It is an interesting time in travel. We are shifting from summer into fall, and, with that, there are many trends and campaigns happening.
Before diving into the trends, let’s take stock of where we are now. Labor Day weekend proved to be very interesting and very successful, at least in 2020 terms. The TSA reported its highest number of travelers since the pandemic began in March. On Sept. 4, 968,673 people passed through TSA checkpoints across the country. But that’s still nowhere near the 2.2 million passengers that the TSA processed exactly one year earlier, coming in at only 39% of the number of travelers screened during the same period in 2019.
Data from STR shows that U.S. hotel performance for the week ending Sept. 5 received a slight boost from Labor Day weekend. Occupancy dropped 18.9% year over year to 49.4%, and average daily rate fell by 17.1% to $100.97, resulting in revenue per available room decreasing by 32.8% to $49.87.
However, hotel demand grew over Labor Day weekend. Saturday occupancy came in at 69%, and leisure markets that have showed the highest summer occupancy levels reported strong increases from the previous weekend. At the same time, the markets with the highest occupancy for the week were not leisure destinations. Rather, the high occupancy markets were those housing displaced residents from Hurricane Laura and the California wildfires.
Coming off Labor Day weekend, let’s look at trends.
Considering that the travel industry has been turned upside down, it only makes sense that a new travel trend has emerged. Introducing “Stretch Season”—where summer travel stretches into fall.
In a recent MMGY Travel Intelligence study, 64% of travelers still expect to take a leisure trip within the next six months, which is not terribly surprising when you consider that one in every three travelers chose to postpone their travel plans at the start of the pandemic. With so many people working remotely, an increased number of kids doing virtual classes or home schooling, and so many business trips being canceled, we are seeing more people than usual take trips right around now. It might not be enough to completely shift the industry, but there are enough traveling to make it a trend.
Speaking of trends, another trend we are seeing is “Work and Learn from Paradise,” where hotels are promoting travelers to opt for an extended stay.
Earlier this summer, Playa Hotels & Resorts in the Dominican Republic launched the “Work and Learn from Paradise” program. Stay for 14 days, be upgraded to a suite, and have all your needs taken care of through an all-inclusive package – sounds amazing, right? Many other hotels have since followed suit. For example, the St. Regis Punta Mita has introduced the concept of “workations,” making it easy for travelers who are now working remotely to travel and stay longer. Similarly, the Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita has debuted its Knowledge for All Seasons program, which was created to make distance learning and working convenient for kids and parents.
The U.S. Travel Association has launched a new campaign dubbed “Let’s Go There,” which was designed to get Americans excited about planning their next vacation. The campaign is aimed to tell travelers, “When it’s time for you, we’ll be ready.”
Research during the development of the Let’s Go There campaign found that 97% of respondents say having a trip planned makes them happier, while 82% reported it makes them “moderately” or “significantly” happier. In addition, 71 % reported feeling greater levels of energy when they had a trip planned in the next six months.
A formal campaign — the Black Travel Alliance —is advocating that travel brands and destination management organizations actively support the BLM movement through greater diversity and representation. Even though they make up more than 12% of the U.S. population and account for 6% of travel spending, less than 3% of travel advertising focuses on African-Americans. This campaign is pushing travel brands to prove their commitment to it by hiring more Black managers and employees and increasing the numbers of Black speakers at their conferences, journalists on their press trips and travelers in their advertising.
That being said, where are people planning to travel this fall?
According to Tripadvisor’s Fall Travel Index, released on Tuesday, beachside destinations like Key Largo and Key West are the most popular for hotel bookings this fall.
In data recorded from trips booked from Sept. 1 to Nov. 30 of this year, other popular destinations for fall travel are coastal towns around the country. The pandemic has forced travelers to be creative and explore new destinations in ways they may not have considered previously. This fall, we’re seeing a rise in destinations where travelers can relax and rejuvenate, as opposed to the busy hustle and bustle of popular cities.
TripAdvisor also showed that travelers are being more budget-conscious and staying in less expensive hotels than they may have last year. As opposed to all-inclusive resorts, campgrounds and farmhouses are seeing a much faster recovery in bookings. Small, bed-and-breakfast style accommodations have also seen a strong recovery in U.S. bookings.
Most travelers are only considering short getaways for the fall season, with 55% of travelers booking two to five-night stays and 36% only booking for one night. Travelers may also be spontaneous than in previous years, often booking upcoming trips less than one week in advance.
When it comes to holiday travel, I personally think we are a little too far out to determine how things will play out. But we’ll be sure to cover it in a future episode.