening. In September, American Airlines, Delta, and United took the major step of permanently eliminating change fees. Shifting traveler expectations will prompt others to follow suit and build more flexibility into their products and services.”
LOYALTY: “The levee will break on loyalty programs: Airlines and hotel groups have used their loyalty programs to generate cash in response to challenging economic headwinds. As a result, expect a significant surge in travellers booking with the air miles and points they have been unable to use during the pandemic. Once travel returns, there will also be intense competition for reward flights and the value of air miles and loyalty points will fluctuate. Travellers will look to leverage the expertise of travel partners to navigate this complexity.”
TRUSTED ADVICE: “Trusted advice will be a major competitive differentiator: Travellers will seek out trusted brands to help them navigate the complexities of new COVID-19 travel regulations and reward service providers that equip them with quick access to accurate, reliable, up-to-the-minute information on health, hygiene, safety and security.”
EXTENDED STAYS: “Extended stays will explode in popularity: A large proportion of people will forego holidays in the first half of the year and save their allocation for longer trips once the vaccine has been successfully rolled out. Similarly, after 12 months of working flexibly from home, others will opt to take an extended stay – or ‘workcation’ – in another part of the world. Either way, travel companies that specialize in or can flex their products and services to longer-term trips will be well-positioned.”
INNOVATION: “A new wave of innovation will hit the mainstream: While the pandemic has created challenges for the travel industry, it has also unleashed a new wave of innovation, including virtual assistants, contactless check-in, and virtual-reality hotel walkthroughs. As travel resumes, the adoption of these services will rapidly increase and soon become ‘table stakes’ for providers in the sector. Travel companies that act quickly to embrace these new digital services will reap the rewards; those that don’t will be soon left behind.”