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Hospitality & Travel Trends in 2021: Capturing a New Type of Traveller

With global lockdowns easing and international travel making tentative moves to reopen, there’s new hope for the industry to recoup the losses felt in 2020. Despite shifting government advice and the threat of further restrictions, the sentiment is clear – the world is ready to get moving again. So how are we going to achieve this?

The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) reports that a rebound in international travel in the second half of the year will hinge on a major lifting of travel restrictions, the success of vaccination programmes and the introduction of harmonized travel and health protocols such as digital health passports (proof that a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19, received a negative test result or recovered from COVID-19).

The latter are proving big business, with the likes of IATA’s Travel Pass, CommonPass, AOKpass, V-Health Passport and BA’s Verifly app currently being trialled by governments and airline bodies around the world in the hope that they will encourage ease of movement and enhanced security.

Once we’ve nailed a reliable way to journey safely, it’s up to hotels and hospitality venues to play their part in ensuring traveller confidence in the new normal.

Covid has accelerated conversations already in motion, and staying ahead of the travel trends and technology that were already burgeoning – as well as being mindful of new traveller concerns and preferences in light of the pandemic – will be crucial for recovery.

As for traveller intent, a TripAdvisor global survey found that nearly half (47%) of travellers surveyed have plans to travel internationally in 2021, with less than a third (30%) of travellers saying they don’t expect to travel internationally at all this year.

One in 10 (11%) global respondents have already booked an international trip for 2021.

So. Let’s explore what hotels and hospitality venues can do to cater to the first groups to travel, post-pandemic.

Hospitality & Travel Trends in 2021

Safety and hygiene remains a big priority for travellers… but they’re optimistic 

Outdoorsy, activity-filled trips will be high on the agenda for travellers in 2021, much as they were in 2020. We’ll see consumers favouring respite from the crowd for the second year in a row, seeking isolated, private destinations.

a digital key on phone being held to a hotel door

Digital Key applications for Hotel Guests

Destinations that focus on providing seamless, contactless experiences will reassure travellers without overtly reminding them of the risks. Technology plays a crucial role in providing a sense of security—both physical and emotional. Touchless communication systems, mobile check-ins and robotic cleaning technology will all help to create this sense of security. 

Some hoteliers are even testing more ‘theatrical’ methods of sanitation, such as this ‘sanitation booth’ from Bio Armor Zone, which claims to use a fine mist of non-toxic disinfectants and UV lighting to eliminate micro-organisms. Critics see these as purely performative, given that the virus makes itself at home in our nasopharyngeal passages, not our skin. 

Our advice? Avoid gimmicks. Invest in automation tech like digital room keys and voice-activated digital assistants, that not only minimise contact between staff and guests but minimises friction generally during the stay. 

Language is important, too. Clear communication on the safety measures in place can be infinitely more impactful than futuristic-looking booths which can just serve as big, shiny symbols that we’re in a ⚠️ GLOBAL PANDEMIC! ⚠️ 

Above all else, travellers want light at the end of the tunnel. Be optimistic. Help them nurture a dream of travel.

Create a magical planning experience 

Planning leisure trips is exciting at the best of times, but the first big trip of the year will carry extra significance for those who have been thinking about it since last March (or earlier).

The American Express Global Travel Trends Report found that 76% of people, in seven major markets (including the US, UK, Canada and India) are actively creating wish lists of places they want to visit, and 87% are using that as something to look forward to. When they can travel—which 65% say will happen once they receive the COVID vaccine—61% said they’re planning to spend more on a trip than they normally would have this year to make up for the travel they missed in 2020. And 78% are looking to include a wellness component to relieve the stresses of the last year.

How can hoteliers make the planning experience special? Today’s customer is online more than ever, so meet them where they are. Create compelling digital experiences that bring the destination to life through strong and vibrant editorial and visual content. Thoughtful email drip campaigns keep the destination top-of-mind and provide helpful tips for your customer in advance of their trip. Creative loyalty programs help make the customer feel special with bespoke benefits.

Domestic travel will still be popular in 2021

You might assume – after we’ve all been cooped up for a year – that we all want to adventure to far-flung destinations in 2021. But the expected boost in international tourism in the second half of the year doesn’t come at the expense of domestic travel: this could be attributable to decreased confidence in global travel operators, concerns about safety or insurance, diminished earnings, the logistics of group travel, or just a newfound appreciation of quaint local seaside resorts and picturesque countryside. 

sunsets behind a pier

According to research, over 72% of those planning domestic vacations are still in the planning (pre-booking) phase, so there is still time to capture their interest before visitor numbers rise in spring/summer. 

Consider how you can re-engage previous visitors with tailored offers. Revisit your cancellation policy, and think about making it more flexible if it’s fairly rigid. This unusual time won’t last forever, but people want to feel as protected as possible. How can you make domestic travellers feel like they’re in another world, even when they’re close to home?

Emerging groups: reunion travellers

After so many cancelled events – Christmas, Eid, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings - people are keen to reunite with their loved ones to make up for lost time. Villas have rocketed in popularity, as they provide a secluded space with self-catering options for a more personal, private feel. 

Hoteliers and accommodation providers should consider how they can cater to multigenerational gatherings. How can the undertaking of large family trips be made easier for the harried parent who’s organising it?  

renaissance painting of a family banquet

Think about who will make up a reunion group: parents with young children, families with pets, grandparents, teenagers: ensure you cater for them by relaxing policies around children and pets, which will make your properties more bookable… and a lot of dogs happy that they don’t have to spend a week at the kennels. 🐶

The new nomads

With working remotely now the norm, it’s not surprising that 54% of travellers have stated that combining work with travel is now more appealing than it was pre-pandemic. And while remote, private locations are preferable for travellers in a post-Covid world, it’s vital that remote workers can access stable wifi and a place to work. A coworking space is a worthy investment. 

As for staying connected: It’s always important to keep your customers informed, but with a considerable amount of uncertainty about travel safety and emerging law changes from country to country, travellers need to rely on experts to quickly relay the latest information to them. Once, going ‘off-grid’ was a luxury, but there is a legitimate need now to stay connected. 

Positioning your brand as a trustworthy thought leader will help build confidence with your audience, and keep you top of mind when they’re booking their next trip. 

Rebuilding trust in travel 

The latest Abta research found just 32% of people were keen to visit a country they’d never been to before, down from 45% last year. 

Even with the vaccine rollout, it’ll take time for some to rebuild their trust in travel. Some are willing to go abroad, but they value familiarity over adventure: operators are responding by ramping up short-haul programmes to meet demand. 

G Adventures EMEA managing director Brian Young said: “We’re bringing together some of Europe’s most loved destinations, which have traditionally been popular for package breaks, cruising or nightlife, and offering travellers the opportunity to see a completely different side to their favourite holiday spot.”

How can hoteliers create new experiences for guests familiar with the destination? Again, consider viewing the destination through the eyes of your guest and create experiences that show it in a new light. 

man in suit spins holding camera on a beach

Catering to a new type of traveller 

Adopting these strategies isn’t just a way to respond to the current situation – it’ll help you build resilience for the future. Help your guests rediscover the magic of travel and reconnect with friends and family, and you’ll build loyal fans for life.

If you’d like to discuss how Matter Of Form partner with companies to provide strategic design and tech services, please get in touch via hello@matterofform.com to arrange a time to speak with our team of consultants or visit www.matterofform.com

Hospitality
MOF Team

Published by MOF Team

We are a 60-person Experience Design Consultancy with soul. We help timeless brands design what’s next. STRATEGY + DESIGN + TECH + OPTIMISATION