Along with practically every aspect of our lives, the course of travel has been redefined repeatedly over the past year and a half, with seismic shifts propelling us towards a continuously evolving version of the ‘new normal.’ A deepening and increasingly complex relationship with technology, a heightened awareness of the human impact on the planet and a renewed inspiration to take a stand on the important social justice movements of our time has made the world feel smaller and at the same time, infinitely vast. And while COVID-19 is not yet in the rearview mirror, an indefatigable sense of hope is beginning to take its place.
To explore this rolling wave of optimism, Booking.com has commissioned extensive research with American travelers, combining it with its proprietary data and insights to predict how travel will continue to be redefined in the year ahead.
Next year will be the year to make the most of unpredictability and start making up for lost vacation time in a big way, with the number of global travelers who feel they need to do so has increased by 52% since last year. Booking.com’s predictions reveal how people will be reigniting the travel spark in the upcoming year. Whether it’s as an essential part of a self-care regime or the thrill of just saying yes to whatever travel opportunities and experiences come their way, it’s all about seizing the day in 2022 and making every trip matter.
“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,” said Arjan Dijk, SVP/chief marketing officer, Booking.com.
More so than daily exercise or mindful meditation, getting away on vacation will become the form of self-care in 2022, with more than three-quarters of Americans (76%) 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 well-being are now being acknowledged, with approximately two-thirds (66%) saying they didn’t realize how important travel was to their well-being until it was no longer an option, and 82% saying that having a vacation planned has a positive impact on their emotional well-being.
What makes travel the ideal form of wellness? For one quarter (25%) of U.S. travelers, stepping outside of their comfort zone is the key to why getting away enables them to reset. Of that 25%, two-thirds (64%) say that staying somewhere with different scenery from what they are used to helps them to recharge, alongside more than half (56%) stating that it’s experiencing a new way of life. For some Americans, it’s trying new cuisines (55%) or hearing a new language (33%) that helps them feel rejuvenated. After more than 18 months of Groundhog Days, a double dose of different is just what the doctor ordered, and will ensure travelers come back from their trips in 2022 feeling better than before.
Resetting the out of (home) office
When the pandemic hit, homes across America became offices too, and the novelty of working remotely was realized. However, in 2022, we’ll see a significant 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%) in 2022, which wasn’t always the case in 2021 with home and remote work lives blurred.
Despite the flexibility to work remotely, more than half (56%) of Americans would rather spend less time on vacation if it meant they could completely switch off in 2022 vs. spend more time in the destination, but having to mix business and leisure. And with 50% of U.S. travelers claiming to have worked more hours using less vacation days during the pandemic, expect to see more people setting their well-deserved out of (home) office messages in 2022.
All the first-time feels
While many of us have forgotten where our passport is or even just how to pack, all that out-of-practice travel awkwardness will give way to a genuine sense of delight for even the most routine aspects of our trips in 2022. Remember what it was like to board a plane for the very first time? Or even just to check into a hotel? After feeling ‘stuck’ for so long, rather than rushing through the journey, U.S. travelers will be relishing every moment, from fine-tuning the playlist for the rental car to browsing the delicacies duty free has to offer, with almost a fifth (18%) most looking forward to the pure excitement and anticipation as the journey begins.
The formerly mundane daydreaming out the train window as the scenery whizzes by or getting lost in a maze of winding cobblestone streets to pick up the keys for your vacation apartment will be sheer bliss for just over three-quarters (77%) of Americans who say travel is more enjoyable when the journey feels like part of the trip itself. Each ‘first’ of our 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%) or seeing a body of water of some kind instantly improves their mood for the better (84%). Even the uncertainty of navigating public transportation in a new city in a foreign language is something just over half (53%) 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.
As restrictions caused travel to slow in many parts of the world, the pandemic forced us to make the most of what was on our doorsteps. From supporting independently owned businesses to spending more time than ever at the neighborhood park, our relationship with the community around us has rekindled. In 2022, this desire to connect authentically with the local community will continue on vacation too, as we seek to be more mindful about every trip we take and ensure our impact on the places we visit and the people who live there is positive.
More than half (53%) of Americans agree it’s important that their trip is beneficial to the local community at their destination and 54% 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% want the money that they spend when traveling to go back to the local community and 65% want to have authentic experiences that are representative of the local culture.
Inspired by the important social justice movements of our time, in 2022 American travelers will do more research into how well the place they are staying supports local businesses (36%) or how their tourism spend will affect or improve local communities (29%), signifying a new desire to do right by the people who call our favorite vacay destinations home.
Swipe right on new places and faces
For many, the pandemic meant spending an extended and intense period with our 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 Americans (59%) want to meet new people while away, we expect to see travelers using their vacations as an opportunity to expand their usual social circles, with 65% of U.S. travelers looking forward to socializing while on vacation and 52% wanting to stay somewhere close to plenty of nightlife options so that they can meet new people.
Tired of swiping through the same faces for the past year and a half, people will also be making use of their favorite dating apps while on vacay in 2022 with travel providing an exciting opportunity to find love. We predict a resurgence of holiday romances, with half (51%) hoping for one on their next trip. But the romance doesn’t have to stop when parting ways at the end of the trip thanks to video calls becoming part of our everyday lives, meaning we expect to see more than a few of these holiday romances turn into the real deal.
Just say yes
After so long of being told “no,” U.S. travelers are reclaiming a more positive way of thinking for 2022. In fact, 60% will be shirking all of the structure they’ve been contending with, preferring a vacation where they stay flexible and just go with the flow vs. having a well-planned itinerary full of activities. The coming year will bring the very best of improv to travel, with us responding to each unexpected twist and turn in the trip with an emphatic “yes, and…”
To that end, nearly three-quarters (72%) Americans agree they will say yes to any vacation opportunity if budget allows. And for the 48% of that group has been saving their pennies by not taking any big trips since the pandemic started, money is no object for the trips they will take in 2022. More than half (58%) are more open to different types of vacation than before the pandemic and 63% 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, tech 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% 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%) of travelers are looking to travel with those who are also happy to go with the flow.
Embracing the unpredictable
Uncertainty will continue to be a constant in travel in 2022, and while we cannot change or predict every new surprise and challenge that fate has in store for us, we will embrace it. Having leaned on technology in a variety of ways to stay connected and inspired over the past year and a half, our favorite apps will continue to help us navigate the unknown on our trips, with almost two-thirds (65%) Americans 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 our host 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, we expect to see even wider adoption of predictive technologies which can help travelers make more informed decisions, especially considering more than half would be interested in an innovative service that could predict which countries will be safe to travel to (66%), even months in advance, or automatically suggest destinations which are easy to travel to now based on their country’s and the destination’s current COVID-19 requirements (64%).
No matter how accurate any machine learning predictions might be, in order for everyone to truly embrace our new unpredictable normal, the broader travel industry will continue to prioritize flexibility, as travelers rank reassurance that they won’t lose money (38%), the ability to cancel (33%) and ability reschedule free of charge (34%) as the top three most important priorities.