Deloitte Releases 2021 Holiday Travel Survey Results

After 18 months of the pandemic, the holiday travel season will see three in 10 U.S. adults traveling for Thanksgiving weekend, according to research from Deloitte. Over the course of the holiday travel season, Deloitte found two-thirds of travelers will fly and/or stay in paid lodging. Over half (58 percent) of travelers say they expect to spend about the same on travel as they did in 2019, and one in five 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 percent) or vaccinations (58 percent) are required, according to Deloitte. Workplace flexibility is giving holiday travel a boost, spurring 75 percent of travelers who plan to work during their trips to add extra days because of the ability to work remotely.

The holidays are a time to connect with family and friends. According to Deloitte’s inaugural report, “2021 Deloitte Holiday Travel Survey,” U.S. travelers 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 U.S. adults fielded September 9-23, 2021, 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.

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The survey uncovers reasons to hope for leisure travel’s 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 findings include:

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

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

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

Lingering health concerns continue to impact when and how U.S. adults 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 percent) are more likely to book a flight if masking is required, and 58 percent 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 percent of travelers say a vaccine requirement would make them less likely to fly; 10 percent 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 percent will head to cities for the holidays. Beaches (22 percent) and outdoor locations (16 percent) 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 U.S. adults under 55 years old cite their unvaccinated children as a reason to stay home, and one in seven cite it as a reason not to stay in paid lodging.

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, four 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 percent) who plan to work during their trip are adding at least one day to their stay as a result. And, more than half (57 percent) 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.

“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,” said Eileen Crowley, vice chair—U.S. transportation, hospitality. and services attest leader, Deloitte & Touche LLP.

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