November 10, 2021

Deloitte: Holiday Travel Cleared for Take Off, but COVID-19 Continues to Impact the Journey

Americans plan to celebrate the holidays with family and friends, even as health and financial concerns continue to weigh on travelers

Key takeaways

  • After more than a year and half of the pandemic, the holiday travel season will get a strong start with 3 in 10 of all trips Americans plan to take slated for Thanksgiving

  • Over the course of the holiday travel season, two-thirds of travelers will fly and/or stay in paid lodging. Over half (58%) of travelers say they expect to spend about the same on travel as they did in 2019, and 1 in 5 will spend significantly more, driven by higher-income households.

  • Travelers continue to be concerned about COVID-19 and are embracing mitigation measures, saying they are more likely to book a flight if masking (64%) or vaccinations (58%) are required.

  • Workplace flexibility is giving holiday travel a boost, spurring 75% of travelers who plan to work during their trips to add extra days because of the ability to work remotely.

Why this matters

The holidays are a time to connect with family and friends, and this year a return to travel will make spirits bright for many. According to Deloitte's inaugural report, "2021 Deloitte Holiday Travel Survey," Americans plan to hit the roads and skies, as well as hotels and private rentals, to rekindle holiday traditions, but health and financial concerns still weigh on their minds. The report is based on a survey of 6,512 Americans fielded Sept. 9-23, and among those, 2,759 qualified as travelers, and a smaller subset of 1,501 travelers noted they would stay in paid lodging during the holiday season.

Travelers cautiously plan for holiday getaways

The survey uncovers plenty of reason to hope for leisure travel's robust rebound, but due to ongoing health and financial concerns, some consumers plan to celebrate the holidays at home. For those not traveling, concern about the health of loved ones and waiting for the pandemic to end are the top reasons to stay home, beating out financial concerns.

  • The holiday travel season will kick off with a strong start with 3 in 10 of all trips Americans plan to take slated around Thanksgiving. Overall, 42% of Americans plan to travel between Thanksgiving and mid-January, taking an average of two trips during the season.
  • Older Americans are more cautious about the season: 36% of those over 55 years old plan to travel, compared to 45% of 18 to 34 year olds. Those 55 and older also are less likely to participate in travel activities and experiences. For example, 13% will attend a ticketed or public event, compared to 35% of those aged 18 to 34, and 27% will visit a major attraction, compared to 53% of those aged 18 to 34.
  • About twice as many travelers plan to road trip (70%) versus fly (37%), citing enjoyment (38%) and convenience (28%) as the top reasons, above health (12%).
  • More than one-third of holiday travelers (37%) will take a flight over the holidays. Domestic flyers are avoiding layovers; only 6% plan to take a domestic flight requiring a connection. Nearly 1 in 3 of those who will fly plan to take an international flight.
  • While 60% will take trips involving a stay with friends or family, slightly fewer (54%) will stay at a hotel or private rental. Nearly a quarter plan to both stay in paid lodging and with friends and relatives across the season.
  • The pandemic continues to mint new private rental travelers: 43% of those staying in rentals over the holidays have tried this lodging type for the first time during the pandemic. Three in 4 new private renters expect to continue using rentals for at least half of their trips going forward.

Income divide deepens across the travel sector

Bifurcated spending on holiday leisure travel is making the experience merry for some, and bah-humbug for many others. Most travelers say they expect to spend about the same on travel as they did in 2019, and 1 in 5 will spend significantly more. However, a greater share of lower-income households will spend significantly less, and are almost three times as likely to cite financial reasons for staying home.

  • Higher-income Americans are almost twice as likely to travel this holiday season compared to lower-income Americans (53% versus 32%).
  • Spending intent also varies widely. Compared to 2019, 26% of lower-income travelers plan to spend less on holiday travel, compared to 30% of higher-income travelers who plan to spend significantly more. Approximately half (48%) of higher-income travelers will spend more than $5,000 on their longest trip, while half (50%) of lower-income travelers will spend less than $1,000.
  • While 43% of travelers will take one trip over the holiday season, 1 in 3 higher-income travelers will travel three or more times, compared to 1 in 5 lower- and middle-income travelers who travel with the same frequency.
  • Furthermore, higher-income travelers are more likely to stay in paid lodging (63% versus 43% for lower-income travelers), and nearly twice as likely to fly (48% versus 26% for lower-income travelers).
  • The frequency of travelers driving their own car for holiday travel is nearly equal across income levels (56% for lower-income travelers, 58% for middle-income travelers, and 55% for higher-income travelers).

Key quote

"Nearly two years into the isolation brought on by the pandemic, people are eager for the warm embrace of family and friends. Americans are ready to travel and experience holiday celebrations together, and the industry has been preparing to welcome them back. Travel companies who can stay true to their offerings and provide the best customer experience this holiday season, will be well positioned to succeed."

- Mike Daher, vice chair - U.S. transportation, hospitality and services non-attest leader, Deloitte LLP

Travelers embrace COVID-19 requirements

Lingering health concerns continue to impact when and how Americans travel for the holiday season. In selecting a destination, travelers are considering their vaccination status, local COVID-19 restrictions, and the ability to avoid crowds.

  • Most travelers embrace COVID-19 transmission mitigation measures. Nearly two-thirds (64%) are more likely to book a flight if masking is required, and 58% say the same for proof of vaccination.
  • A full two-thirds of high-income travelers say vaccine requirements make them more inclined to fly. However, 16% of travelers say a vaccine requirement would make them less likely to fly; 10% say the same for masking.
  • Vaccination status of those in the travel party and the destination's COVID-19 restrictions are the two top factors in determining where to travel this season.
  • With many trips spurred by visits to friends and family, 42% will head to cities for the holidays. Beaches (22%) and the great outdoors (16%) are other top travel destinations which offer the ability to unwind and avoid crowds.
  • Travelers under 55 years old are 4.5 times more likely to travel with children, and the vaccination status of children will affect their holiday plans. One in 10 Americans under 55 years old cite their unvaccinated children as a reason to stay home, and one in seven cite is as a reason not to stay in paid lodging.

The gift of remote work boosts holiday travel

Ongoing workplace flexibility and remote work continues to provide a boon to the travel sector, with working travelers taking more trips, increasing their budgets and extending their stays.

  • While most will completely disconnect, 4 in 10 travelers will work for at least part of their trip this holiday season.
  • Working vacationers are taking twice as many trips this holiday season as those planning to disconnect on their getaways.
  • Three-quarters of travelers (75%) who plan to work during their trip are adding at least one day to their stay as a result. And, more than half (57%) will add three or more days to their longest leisure trip because they have the ability to work remotely.
  • Working vacationers are more than two times as likely to increase the budget for their leisure trips as compared to 2019. Company work from home policies were cited as a key driver of increased trip budgets.

Key quote

"Thanksgiving is traditionally among the busiest times for travel, and this year, the long weekend represents a strong kick start to the holiday travel season. Despite ongoing health and financial concerns, pent-up demand for tradition, travel, the need for rest and post-lockdown getaways will drive intent throughout the coming months. As a result, consumers should solidify and book their plans early to ensure they're comfortable with and understand travel providers' options and COVID-19 policies."

- Eileen Crowley, vice chair - U.S. transportation, hospitality and services attest leader, Deloitte & Touche LLP

Copyright 2021 Deloitte. All rights reserved. From www.deloitte.com.

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