This year has hit the holiday industry incredibly hard with the coronavirus pandemic rocking all areas of travel.
Many have seen flight cancellations, trips left in ruins and future plans put on hold. However, as restrictions began to ease and people started venturing abroad again, we saw a new way of travelling emerge.
More people were taking short haul flights to nearby destinations, if not staycations, and making the most of whatever time they could steal away from home – restrictions permitting.
Holiday experts believe that some of the changes to the travel sector are likely to last for the foreseeable future with booking firm Kayak saying it doesn’t expect bookings to recover to normal levels until at least 2023.
It is likely that holidaying in Britain could continue for quite some time, even though many holidaymakers are desperate to get to the sunny climes of a faraway destination.
Experts also believe that certain alterations will have to remain in place for travellers to feel confident enough to travel abroad again.
Moshe Rafiah, the chief executive of Skyscanner, said: ‘Restoring confidence is crucial and travel providers must think holistically about the end-to-end experience.
‘Travellers will vote with their feet, favouring brands and providers they can trust and who understand them.’
To find out how the travel industry is likely to progress in the future, This is Money spoke to some of the biggest holiday providers in Britain to see what trends they have noticed forming over the past few months and what holidaymakers will be looking for going forwards.
Holidaying in Britain
With travel restrictions in place to most countries around the world, many Britons have instead holidayed at home – a trend that experts think is likely to continue.
Kayak, the holiday booking site, said that over the summer, it has seen UK travellers turn to domestic travel with staycations likely to remain popular for the rest of the year.
For example, for the upcoming mid-term autumn break, its data shows that domestic car hire searches for the final two weeks of October are up more than 18 per cent annually.
When looking at the most searched hotel destinations within Britain for the October break period, seaside destinations proved popular with St Ives, Blackpool, Whitby and Weymouth all appearing in the top five hotel searches.
Kayak said that in March, April and May flight searches in the UK were down on average by 76 per cent.
However, as travel restrictions began to relax, it saw early signs of consumer confidence.
It said searches for domestic car rental were up 74 per cent year on year.
Skyscanner added that, within the last six months, camping stays and holiday homes topped the rankings of the trending accommodation types for holidaymakers this summer.
Booking.com also believes the trend of staycations will continue with its research finding that 61 per cent of Britons are planning on travelling domestically in the next six months, whilst only 33 per cent plan to travel internationally.
This has been reflected in how far people have travelled with Booking revealing that the average distance Britons have travelled is down 493 miles, when comparing 2019 to 2020.
It added that two fifths of the total distance travelled between 1 June and 31 August 2020 was within the UK, compared to only 14 per cent during the same period of 2019.
Similarly, in Expedia’s Summer of Britain research, nearly three quarters of Britons stated they wanted to explore the UK more this year.
This is reflected in the booking sites data which shows destinations such as Devon, the Lake District and North Cornwall have seen the most interest.
Alex Platts, a senior director at Expedia Group, said: ‘We can’t ignore the clear shift in attitudes towards holidaying in the short and possibly long term, here in the UK and overseas.
‘While quarantine rules and restrictions are in place, those who are free to travel are opting for drive to destinations close to home.’
Trends over the last couple of months
A number of trends have emerged on booking sites over the past couple of months, including the need to book last minute.
Skyscanner research shows that during March and then in August, most holidaymakers were searching for holidays that would take them away within the same week.
The last minute style of booking is something recognised by most sites as travellers wait in case there is a last minute spike in coronavirus cases proving now more than ever, having flexibility is key.
Travelling sustainably is also something it expects to see gain momentum.
Even prior to Covid-19, there was a noticeable shift in travellers becoming more conscious about the environmental impact they can have on destinations.
This is something that is likely to continue as travellers become increasingly aware of the damage that flying can have on the environment.
In response to the changing nature of travel, Kayak launched a ‘trains’ product, that enables travellers to search for bus and train travel options in the hopes this will help travellers look for an alternative – and perhaps more environmentally-friendly – means of transportation.
It said that following a surge just before the global lockdown, searches to book travel departing within a week declined but have since been trending upwards from June.
When it comes to international travel, the increase in searches Kayak has seen over the summer as European countries announced their easing of travel restrictions, show that people really missed travelling.
