Ever wished you had a crystal ball that could show you the future in travel? This episode of Out Travel the System is the next best thing, because it’s a deep dive into Expedia’s Travel Trends report. It’s based on a foundation of billions of data points about travelers, flights, accommodations, and various local attractions.
Join host Nisreene Atassi, Christie Hudson, Sr. PR Manager for Expedia, and Chuck Thackston, Managing Director of Data Science and Research for Airlines Reporting Corporation (aka ARC), as they take a look back on what 2020 looked like in the travel sphere, and project those trends into the next year.
As always, there are some signature tips and tricks about how to ensure you’re accessing big travel savings, so make sure you listen all the way through!
Look Into The Travel Future with Expedia’s Travel Trends Report
Nisreene Atassi: This may not be cool to say out loud, but I’m going to do it anyway. I am a total data nerd, especially when it comes to data related to travel. It’s partly why I wanted to start Out Travel the System in the first place because I wanted to be able to share all of these amazing insights that we get from this data with all of you. I don’t always talk about my actual job here on the show, but in this case, it’s probably relevant. As Expedia’s head of global PR and social media, I get to oversee initiatives that pulled together millions, even billions of travel data points that show us where we’ve been and where we’re going to next. Today, I want to share one of those initiatives with you. I’m Nisreene Atassi, and this is Out Travel the System.
I’m here with Christie Hudson, Senior Public Relations Manager for Expedia, and Chuck Thackston, Managing Director of Data Science and Research for Airlines Reporting Corporation, also known as ARC. Welcome back to the show both of you. Christie was here with us most recently to talk about shoulder season, and Chuck was on the show last year to talk about the best time to travel and get those amazing deals.
Christie Hudson: Hello.
Chuck Thackston: Yeah, it’s great to be back with our friends at Expedia, that’s for sure.
Nisreene Atassi: They’re here to take us through the finer points of Expedia’s 2021 Travel Trends Report. Christie, let’s start with you. Even though this is the third year for the Trends Report and our sixth year working with ARC, some listeners may not be familiar with it. What’s this report all about?
Christie Hudson: First, let me just say that the annual Trends Report is probably my favorite thing to work on each year. It’s an undertaking, but it’s such a labor of love for me. And the reason why is it’s our one opportunity each year to look at search and booking trends, cross flights, lodging activities, and find all the common threads, the hidden gems, and some of the surprises. And we look at what types of destinations were most popular, what the up and coming vacation spots will be for the year ahead, and really what people spent their time doing while they were on their trips.
So in past years’ reports, we learned from looking at our data that travelers were, for example, literally chasing waterfalls. So going places like Brazil, Guyana, Zimbabwe to see these incredible wonders of the world. We also learned that one of the top trending activities last year was something called the Robot Restaurant Show in Tokyo. So it’s just super fun.
Nisreene Atassi: I’m a big fan of that show. Love this.
Christie Hudson: Super fun and inspiring to learn about all these incredible things to do and places to see. But it’s not just about finding the trends, so we also use our massive data set to uncover advice and tips for travelers, so things like how to find better prices on flights or hotels or when to travel to avoid crowds. So it’s really just a culmination of everything I love about travel and what we strive to do for travelers here at Expedia.
Nisreene Atassi: The episode that Chuck was on with us last year was one of our most popular episodes because it does give such really amazing insights onto sort of how we can score the best deal. So we’ll get to that in a minute. But before we do, Christie, tell us a little bit about what did our data show us about some of the most popular destinations for 2020? I would guess that it’s probably pretty different because of COVID.
Christie Hudson: Yeah, I mean, last year it was all about international travel. There were trending destinations, like Osaka, Lima in Peru, and Lisbon, and Portugal. This year, unsurprisingly, Americans stayed a lot closer to home. So with the pandemic, people were much more likely to drive to their destination and choose a place that had a lot of outdoor activities. The top trending spots on the list definitely reflect that shift. So to name a few, there’s the Havasu, Arizona, the Hamptons, and a place called Lincoln, New Hampshire, which I’d never heard of before, but it’s located in New Hampshire’s White Mountains where there’s a national forest, an incredible waterfall and some of the prettiest covered bridges and fall foliage you can find. So there’s some cool little hidden gems, even though it’s a much more domestic list.
Nisreene Atassi: Yeah. And it also sounds like it’s a shift from more urban dense cities to more rural America or more rural areas in general, most likely just because of the density of the population or the ability to social distance, don’t you think?
