Price no longer driving force of travel decisions, shows study

Hotels – New research from Expedia Group has shown changing views on travel, including positive sentiment on vaccine passports, increased budgets and an enduring demand for safety and financial security. The Traveler Value Index, conducted by Wakefield Research between April 16 and May 7, surveyed 8,000 people in eight countries to understand their values and expectations as most parts of the world show signs of recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As vaccination rates rise and borders open across the globe, people are ready and eager to travel. However, the months of uncertainty are weighing on their travel decisions and shifting the conventional belief that price is the top driver of bookings,” said Ariane Gorin, president, Expedia for Business, Expedia Group. “These insights show people want to book with trusted travel providers that will deliver on their experiences, keep them safe, and protect their financial investments.”

Improved outlook

Despite the long period of uncertainty, the survey shows that people are making travel a financial priority. Almost 34% of travelers have bigger travel budgets now compared to 2020, with 18% expecting travel to be the activity they spend most on in 2021, at par with major expenditures like home renovation (18%), entertainment (12%), buying or taking care of a car (11%) or healthcare (11%). Interestingly, 36% said they would trade a pay hike for more vacation days.

The pandemic has altered travelers’ length and frequency of stay. About 60% opt for domestic travel in the short-term, although they plan to take more frequent vacations, while nearly 41% want frequent, shorter trips.

The outlook towards international travel also seems to improve, with 27% considering a trip to a foreign country in the next year. About 71% of travelers were comfortable showing a vaccine passport to travel internationally.

The survey reveals an increased desire for new and different experiences over nostalgic experiences, with 75% of travelers likely to select a new destination. Additionally, 52% are likely to use a new mode of transportation, while 22% are looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience on their next trip.

Decisions reflect personal values

The Traveler Value Index shows that travelers continue to make value-based decisions which reflect their personal views. Travelers look to support sustainable practices, with 59% willing to pay more to make their trip more sustainable. Additionally, 65% of the respondents are more likely to book with travel providers that have inclusive policies. This includes properties that are owned by women and/or people of color, welcoming to the LGBTQIA+ community, and those who support people with disabilities.

Financial security and safety are top priorities

The survey ranks the factors shaping booking decisions across multiple travel experiences, including:

  • Ability to get a full refund if their plans change
  • Atypical, low pricing cause by low demand during the pandemic
  • Contactless experiences, like card-less hotel or vacation rental entry, online check-ins, or digital boarding passes
  • Environmentally friendly policies such as a reduced use of plastics or locally sourced food and products
  • Enhanced cleaning and disinfection procedures
  • Flexible policies to change bookings
  • First-class benefits and upgrades

Financial security and safety were the highest priorities for travelers across all experiences, a change from the conventional idea that price drives consumer behavior. More than one in four travelers value the ability to get a refund, mostly for airline (26%) and vacation rental experiences (26%), followed by enhanced cleaning and disinfection. The results highlight a need for travel providers to give clear information regarding cancellation policies and cleanliness measures.

The Traveler Value Index shows a difference in values by age group, highlighting that younger travelers are less focused on price and refunds. These include:

  • For hotels and vacation rentals, the ability to get a full refund increases in value with age. However, travelers under the age of 40 in the U.S. and Japan feel enhanced cleaning is the most important factor in hotel bookings, while also seeing more value in contactless experiences and premium benefits.
  • Airline travel decisions are also shaped by financial security, where 26% most value the ability to get a full refund. However, millennial and Gen Z travelers, or travelers under the age of 40, see more value in contactless experiences, first-class benefits, and environmentally friendly policies compared to older generations.
  • North American millennials value flexibility in car rental decisions, ranking the ability to make changes second. The trend of North American millennials valuing flexibility is also evident in air travel, showing how the ability to change plans without penalty is worth just as much as lower pricing.
  • Cruise passengers are the only respondents from several countries who rank low pricing as the top value. However, North American Gen Z travelers rank environmentally friendly policies second in the list of values, indicating that younger age groups weigh the environmental impact of their travel decisions in addition to price.