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New research reveals price no longer primary driver of travel decisions

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Safety and financial security emerge as top considerations in pandemic-focused study from Expedia Group.

SEATTLE - New research from Expedia Group reveals shifting views on travel, including positive sentiment on vaccine passports, increased budgets, and an enduring demand for safety and financial security. The Traveler Value Indexexamines the views of 8,000 people in eight countries to understand their values and expectations as the pandemic becomes more controlled in many parts of the world. 

“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 for 2021 and beyond  
Despite a period of uncertainty, the Traveler Value Index shows that people are making travel a financial priority. More than a third (34%) of travelers have larger travel budgets now compared to 2020. In fact, nearly one in five respondents globally (18%) expect travel to be the activity they spend most on in 2021, on par with major spending items such as home renovation (18%) and ahead of entertainment (12%), buying or taking care of a car (11%), or healthcare (11%). Additionally, more than third (36%) say they would trade a pay raise for more vacation days.

Travelers are thinking differently about the frequency and length of travel. Many (60%) are opting for domestic travel in the short-term, however they are planning to get away more often, nearly half (41%) wanting more frequent, shorter, trips. The outlook for international travel is also improving, with more than a quarter (27%) of travelers considering a trip to another country in the next year. In fact, nearly three-quarters (71%) of travelers are comfortable showing a vaccine passport to travel internationally. 

The research also shows an increased desire for new and different experiences over nostalgic destinations, with three-quarters (75%) of travelers likely to select a travel destination they’ve never been to before. Additionally, more than half (52%) are likely to use a new mode of transportation, and nearly a quarter (22%) are looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience on their next trip.  

Decisions reflect personal values 
The Traveler Value Index reveals that travelers continue to make value-based decisions that reflect their own personal views when booking travel. Travelers want to support sustainable practices, with nearly three in five (59%) willing to pay higher fees to make their trip more sustainable. 

Additionally, a majority (65%) 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, are welcoming to the LGBTQIA+ community, and those that are supportive of people with disabilities.

Financial security and safety are top priorities 
The Traveler Value Index ranks the factors shaping booking decisions across multiple travel experiences, including:

  • The 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 upgrade. 

Financial security and safety rank as the highest priorities for travelers across all experiences, a shift from the conventional wisdom that price drives consumer behavior. More than one in four travelers most value the ability to get a refund, particularly for airline (26%) and vacation rental (26%) experiences, followed by enhanced cleaning and disinfection. The results highlight a need for travel providers to clearly communicate cancellation policies and cleanliness measures to help ease any anxieties and build confidence. 

The Traveler Value Index also shows differences in values by age group, indicating that younger groups 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 US and Japan rank enhanced cleaning 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 more than a quarter of respondents (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, or those born between 1981 and 1996, 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 numerous countries who rank low pricing as the top value. However, North American Gen Z travelers, or those born in 1997 onwards, rank environmentally friendly policies second in the list of values, showing that younger age groups weigh the environmental impact of their travel decisions in addition to price.
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