2022 will be a pivotal year for the US travel industry’s recovery. While 2021 saw the return of domestic leisure tourism, many international visitors could not enter the US for most of the year. Expectations are high for international travel following the removal of these inbound travel bans last November. Euromonitor International’s Travel Forecast Model predicts that inbound arrivals to the US will grow by 73% in 2022, recovering to nearly 80% of pre-pandemic levels. After staying at home for nearly two years, however, travellers’ preferences and attitudes have changed. This article will look at three ways that international tourists have changed during the pandemic and how US destinations can use these changes to build loyalty with inbound visitors.
The pandemic has increased travellers’ need for confidence that they can take their trips as planned. The need for confidence is especially important for international travel. Travellers have seen restrictions change multiple times throughout the pandemic, and these changes have made them less confident in booking international travel. In response, international travellers want flexible booking policies and to have as much information as possible before booking trips. Free cancellations remained the top purchase factor for travel in Euromonitor International’s 2021 Voice of the Consumer: Digital Survey. Additionally, feedback and reviews overtook digital wallet checkout and free upgrades as a purchase factor in 2021, indicating that global travellers are increasingly demanding more information before their trips.
Even armed with flexible booking policies, some consumers need further reassurance to book international trips. Many of them are turning to travel agencies to help them navigate the complexities of international travel during the pandemic. Concerns about COVID-19 disrupting travel plans, and potentially becoming stuck in destinations, are among the most common reasons for hesitancy over booking international travel. Use of travel agencies is growing because consumers want dedicated support services should issues arise on their trip. US destinations need to recognise how fragile confidence is amongst many travellers in 2022. Fostering partnerships with travel agencies could be key to convincing hesitant travellers to book trips to the US.
“Go big” mentality
Travellers’ “go big” mentality is one of the greatest opportunities for US destinations in 2022. Two years into the pandemic, they are eager to go abroad again. Many high-income earners were able to save money at a greater rate during the pandemic and they are ready to spend that money on travel. Prior to the pandemic, the average spend by international visitors to the US had steadily declined for several years. That trend reversed in 2021, and Euromonitor International predicts that the average spend per international visitor to the US will continue to grow for several years.
The “go big” mentality is also driving travellers to seek out premium in-destination experiences. According to Euromonitor International’s Voice of the Consumer: Lifestyles survey, 58% of consumers want experiences curated to their tastes. This element of curation is important for US destinations. Travellers want to make the most of their first international trips since the pandemic began. US destinations that want to target international visitors should ask themselves how they can offer elevated experiences that are unique to their destinations. Promoting these experiences will help US destinations attract high-value travellers and encourage them to return for future trips.
Sustainability is a greater consideration for international travellers now than before the pandemic. According to Euromonitor International’s Voice of the Industry: Travel Survey, consumers’ interest in sustainable travel features has grown consistently throughout the pandemic.
As international travellers’ interest in sustainability grows, it is important for US destinations to understand how they view sustainability. Travellers view sustainability as a spectrum. US destinations do not need to check every box on that spectrum; however, they must be able to answer how they fit into sustainable travel. Whether promoting local businesses or resources on how to respect the environment, destinations have an opportunity to show international visitors that they share sustainability as a critical value. Shared values help destinations make deeper emotional connections with visitors and ensure that they are more likely to make return trips.
The pause in international travel has allowed consumers to develop new preferences and attitudes. These trends may have emerged during the pandemic, but it does not mean that they will end with it. Travellers needing confidence, “going big,” and supporting sustainability will all have long-term impacts on the travel industry. If US destinations embrace these trends, they will show inbound visitors that they share the same vision for travel. That shared vision could help build loyalty and promote repeat visits to the US.
For further insight, read our briefing, Hospitality Front and Centre.