Q2 Travel Recovery Trend Report: The Highlights Analyzed

Expedia Group Media Solutions recently published the Travel Recovery Trend Report for Q2, which details many up-to-date insights on the industry’s rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, as identified in Expedia Group’s first-party data and custom research. Here, Richard Kocher, who leads Media Solutions’s data insights and planning team, gives his expert take on these latest findings.

Richard Kocher talks through the highlights of the Q2 Travel Recovery Trend Report

Travel’s Recovery is a Force for Good

We have just finished reading and reviewing Anthro-Vision (How Anthropology Can Explain Business and Life) as part of Media Solutions’ monthly book club. At the heart of this fantastic book by anthropologist and journalist, Gillian Tett, is a strong message about human empathy and the importance of connecting with people across different backgrounds, contexts, and cultures around the world.  

This message is a timely reminder of the human dimension at the core of travel. Traveling is the means by which we’re able to connect with diverse cultures, gain empathy for others and, to quote Gillian Tett, “make the strange familiar”. Travel is undoubtedly, in Expedia Group’s view, a force for good: it’s what broadens horizons for everyone, everywhere. 

In the following article and video guide I’ll walk through the key highlights my team observed in our global data for Q2.

More Stable & Growing Search Volumes 

As mentioned in a previous post, my favorite thing about Expedia Group’s first-party data is that it allows us to capture a moment in time and tell real-time stories of how, when, and where the world is traveling. Data helps us better understand the human dimension of travel, and in the context of the pandemic has allowed us to gauge travelers’ confidence and readiness to see the world again.

The positive news is that Q2 2021 saw our customers more ready for travel than at any point since the start of the pandemic. A 70% increase in global searches quarter-on-quarter not only built on the momentum we saw in our customers’ Q1 travel intent, but we saw demand remain stable and experienced fewer fluctuations week-to-week. For example, 11 out of the 13 weeks across the quarter saw positive week-on-week search growth. Vaccine rollouts, including Pfizer’s expansion, are helping to re-open the world, and evidently inspiring us to travel again. We’re seeing this across all our global regions, particularly North America and EMEA, where searches for these destinations either doubled or came close to doubling the volumes seen in Q1. 

Travelers Looking Further Out 

A trend of short search-to-booking windows has dominated our data since the onset of the pandemic, which reflected ongoing uncertainty around global travel and shoppers’ preference to plan trips only for the near future. In another positive sign of returning traveler confidence, we saw in Q2 that—while the share of our 0- to 21-day search window was still significant—customer searches for 22 to 90 days in advance jumped by 25% quarter-on-quarter, representing over 35% of total searches compared to under 30% in Q1. Even more encouraging—and a sign of travelers making longer-term consumer commitments, particularly for Northern Hemisphere summer travel—we saw the 22- to 90-day search window for international trips increase from around 30% in Q1 to almost 40% in Q2. For EMEA destinations searched by customers based globally, this leapt from under 25% to over 40% of total inbound searches for the region. 

Domestic Dominance Transitioning to International

The growing demand from overseas for destinations in EMEA pointed to a positive rebound for international travel. Multiple weeks throughout Q2 saw week-on-week international search growth outpace that for domestic travel. After a year during which domestic travel dominated the recovery from the pandemic, we were thrilled to see the emergence of international destinations across EMEA, LATAM, and APAC – a significant proportion of which were searched for by North American shoppers. As the region becomes increasingly more vaccinated, demand for travel to the rest of the world has grown rapidly, with the volume of Q2 searches increasing 125% and 55% respectively for EMEA and APAC compared to Q1.

Many of these searches are the start of turning turn a dream trip into reality, as travelers look to make up for lost travel time by planning a bucket-list vacation outside of their home region. Reflecting on our Where Next? campaign of 2020, we saw this “revenge travel” mindset surfacing among our customers at the height of the pandemic: when asked where they would most like to go when able to travel again, the most frequently cited destinations included Indonesia, The Gambia, Norway, British Columbia, The Bahamas, Tonga, and Mexico.

Bright Spots in the Big Cities and by the Beach

We see our Q2 Top 10 bookings by region dominated by city and beach destinations, which have either re-entered the Top 10 since Q1, or made notable moves up the rankings. For example, for the big global cities, we see Chicago and Atlanta in the chart for North American shoppers; Seoul and Jeju City in the APAC list; Houston and Mexico City for LATAM-based travelers; and Copenhagen and Paris for those in EMEA. New York featured in the Top 10 for all regions except APAC!

