With restrictions and lockdowns easing around the world, the travel industry is hopeful that 2022 will be a banner year for travel. While the emergence of the Omicron variant kept many people from traveling in the fourth quarter of 2021, it did not stop them from dreaming about — and planning — future trips. Global search volumes continued to build momentum throughout the year, leading to a year-over-year increase of 70 percent.
Expedia Group Media Solutions recently launched its Q4 2021 Travel Recovery Trend Report, which outlines the latest data and research on how travel is returning and includes actionable insights to help capture demand for destinations, accommodations, transportation, and other industry segments.
As appetite for leisure travel continued to grow in the fourth quarter of last year, most notably in the Asia-Pacific region, global search windows increased and long-haul destinations became more appealing. The continued popularity of vacation rentals and the heightened use of loyalty programs also pointed toward steady and sustainable growth for the year ahead.
“The fourth quarter was really when we saw how resilient both travelers and the industry have become after living with Covid for almost two years. Setbacks such as the Omicron variant had an impact, but not nearly to the same extent — nor for as long — as we saw earlier in the pandemic,” said Jennifer Andre, global vice president of Expedia Group Media Solutions.
SkiftX breaks down the positive trends seen at the end of 2021, highlighting Expedia Group’s promising first-party data to help travel marketers connect with travelers as demand rises in the year ahead.
Appetite for Travel Is Growing
Travelers are still eager to get away. Despite a few setbacks in the immediate wake of the Omicron variant’s emergence, global search volume was up 70 percent compared to 2020, boosted by country reopenings and an overall easing of border restrictions. Week-over-week global searches spiked around major announcements, such as the U.S. border reopening to vaccinated travelers from 33 countries in November.
This growth in search volume aligns with insights from Expedia Group’s Traveler Value Index: 2022 Outlook report, which found that 81 percent of travelers are planning to take a leisure trip in the next six months, and one in five plan on taking three or more.
In the Asia-Pacific region, search volumes were up nearly 35 percent over the third quarter of 2021, driven by additional vaccinated travel lanes and international border reopenings in several countries, including Singapore and Fiji. In previous quarters, the rebound in Asia-Pacific lagged behind growth in other regions, so this is an encouraging milestone for travel marketers looking to capture demand.
Search Windows Are Lengthening
As borders reopened and restrictions loosened, international travelers started dreaming about and planning trips further out, an indication of rising traveler confidence. Search windows lengthened considerably, with 40 percent of global searches falling within a search window of 31 or more days, a 15 percent increase over the third quarter. The swing toward longer search windows was greatest in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, with a 30 percent increase over the third quarter.
As the Omicron threat wanes, and as travelers begin to plan spring and summer trips, global search windows should continue to lengthen into 2022. Travel marketers should time seasonal messages and offers accordingly.
Long-Haul Destinations Are in Demand
Domestic travel continues to help fuel recovery, especially in North America, but international trips are coming back in a big way. Travelers continue to search for and book destinations outside of their home regions, a trend first identified in the second quarter of 2021.
Latin America-based travelers led this trend, with five out of their top 10 most in-demand destinations located in other parts of the world: New York, Paris, Las Vegas, Madrid, and, new to the list in the fourth quarter, Orlando. For people living in the Asia-Pacific region, two long-haul destinations made the list: Dubai and Honolulu.
Meanwhile, North America-based travelers continued to book closer to home, with Cancun being the only international destination on the top 10 list. Horizons are likely to broaden, however, as Expedia Group’s Traveler Value Index found that 68 percent of Americans are considering bigger trips to intercontinental destinations like Rome, Bali, London, and Paris in 2022. With all of this in mind, destination marketers can rest assured that ramping up campaigns to overseas inbound travelers can yield positive results.
Vacation Rentals Are Still Popular
Vacation rentals, one of the most popular accommodation types among travelers throughout the pandemic, continued to be attractive, gaining more share of all lodging bookings in Q4 compared to Q3, while the average length of stay increased slightly from 5.2 to 5.4 days. In Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, the average vacation rental stay length increased from 6.8 to 7.1 days.
According to the 2022 Vrbo Trend Report, travelers booked 2021 vacation rentals two to three months earlier than usual for summer and holiday travel, and they plan to book future vacations earlier than they did before the pandemic.
As the season shifted from fall to winter, American travelers continued to seek warm-weather getaways in Florida, Hawaii, and South Carolina — with two new destinations making the top 10 list: Breckenridge, Colorado, and Naples, Florida. Popular among families, vacation rentals will continue to drive travel decisions, especially for domestic markets.
Loyalty Program Use Is Up
Looking ahead to 2022, loyalty programs will play an increasingly important role as travelers make decisions about where to go. Expedia Group’s Traveler Value Index found that 40 percent of travelers intend to use loyalty points for trips this year. Growth in loyalty program membership — 140 percent more travelers joined Expedia Rewards in December 2021 vs. December 2019 — signals a big year ahead.
While loyalty programs typically require upfront costs, travel marketers should view them as a worthwhile customer acquisition investment that generates repeat bookings.
“While the pandemic and recovery remain unpredictable, travel marketers need to stay flexible and creative,” Andre said. “But there are enough positive signals to suggest that a solid 2022 lies ahead for those who get their marketing right.”