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Travel Industry Trends Going Into 2021

Here are some of our key travel trends going into the new year! Citations within. Good luck and safe travels. 

Enhanced Health and Hygiene
While the hospitality industry spent 2020 implementing elevated safety and hygiene procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic era, companies are likely to continue building on and improving their healthy stay programs and partnerships in the new year as they look to not only assure guests but separate themselves from the competition.

Extended Trips + Bleisure
With travelers taking fewer vacations, providers have been introducing more extended stay programs and packages as guests lean into longer stays which may end up being the only trip this year. Furthermore, if remote work trends continue, the digital nomad trend of extended remote work stays may make this trend more permanent. With travelers opting for longer stays, business and leisure could become more intertwined and they will need rooms where they can comfortably and privately work (e.g. faster Wi-Fi, practical work desks etc). 

Acceleration of Contactless
Minimizing touchpoints will continue to be a priority across travel - hotels, airports, restaurants and other destinations will accelerate moves toward mobile (apps, QR codes etc) to reduce the spread of possible disease. Further proliferation of online check-in / check-out process, mobile keys and room preferences controlled by technology will become much more common. From a Food and Beverage (F&B) standpoint, limiting human interaction through proliferation of grab-and-go options, room service leaving meals at doors or QR codes/scannable menus allow guests to have meaningful experiences but remain as safe as possible. This move further accelerates the gathering of data to offer more personalized experience and improve loyalty going forward (as discussed below)

Personalized Loyalty
While business travel is struggling, technological changes at work are unlikely to replace leisure travel - in fact it it likely to further acceleration peoples' desire to get away on vacation. This means that providing more advanced and personalized loyalty benefits to top customers based on each guest’s CRM preferences is critical - especially when price competition may not stand out in a market where hotels/airlines fight for share. With fewer loyalty points being accumulated in the near-term, loyalty will require personalization, targeting and engagement to drive repeat stays from existing and new guests.

Business travel programs will change
Strictness around management of travel programs will strengthen a corporate travel manager’s ability  to significantly reduce, if not prohibit, unmanaged travel (booked through channels not approved by a company) altogether.

Given how executives will closely manage employee return to travel, travel program managers will have unique opportunities to act as trusted advisors to CEOs and corporate leaders. They will likely lean on travel managers for guidance on how to rebuild travel confidence safely and responsibly and can educate senior management on the strategies, policies and tools needed to thrive in a new normal.

Business travel programs will focus not only on cost control but also on traveler wellbeing and duty of care. Senior executives have a responsibility to protect their traveling workforce and employees will need more empathetic policies and hands-on support to return to travel. For example, companies may enhance travel tools, access to assistants and make allowance for benefits like, for example, taking taxis/ride-shares vs. public transport.

AI-driven policy will likely proliferate to make travel programs smarter - e.g. dynamic hotel rate caps that leverage data to determine the maximum price a traveler should pay for a room at any specific time. These programs will help drive down costs without the effort required to negotiate a preferential rate directly with a supplier. The most successful organizations will put the traveler firmly at the center of their plans and seize the emerging opportunities that disruption creates. 

Travel Accomodations as Remote Work Destinations
Thanks to the severity of the pandemic, businesses have been forced to adapt to using technology to conduct meetings, meet customers and onboard new customers. The outlook for this travel accelerating remains a question mark (IdeaWorks estimates airline business trips will drop up to 36%) and the possibilities are still worrisome given hotel reliance on corporate travel. As hotels pivot in the new normal, welcoming the remote nomadic worker and/or local employees who can work remotely may be a wise approach. As 47% of U.S. professionals say their companies will support remote work post-pandemic, this hybrid model incorporing co-working may now proliferate. Hotels should serve those looking to collaborate and connect with others while also catering those looking for quiet space to work solo. These next gen hotel experiences can effectively be satellites of existing workplaces - offering the chance to be productive as one sees fit but also be conveniently located for employees. 

Emphasis on Privacy
Travelers will be seeking increased privacy in 2021 - possibly through home rentals that offer guests more space and privacy than a traditional hotel room. Properties in secluded domestic destinations where travelers can worry less about local restrictions and close encounters with strangers may remain popular.

Flexibility-Flexibility-Flexibility
One of the key takeaways from this pandemic is that having flexibility is critical. Travelers and businesses have now come to expect it and providers want to continue to drive direct bookings. We have seen it with change fees for airlines and hotels have generally led the way with flexible bookings. Those that continue to respect the challenges of booking and executing traveling for the foreseeable future may be the leaders coming out of this crisis.

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