Despite successful vaccination programs in many countries around the world, the continued challenges around COVID-19, like the new Omicron variant, have brought back travel restrictions and social distancing requirements across the globe. STR’s Tourism Consumer Insights team continues to keep a close eye on tourism trends as well as travel accommodation preferences because of the pandemic.
In November 2021, shortly before news of Omicron had surfaced, STR undertook a new online survey using its Traveler Panel–an engaged audience of travel consumers–to examine sentiment and how it might affect industry fortunes at this uncertain time. The research gathered the views of nearly 1,500 global travelers.
A new standard of preferences has been set since the beginning of COVID-19, and accommodation in the current situation continues to be less desirable than in pre-pandemic times.
Travelers continue to prefer short-term rentals and smaller size hotels (properties with less than 50 rooms) due to lingering concerns about the virus. In November 2021, traveler interest in short-term rentals was 12% above the pre-pandemic level of interest. In the context in which consumers continue to seek space and wish to minimize their contact with others, it is perhaps not surprising that self-catering and smaller sized accommodation continue to standout.
On the flipside, due to the room share factor and communal facilities, hostels are significantly less attractive compared with pre-pandemic times (-61% net interest in November 2021). At the same time, there’s a sense that economy and budget operators are less well perceived in the current situation as well.
Reflecting these accommodation preferences, travelers continue to seek out more rural experiences to escape the crowds and engage more with the outdoors. More than 30% of respondents agreed that they preferred these types of trips in the current situation compared with before the pandemic.
Many have been forced to holiday at home in the last year or so and there is a sense now that domestic tourism is more appealing (as well as being more common) than international tourism (domestic trip +11% net interest versus international trip -12% net interest). This is perhaps due to a combination of recent positive staycation experiences and concerns around the potential hassle and inconveniences of international travel, such as testing protocols, potential quarantine, and infection risk.
Another type of trip which is less appealing in the current environment is event-specific trips (-48% net interest). This is likely linked to heightened concerns of infection by attending a mass event.
Traditional determinants of choice
The importance of reviews and recommendations has increased in recent waves. More than 20% who had booked accommodation recently stated these were a key factor which had influenced their choice where to stay. Meanwhile, the importance of cancellation policies continues to diminish (18% in November 2021 vs. 23% in July 2021 vs. 29% in February 2021).
Interestingly, while consideration of hotel social distancing policies appears to be less significant now with fewer personal health concerns due to vaccination, there has been no decline in the importance of cleanliness. This finding suggests that consumers may have new perspectives and expectations regarding cleanliness post-pandemic.
The latest research shows that accommodation preferences and behaviors are continuing to shift and evolve in response to the current COVID-19 situation. Aspects which were important in the past, like the location and perceived value for money offering of accommodation, continue to be relevant and important. However, new preferences and behaviors have led to new opportunities and challenges for the industry. Efforts to capitalize on consumers’ new-kindled interest in the outdoors and a “sense of space,” and enabling flexible bookings are a few relevant strategies for remaining competitive.
NOTE: This research was undertaken in early November 2021 before the Omicron variant emerged. As a result, respondents’ views do not represent the newest situation around COVID-19.
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