NEW YORK—Over the past year and a half, seismic shifts propelled the world to shift to an evolving version of the ‘new normal.’ Along with that shift, the travel industry has also been repeatedly redefined. While COVID-19 is not yet in the rearview mirror, a sense of hope is beginning to take place. To explore the optimism, Booking.com commissioned extensive research with U.S. travelers, combining it with its proprietary data and insights to generate predictions for 2022 travel.
In 2022, there will be unpredictability as global travelers begin making up for lost travel time, with a 52 percent increase since last year in travelers thinking they need to get away. Booking.com’s data shows predictions for 2022 travel, including how people will be reigniting travel in the upcoming year.
1. Traveling as Self-Care
More so than daily exercise or mindful meditation, getting away on vacation will become a major form of self-care in 2022, with over three-quarters of U.S. travelers (76 percent) affirming that travel helps their mental and emotional wellbeing more than other forms of rest and relaxation. After more than a year of ever-evolving travel restrictions, the important benefits that travel has on health and wellbeing are now being acknowledged, with approximately two thirds (66 percent) saying they didn’t realize how important travel was to their wellbeing until it was no longer an option, and 82 percent saying that having a vacation planned has a positive impact on their emotional wellbeing.
For one quarter (25 percent) of U.S. travelers, stepping outside of their comfort zone is the key to why getting away enables them to reset. Of that 25 percent, two-thirds (64 percent) say that staying somewhere with different scenery from what they are used to helps them to recharge, alongside over half (56 percent) stating that it’s experiencing a new way of life. For some U.S. travelers, it’s trying new cuisines (55 percent) or hearing a new language (33 percent) that helps them feel rejuvenated.
2. Setting an Out of Office
When the pandemic hit, homes across the United States became offices, too, and the novelty of working remotely was realized. However, in 2022 there will be a rise in people wanting to take back control in a bid to firmly re-establish a healthy work-life balance as vacation time itself will be strictly work-free for just over three-quarters of U.S. travelers (76 percent) in 2022, which wasn’t always the case in 2021 with home and remote work lives blurred.
Despite the flexibility to work remotely, over half (56 percent) of U.S. travelers would rather spend less time on vacation if it meant they could completely switch off in 2022 versus spend more time in the destination while having to mix business and leisure. And with 50 percent of U.S. travelers claiming to have worked more hours using less vacation days during the pandemic, the hotel industry can expect to see more people setting their well deserved out of (home) office messages in 2022.
3. Recapturing the First-Time Travel Feeling
U.S. travelers will relish every moment of travel, from fine-tuning the playlist for the rental car to browsing the delicacies duty free has to offer, with almost a fifth (18 percent) most looking forward to the pure excitement and anticipation as the journey begins.
Daydreaming out the train window or getting lost in a maze of winding cobblestone streets to pick up the keys for a vacation apartment will be sheer bliss for just over three-quarters (77 percent) of U.S. travelers, who say travel is more enjoyable when the journey feels like part of the trip itself. Each ‘first’ of trips in 2022 will be a moment to savor, with a majority of travelers saying that simple pleasures such as feeling the sun on their skin (81 percent) or seeing a body of water of some kind instantly improves their mood for the better (84 percent). Even the uncertainty of navigating public transportation in a new city in a foreign language is something just over half (53 percent) say they’ll enjoy. After such a long period of limited options, recapturing that first-time feel and leaning into every single moment will be a hallmark of trips in 2022.
4. Putting Community First
As restrictions caused travel to slow in many parts of the world, the pandemic forced everyone to make the most of local offerings. From supporting independently owned businesses to spending more time than ever at the neighborhood park, relationships with the community rekindled. In 2022, the desire to connect authentically with the local community will continue on vacation, too, as travelers seek to be more mindful about every trip taken to ensure their impact on the surrounding community is positive.
More than half (53 percent) of U.S. travelers agree it’s important that their trip is beneficial to the local community at their destination and 54 percent would appreciate an app or website that provides recommendations on destinations where an increase in tourism would have a positive impact on the local community. Furthermore, 64 percent want the money that they spend when traveling to go back to the local community, and 65 percent want to have authentic experiences that are representative of the local culture.
