For the first time, Expedia Group unveiled a comprehensive view of traveller trends across Expedia®, Hotels.com and Vrbo and the broader travel industry in 2023. Sourced from the company’s first-party data, and from custom research of thousands of travellers and industry professionals across 17 countries, including South Africa, these top travel trends prove there is no “one-size-fits-all” travel in 2023. In 2023, travel will be all about breaking the mold. Whether it’s flying to a once-in-a-lifetime event or renting a holiday home to host a group celebration, travellers are no longer adapting to the next new normal, but creating their own status quo altogether. This new era of travel is all about saying “no” to normal and searching for experiences without compromises.
“When we look at Expedia, Hotels.com, and Vrbo data together, we see a detailed and robust picture of travel into 2023,” said Jon Gieselman, Expedia Brands President. “We’re seeing a surge in trips to culture capitals, a new wave of interest in wellness retreats, and a spike in demand for outdoor destinations beyond just beaches and mountains — not a new normal but people branching out to unexpected trends in what we’re calling the ‘no normal’.”
An optimistic industry pushes forward
After some tough years, the industry seems ready to rebound. Just recently, South African stakeholders across the tourism value chain, including the department of Tourism, met during the Tourism Business Council of South Africa’s (TBCSA) conference where they discussed and mapped the way forward for the sector. In her budget vote speech, Minister of Tourism, Lindiwe Sisulu, says that the sector contributes about 3,7% to South Africa’s GDP that’s more than agriculture, utilities, and construction, therefore, it’s important that the industry is revived again.
The Expedia research deep dives into what is important to South Africans when it comes to travel. These are some of the findings that stand out:
- Drivable destinations are the top choice in most countries, with experiences or tours popular in South Africa (46%), Brazil (45%), and Mexico (36%).
- Marketing (19%) and sustainability (19%) are the top investment priorities for travel professionals in 2023. South Africans prioritise sustainability more than Americans (10%).
- Latin American, South African, and Korean travellers value customer reviews when making a booking decision with 69% of South African travel professionals acting on negative reviews. South African (60%) and US (58%) travel professionals believe consumers will use providers who respond to negative reviews.
- 54% of Mexicans and 59% of South Africans find travel inspiration on social media and South Africa (70%), Mexico (69%) and France (67%) emphasise finding the best price online.
- South Africans (60%), Canadians (60%) and Americans (57%) are concerned about inflation affecting their travel plans in the next year and Latin American and South African consumers value loyalty programs most, while Japanese do not.
The research is broken down into various categories that aims to understand the changes that have affected travel globally.
1. PERMANENT PREFERENCES: THE PANDEMIC CAUSED PERMANENT SHIFTS IN TRAVELLER BEHAVIOUR AND INDUSTRY NORMS
Absence made the appetite for travel stronger.
- Continued recovery and return to pre-pandemic behaviours is increasing travel demand and investments.
- 46% of consumers say travel is more important to them now than pre-pandemic, with 43% increasing their travel budget next year.
- 79% plan to take a leisure trip in the next year, up from 76% a few months ago, with the average person planning two.
- Travel’s self-care benefits are non-negotiable. Wellness (49%) and a change of scenery (49%) are top travel reasons in 2022.
- 43% of travellers want new experiences, 34% want to leave their comfort zones, and 22% want to meet new people.
- 15% of travellers want to use pandemic-era points and credits.
Travelers will vote with their values.
- Sustainable travel is a priority as travel demand returns to pre-pandemic levels. Research shows that people want travel-friendly businesses. 70% of people prefer inclusive travel, even if it is more expensive. 64% of industry professionals believe customers will choose more inclusive travel options, even if more expensive.
- Travel businesses are taking action: 60% of organisations changed their services in the last year to be inclusive and accessible, and 21% plan to.
Despite less tumultuous travel, consumers continue to demand flexible options.
- Being able to change bookings without a fee or penalty was ranked in the top four values by consumers, demonstrating the importance of flexible travel options.
- Industry professionals also value refunds and flexible policies but perceive consumers’ desire for flexibility to be waning. Nearly all industry professionals say they offer flexible options, but only 63% say they will continue doing so.
- Nearly half of consumers (47%) say they would not book non-refundable lodging, and more than half (51%) would not book non-changeable transportation. This need for flexibility increases internationally, to 57% and 59% for lodging and transportation, respectively.
2. TEMPORARY RESPONSES TO AN EXTREME SITUATION ARE EXPECTED TO RETURN TO PRE-PANDEMIC BEHAVIOURS
- All eyes are on the return of international and business travel.
- Research shows a positive outlook for business and international travel in 2023 as the world opens and companies adopt new policies.
- International and business travel are 2023’s biggest opportunities. Business travellers (51%) are their company’s top priority, followed by international travellers (48%) and families (46%).
Concerns about health and cleanliness are waning.
- In this year’s Traveller Value Index, enhanced cleaning is not a top three factor when booking lodging, transportation, activities, or visiting a destination, whereas it was in 2021. Consumers are more concerned about rising costs of living.
3. LIKE THE PANDEMIC, SOME BEHAVIOURS REMAIN HARD TO PREDICT
Price sensitivity returns as inflations rises.
- Professionals underestimate inflation’s impact and consumers’ price sensitivity. Consumers value refundability (24%), enhanced cleaning and disinfection (22%), and price (17%) most.
- Consumers are price sensitive because they want value for their money. Respondents say “the experience was worth the cost” is the most important trip factor. On the flip side, not getting the full service or experience they paid for was the top reason for a negative review.11
- Free add-ons like breakfast or parking and early booking discounts rank highest (33%), followed by package discounts (32%) and last-minute booking discounts (22%).
Consumers have yet to fully realize the benefit of travel loyalty programs.
- While three-quarters of organisations use loyalty programmes to encourage repeat bookings, only 44% of consumers are members of a loyalty programme, with the lowest rates in Germany and Japan.
- 52% of consumers value special, discounted pricing most in loyalty programmes, followed by earning points for future travel (46%) and complimentary upgrades and other perks (42%).
- 53% of consumers say travelling with their loyalty providers is more important than before the pandemic.
- Though bookings decreased during the pandemic, the percentage of bookings with loyalty points remained steady and increased in 2022.
For the full industry report on insights and actions for travel partners, download the Traveler Value Index 2023 For the full consumer report on The No-Normal; Unexpected Travel Trends in 2023, go to https://www.expedia.com/see/2023traveltrends-expedia.