Much like in Sojern's latest European Insights blog, there is still uncertainty around when travel restrictions will be lifted, and how European summer travel plans will be impacted. Over the last month there have been a number of announcements which have impacted traveller behaviour.
A key announcement was made by UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, in which a plan to gradually lift, and finally end restrictions, was unveiled. Schools have already re-opened, and the roadmap sees non-essential shops, gyms, and outdoor activities being among the next to return. This will be followed by two households being allowed to meet indoors, leading on to larger numbers being able to get together in their homes and indoor venues. The 17th of May is the earliest suggested date for when travel abroad will open up to those living in the UK, with domestic holidays potentially allowed as soon as the 12th of April.
The concept of vaccine passports has also been discussed among European Countries, and there is a chance they could be introduced before Summer. This could mean particular destinations require proof of vaccination before people travel inbound from listed origins. This will have a huge impact on where, and when people can travel.
It is not just the UK still facing restrictions. Across Europe, where cases are particularly low, some lockdowns are being gradually eased. Meanwhile in other European countries, new restrictions continue to be implemented, measures tightened, and travel bans put in place.
EMEA Shows Strong Recovery in 2021 Traveller Confidence
Taking a look at global traveller confidence, Europe and the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) have seen a steep incline in inbound bookings since the 14th of Feb – inline with the dates we highlight below when looking at the impact on UK travel specifically. This could be due to multiple factors, including the implementation of vaccine rollouts, scheduled lifting of travel restrictions, as well people beginning to plan for their European summer holiday as in many countries across the region, these are considered peak months for inbound travel and tourism. Compared to the other regions, EMEA has shown the second fastest recovery in volumes following only APAC when compared to levels at the beginning of January 2021. This is a positive step for the region.
How UK Travel Behaviour Changed as a Result of ‘Roadmap’ Announcement
After the announcement made by Boris Johnson, UK summer holidays quickly began to sell out with up to 90% no longer being available . The boom in bookings is reflected in UK domestic travel data.
In the lead up to the announcement there was speculation around what the roadmap would look like, and when restrictions on domestic and international travel would be lifted. Hotel booking volumes rapidly increased from the week commencing 14th of February, a week before the announcement was even made. This suggests that people were anticipating or hoping for a summer of domestic travel, and wanted to ensure they secured their holiday before places got booked up. Since the announcement, domestic travel confidence within the UK has remained high.
The fact that such high volumes were willing to book before they knew for certain what the timeline would look like could be due to the abundance of flexible cancellation policies in place. This is a huge change in traveller behaviour when compared to pre-COVID times where there was less flexibility with booking options, and highlights the importance of hotels being flexible with their messaging and offering.
Top Destinations from the UK - Hotel Searches from the Last 60 days for departure dates 60-180 days in the future (from 7th March 2021)
It is also interesting to see which global destinations are most searched for by UK travellers when looking at dates around and after the 17th May (the expected date for international travel to open). As it stands, the highest percentage of searches over the last 60 days are for Dubai, Maldives, and Greece, collectively with over 18% of travel intent directed at them.
As long as discussions around vaccine passports continue, travel restrictions remain, and lockdowns across Europe stay in place, traveller behaviour will continue to vary and be somewhat unpredictable. However, assuming cases stay within expected levels, travel and leisure will slowly begin to open up, and it is clear that there is a huge amount of demand for summer or 2021 holidays. Not only is domestic travel looking hugely popular, UK travellers are also looking a little further afield to countries like the United Arab Emirates and Greece. We will continue to share more insights as we monitor the situation.These insights help travel marketers shape their strategies as the industry recovers.