Looking at beaches and coastal getaways, Vrbo’s Top 10 most-booked destinations by area featured Panama City Beach, Kissimmee, Destin, and Miramar Beach for Florida; Gulf Shores and Orange Beach for Alabama; Hilton Head Island and Myrtle Beach for South Carolina; and Lahaina and Kihei in Hawaii.

Also notable in the data is the relative popularity of those destinations where COVID-19 risks are being strategically managed. For example, in the APAC region, we saw Phuket’s “Sandbox” initiative allow fully vaccinated travelers back to their beaches without quarantine requirements, resulting in searches for the destination doubling quarter-on-quarter.

Emerging Travel & Sustainability Trends

Returning to Anthro-Vision, Gillian Tett states that tackling climate change requires “lateral, not tunnel, vision and a sense of global connectivity.” These wise words are echoed in our research and insights, which indicate that travelers do see the bigger picture and, as such, are increasingly interested in sustainable travel practices – whether that’s reducing their carbon footprint or easing the burden of overtourism in their chosen destination. According to recent Expedia Group and Wakefield research, many are willing to pay more to ensure their trip is more environmentally and socially sustainable.

My team is looking at ways to use data to better understand the increasingly important role of sustainability in travel. How do we use data and emerging trends strategically to ensure travelers looking for sustainable travel are engaging with the right Media Solutions’ partners and campaigns at the right time? Such campaigns include our recent initiative with Iberostar and UNESCO, which aims to educate our customers about Iberostar’s Wave of Change campaign and inspire them to make more informed decisions on how they travel. At the consumer level, if data helps us decipher the mindset of a global traveler, how do we use it to decode their perceptions towards sustainable travel? 

In the Q2 Travel Trend Recovery Report, we feature for the first time an evolving data set from our guest reviews which—in the same way as tracking comments on cleanliness and hygiene (as seen in our Q1 report)—allows us to detect customers’ perceptions that link with the zeitgeist. In the context of sustainability and the environment, when looking back over Q2 2021, we can see that the most frequently mentioned themes in guest reviews were:

  1. Single-use plastics
  2. Recycling
  3. Electric car charging
  4. LED light bulbs
  5. Renewable energy

Re-Opening the World, One Trip and One Shot at a Time

Just as sustainability might be the lens through which we come to view everything in the world of travel, inclusion and diversity are become increasingly important to travelers. Again, to quote Anthro-Vision and Gillian Tett, travelers want to “make the strange familiar and the familiar strange” by exploring diverse situations and cultures – all facilitated by the power or travel. As we progress through the second half of 2021, I can’t wait to use our data to learn more about and support these two emerging and critical areas. 

Furthermore, the human dimension of travel has arguably never been so front-of-mind for Expedia Group and Media Solutions, and I’m excited to see how our recent Give the World a Shot campaign builds further vaccine momentum, continues to help re-open the world, and inspires long-lasting recovery for travel. This is a fantastic initiative that sees Expedia Group donate to UNICEF every time a customer transacts across one of our family of apps, including Expedia, Hotels.com, Vrbo, Orbitz, Travelocity, Hotwire, ebookers, and CheapTickets.  

To find out about the trends covered here in more detail, download the Q2 2021 Travel Recovery Trend Report. This in-depth report is based on over 300 petabytes of first-party Expedia Group data plus the latest custom research.

Richard Kocher

Global Director, Media Insights & Planning and Sales Excellence

Richard is global director of Expedia Group Media Solutions’ Insights & Planning (MIP) and Sales Excellence teams. His team is responsible for mining Expedia Group’s exclusive first-party search and booking data as well as market insights to inform partners’ advertising campaign strategies, product selection and audience targeting. Prior to overseeing the global MIP team from 2015, Richard led Business Development, Support/Planning and Account Management teams in display and sponsored listings (TravelAds) across EMEA and APAC. Before joining Expedia Group in 2010, Richard worked in Advertiser Business Development at BBC Worldwide, and from 2002 to 2008 at the Guardian newspaper as an Advertising Executive for their travel supplement and in Brand Solutions and Editorial Production roles on theguardian.com. In addition to MIP, Richard leads Sales Excellence, supporting the strategy, content and execution of L&D materials for Media Solutions’ Business Development teams. He has postgraduate degrees in Anthropology from the University of Sussex and Business Administration from Warwick Business School – and lives with his family outside of London in Winchester.

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