Inspired by the social justice movements, in 2022, U.S. travelers will do more research into how well the place they are staying supports local businesses (36 percent) or how their tourism spend will affect or improve local communities (29 percent), signifying a new desire to do right by the people who these destinations home.
5. Meeting New People
For many, the pandemic meant spending an extended and intense period with closest friends and loved ones, but vacations in 2022 will be an opportunity to branch out and make some new connections. As over more than half of U.S. travelers (59 percent) want to meet new people while away, the hotel industry can expect to see travelers using their vacations as an opportunity to expand their usual social circles, with 65 percent of U.S. travelers looking forward to socializing while on vacation and 52 percent wanting to stay somewhere close to plenty of nightlife options.
People will also be making use of their favorite dating apps while on vacation in 2022, with travel providing an exciting opportunity to find love. Booking.com predicts a resurgence of holiday romances, with half (51 percent) hoping for one on their next trip.
6. Saying Yes
After so long of being told “no,” U.S. travelers are reclaiming a more positive way of thinking for 2022. In fact, 60 percent will be shirking the structure they’ve been contending with, preferring a vacation where they stay flexible and just go with the flow versus having a well planned itinerary full of activities. The coming year will bring the very best of impromptu travel.
To that end, nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of U.S. travelers will say yes to any vacation opportunity if budget allows. And 48 percent of that group has been saving their pennies by not taking any big trips since the pandemic started, so money is no object for the trips they will take in 2022. More than half (58 percent) are more open to different types of vacation than before the pandemic, and 63 percent won’t mind where they go on vacation as long as it’s the type of trip they want—they’re just happy to be away from home. In 2022, technology will play a key role in supporting spontaneity with increased optionality to book on the go and the flexibility to adapt plans and follow where the adventure leads. In fact, 54 percent are looking to the latest travel technology innovations to offer a ‘wildcard’ or surprise option of a completely new travel experience that’s suggested based on their past preferences or budget to help them seize every new potential opportunity.
Adopting such a positive mentality will open up even more of the world to travelers than ever before, with many taking a more adventurous approach to their holiday choices, and maybe even their companions. When it comes to travel buddies, they’ll be looking for those that “just say yes” as well, with almost half (48 percent) of travelers are looking to travel with those who are also happy to go with the flow.
7. Embracing the Unpredictable
Uncertainty will continue to be a constant in travel in 2022, and while every new surprise and challenge that fate has in store cannot be predicted, travelers will embrace it. Having leaned on technology in a variety of ways to stay connected and inspired over the past year and a half, favorite apps will continue to help navigate the unknown on trips, with almost two-thirds (65 percent) of U.S. travelers agreeing that technology helps alleviate the anxiety around traveling. From AI-powered instant translation services that make it easier for travelers to negotiate last-minute changes of plan directly with accommodation hosts and rental car providers who don’t speak the same language to machine learning models that automatically inform hosts about a late arrival to their beach cottage due to a delayed flight, technology will continue to smooth out the unforeseen bumps in the road with increasing finesse and proactivity. Because of this, Booking.com expects to see even wider adoption of predictive technologies that can help travelers make more informed decisions, especially considering that more than half would be interested in an innovative service that could predict which countries will be safe to travel to (66 percent), even months in advance, or automatically suggest destinations that are easy to travel to now based on their country’s and the destination’s current COVID-19 requirements (64 percent).
No matter how accurate any machine learning predictions might be, in order for everyone to truly embrace the new unpredictable normal, the broader travel industry will continue to prioritize flexibility, as travelers rank reassurance that they won’t lose money (38 percent), the ability to cancel (33 percent), and the ability reschedule free of charge (34 percent) as the top three most important priorities.
Arjan Dijk, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Booking.com, comments, “As we look towards the year ahead, we’re seeing a lot of excitement and anticipation for people to return to travel, whether it’s domestically, abroad, the trip of a lifetime, or just saying yes to whatever travel opportunity comes their way, and it’s our mission to make it easier for everyone to do just that. We will be there for travelers—offering the widest choice, great value, and the easiest experience from anywhere and on any device so people can reclaim their travel mojo and enjoy all of the unforgettable experiences this world has to offer.”