A Kayak spokesperson said: ‘We predict that as more restrictions lift, we will see search interest come back, but demand depends on how quickly consumer confidence is restored.
‘There is no doubt that the travel industry remains challenged. But at the same time we know that demand will return, and when it does, it will remain a priority for us to help travellers make informed decisions, find the right option for them to experience the world safely.’
Adapting to the new normal
It will be sometime before the travel industry returns to what it once was and unfortunately many companies will be left struggling on the way.
Experts have warned that firms will need to be clever to survive and adapt to the new way of the world.
Hugh Aitken of Skyscanner, said: ‘We are at the beginning of a long road to recovery. Changing attitudes towards travel, fluctuating demand and uncertainty around restrictions will alter the economics of tourism for the foreseeable future.
‘Those that evolve and adapt to meet the new needs of travellers will thrive in this environment, while those that don’t may be lucky to survive.’
The lack of those travelling for business is one way the industry is being negatively impacted with Skyscanner finding that those who used to fly around the world, are now using Zoom and webinars to make connections instead.
Whilst London’s Heathrow airport used to manage 26.5million business travellers every year, it is unlikely to manage anywhere near that number for some time to come.
The comparison site believes that low cost airlines are going to be the firms most likely – and most quickly – to recover due to their low-cost bases, simplified business structures and point-to-point models.
It has also suggested that airlines could adapt by introducing new cabin classes such as a premium economy ‘plus’ option, giving travellers who are willing to pay more an experience between business class and premium economy.
However, some booking sites believe the sector will not see full recovery until several years into the future.
A Kayak spokesperson said: ‘We don’t expect bookings to recover until airlines fully restore capacity, in line with travel recovery trends more broadly. That may not happen until 2023.’
The holiday booking site said until the airlines have re-established full capacity and consumer confidence has been fully restored, there will be no change in the number of people travelling for several years.
Holiday experts believe a lot of travel will depend on when governments alter their lockdown policies and social distancing measures.
A spokesperson for Booking.com said: ‘Whilst the industry is resilient and will certainly bounce back, it is likely that it will be years before we witness the full recovery of global travel demand, and when we emerge from this global pandemic our world and our industry will undoubtedly be different.
Flexible booking and hygiene
There have been two main changes that customers have demanded of the travel industry.
Firstly is to have flexible booking options as, in many cases, it allows a customer to book and not pay until near the time of the flight, allowing for free cancellation, giving holidaymakers peace of mind.
A Kayak spokesperson added: ‘Consumer behaviour has changed. One of the trends we do expect to see continue is that of travellers looking for flexible fares.’
The second is for airlines, accommodation and any other transport to be spotlessly clean and hygienic.
A Booking.com spokesperson said: ‘It will be important for accommodation providers to embrace flexible policies including the ability to cancel last minute and reassure guests that they are fully Covid compliant and putting in measures to safeguard against risks as much as possible.’
This was mirrored by Expedia, with Alex Platts saying: ‘Cleanliness matters. Clear information showing what precautions are being taken in accommodation is pivotal for building traveller confidence.’
Where will people be heading when restrictions ease?
Many of us will be dreaming of our next vacation away – and making a wish list of the destinations we are desperate to visit.
According to Expedia, European cities such as Amsterdam and sunny beach escapes including Ubud and Gili Trawangan were high among Britons’ most wish-listed destination during the Covid-19 pandemic.
This summer, nearly a third of British travellers stated that they’re saving up for a trip abroad in 2021 and interest on Expedia has increased for exotic places such as the Maldives, French Polynesia and Bali.
However, recently, a third of Britons told Expedia that a pampering trip would be their ideal next getaway.
As a result, affordable luxury will be a popular option, with urban hotels offering great amenities and discounted room rates to attract customers.
Alex Platts of Expedia said: ‘In the immediate future, we have seen travellers considering breaks where they can work from their holiday rental or hotel.
‘In particular, holiday homes are being rented out for extended stays to offer a change of scenery for at-home workers with families. While we find ourselves in testing times, wellness breaks will also play a key role.’
A spokesperson for Booking.com added: ‘We expect that the countries that have been most impacted by the recent crisis will be enticing tourists to visit them, so they can start to recover – we believe that travellers will actively look for ways to support these communities and cities.’