Evolve: Travel returns but expectations have changed

Evolve, a vacation rental hospitality company with more than 16,000 properties in 750 markets, has unveiled the results of its “2022 Travel Trends Forecast” survey. After analyzing responses from more than 5,000 travelers, the results make it clear that travel will return in 2022—but with some important shifts.

“Although the travel industry is still in recovery mode, there are clear indicators that travel will continue to rebound in 2022,” said Christina Fritts, Evolve’s director of customer insights. “However, some of the changes introduced during the pandemic particularly increased flexibility with the acceleration of a remote work environment and more fluid travel policies and have altered the way travelers plan their trips.”

While consumers are making travel plans—multiple at a time in many cases—their expectations have significantly changed during the past two years, especially when it comes to vacation rentals. Travelers are savvier than ever with nearly 50% of survey respondents citing flexible cancellation/rebooking policies—far surpassing cleanliness (at 23%)—as a top factor in their 2022 travel decisions.

“The attraction of vacation rentals for mainstream travelers is one of the many trends that was accelerated by the pandemic,” said Brian Egan, cofounder/CEO, Evolve. “However, consumers expect the same ease and consistency from vacation rentals that they have found in other forms of travel. This places a premium on things like rate transparency, cancellation policies and customer service. The companies that will be successful are those that are already adapting and adjusting to these changes.”

Key takeaways and predictions from the forecast:

Travelers are Confidently Making Plans

  • Almost 80% of survey respondents indicated they are actively moving forward with 2022 travel plans; 47% indicated they won’t consider canceling until much closer to their trip dates, whereas 32% said they are planning to travel regardless. Less than 4% don’t plan to travel until the pandemic subsides with 18% still undecided.
  • An overwhelming 86% of respondents said they plan to book a vacation rental next year with another 14% citing “maybe.” Only 0.3% of respondents said they did not plan to use a vacation rental in 2022.

Longer trips return in 2022

  • The majority of respondents (59%) plan on booking trips two to five months in advance (compared to less than two months in advance for both 2020 and 2021) and plan on taking three or more trips in 2022 (62%).
  • The average trip will likely be longer in length (5-7 nights in 2022, compared to an average of 3.8 nights in both 2020 and 2021).
  • Price, rate transparency, flexible cancellations, and quality (e.g. upgraded decor, furniture and appliances) all received top marks for most important factors in travel decisions—nearing 50% each— while cleanliness was the only other factor that scored in the double digits at 23.5%.

The outdoors thrive, while city escapes are slower to rebound

  • Consumers are most interested in exploring the outdoors (58%)—including hiking, biking and kayaking—and wellness/relaxation experiences (61%) in the coming year.
  • In stark contrast, consumers are least interested in shopping and attending concerts/festivals, both coming in with only 6% and 7% of respondents, respectively, citing those activities as their top choice for 2022. While these themes are not new, expect them to play a bigger role in how people plan their 2022 trips.
  • Secluded mountain/rural escapes and waterfront getaways are by far the most popular 2022 vacation experiences. Urban experiences came in last with only 15% putting them at the top of their list for next year.
  • Travelers are not avoiding areas that have historically reported higher COVID case counts; in fact, the U.S. coastal south ranked the highest (almost 40%, a margin of 10% above any other area) among places travelers are interested in visiting next year.
  • Even with restrictions still in place, international trips are a top choice for 27% of travelers.

Travelers over 40 are driving the remote work travel trend

  • Travelers over 40 are almost four times as likely to book trips longer than one week—and more than five times more interested in taking trips exceeding two weeks—than those under 40. This indicates that travelers over 40 are more likely to plan extended stays/work remote trips. Younger travelers are showing a clear preference for shorter trips (3-4 nights in length; 54% of under 40 respondents).
  • Travelers over 40 are more likely to travel with their significant other or plan multigenerational trips, whereas those under 40 are more interested in traveling with a group of friends or solo.

“The vacation rental industry continues to be a bright spot in travel and one of the only sectors that saw big gains during the past 18 months,” said Fritts. “Evolve is not seeing that trend slow; we’ve consistently beat our pre-pandemic performance every month this year, with our average booking value per property growing by as much as 108%—and have another year of significant growth forecasted for 2022.”