Michael Gallinari
Mike is a US Travel and Leisure Reports Analyst at Mintel. Mike writes reports about consumer travel preferences as well as leisure market research.

It’s no secret that travel has taken a huge hit since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a result of Americans trying to limit their exposure to the virus. However, even as early as last summer travelers were finding ways to venture out. According to Mintel research on local vacations, nearly half of people had taken a vacation within a four-hour drive of home in the first six months of the pandemic. Lodging for these vacations often included renting whole buildings in order to limit contact with people outside of their pod, and creating new audiences for brands like Vrbo, Airbnb and Sonder. Road trips also increased in popularity during the pandemic, with nearly two-thirds of consumers saying that hitting the road on vacation had become more appealing since the outbreak of COVID-19. However, with vaccines beginning to roll out in earnest in the spring of 2021 and Americans becoming more confident in their safety, vacation patterns will emerge that are both affected by and reacting to the year in isolation.

Friends and family are most important

Now that Americans feel more comfortable traveling, they’re putting a priority on seeing their loved ones once again. According to Mintel research on Vacation Planning, nearly two-thirds of vacation planners say visiting friends and relatives (VFR) travel is a top priority for them post-pandemic, and more than half feel more obligated to take VFR trips post-pandemic than other kinds of trips. Near-future travelers are putting their loved ones first, which can make it hard for destination marketers to lure re-emerging travelers to their locales. Emphasizing family-friendliness is going to help brands succeed with this group of travelers.

Nearly two-thirds of vacation planners say visiting friends and relatives (VFR) travel is a top priority for them post-pandemic.

Taking our time while making up for lost time

One theme that has persisted throughout the pandemic is that travelers are feeling stressed out, and are looking to vacations as an outlet for relaxation. According to upcoming Mintel research on the impact of COVID-19 on travel, half of consumers planning to travel in the future say they want their trips to be more relaxing than they were before the pandemic. Moreover, one-third of these consumers also want to take trips that take a deep dive into one location, rather than traveling to several destinations. As such, future travelers will be interested in travel experiences that are low impact, low-stress, and more akin to “slow travel.”

Partying like it’s Alternate 2020

Data from upcoming Mintel research on the impact of COVID-19 on travel also finds that among consumers that plan on traveling only when COVID-19 is not a risk, more than two in five will be catching up on a trip that they had planned, but was canceled by the pandemic. With current personal savings very high, there is a lot of potential for travelers to upgrade facets of their previously planned trips. Additionally, one-third of this holdout group is looking to take the “trip of a lifetime,” with this sentiment being strongest among consumers under 35. Clearly, consumers are going to use travel as a victory statement over the pandemic and may take the opportunity to pull out all the stops on their trip.

What We Think

Americans see the light at the end of the tunnel. When it comes to travel, consumers are thinking beyond the past. While they want to be in contact with long-unseen loved ones, there is also a strong impetus to use travel as both therapy and a way to definitively put the pandemic behind them. For brands, this will come in the form of upgraded trips and more time spent at destinations, giving the industry a much-needed shot in the arm as it begins to recover.