Christie Hudson: Yeah. I think there’s a couple of factors. People were definitely trying to find wide-open spaces where they could socially distance, but a lot of cities had businesses and shops and nightlife and things like that closed. And if you think about it, those are some of the main reasons why we tend to go to cities. So I think people were just thinking, where can I go where I’m going to have the experience that I want to have given everything going on.
Nisreene Atassi: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. All right, Chuck, let’s turn to you. If anyone else is a nerd in data, it’s going to be you, Chuck. You and your team specifically dug through all of the flight-related data. So what are some of the trends that you all found in terms of domestic ticket pricing and things like that in 2020?
Chuck Thackston: The concept of nerd is a very, very strong compliment, so I really appreciate that. Average ticket prices have started to normalize at much lower levels than we’ve seen historically. From May to October average ticket prices have been about 25 to 30% below what we saw last year. Now there’s a couple of reasons for that. Business travel is way down and the overall number of travelers is also way down. So you’ve got a little bit of a supply and demand effect going on to lower those ticket prices. But one thing I would point out is buying an airline ticket using these deals that are out there doesn’t necessarily mean you have to travel immediately or even in 2020. There are some great deals to be had out there for travel next year. So planning ahead for that holiday in 2021 is really a good idea because airfares are historically low, but the opportunities to travel are still there.
Nisreene Atassi: What are your thoughts on international travel? Is there enough data from 2020 to be able to come to any sort of conclusions on trends there?
Chuck Thckston: Yeah. International travel is also way down. Fairs for international flights are also settling in about 30 to 35% lower than they were this time last year. But there’s some other trends that we’re seeing in international travel. Even on the international travel, the travel is larger or much more close to home, if you will. The Caribbean from North America is up dramatically as far as percentage year-over-year travel to that region, whereas Europe and Asia are trending down. So they’re not as many people going farther from home. So that can be a good thing for regions like the Caribbean and Mexico for travelers in the US. But the other thing is domestic travel because of the size of the US market is returning very, very aggressively relative to international travel. That’s probably going to continue for the next several months. But again, because of the size of the US domestic market, that’s going to be a good thing.
Christie Hudson: I was just going to add too that one thing that has been true historically of airfare that we’ve learned from doing these ARC reports every year is airfare rarely gets cheaper as the travel date approaches. And so the whole concept of last- minute deals can be kind of a gamble. But this year, because of what Chuck’s describing, I’ve been seeing that even places that are really popular to go to in the wintertime, if you’re flexible with your travel dates, and if you are kind of flexible on your destination, you could probably get a really good last-minute deal a lot of places.
Chuck Thackston: Great point, Christie. And one of the things that the airlines are also doing is they are adjusting their schedules much more aggressively than they have done in the past. As that demand has not been where they thought it would be, they have taken some seats out of the market. But they’re also putting seats back into the market as that recovery starts to show some promise and that’s very destination specific. So as certain destinations start to come back and restrictions are eased in those destinations, you’re going to start to see airlines put a lot more capacity into those markets.
Nisreene Atassi: Okay. So that’s a snapshot of the 2020 travel picture so far. We’re going to use that data to build the foundation for your 2021 travel options, including some key booking hacks to maximize your savings right after this.
Nisreene Atassi: I’m Nisreene Atassi, and this is Out Travel the System. This season, we’re focusing on the things that matter most to you in the travel space, from addressing the concerns during the pandemic to finding ways to keep travel inspiration alive and well, we’re all about making the world feel like a welcoming place. We’re serving up insider tips and travel hacks mixed with entertaining stories of travel. We’ve got it all here on Out Travel the System, so make sure you like and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We’re always looking for ways to improve, so please feel free to leave us a review while you’re at it.
We’re here with Christie Hudson of Expedia and Chuck Thackston of ARC, diving into the 2021 Expedia travel trends report to pull out some of the best tricks to make your travel dollars go a little farther. Okay, Chuck, so this was a favorite tip from last season. So I want to make sure that we dig into it again. What is the best day of the week to book your flight?
Chuck Thackston: By booking your travel on a Sunday, that day of the week can save you up to 15% historically over an average ticket price. So by booking on a Sunday, you can really see some significant savings, and that’s domestic travel. Internationally, that could go up to as high as 20% historically. Now, these are historical fares, no guarantee that these fares are going to be there in the future. But because we’ve seen this trend year-over-year, booking that travel on a Sunday will save significant amounts of money, I think.
Nisreene Atassi: Okay. So in terms of leaving, what days are the best for departures?
Chuck Thackston: Yeah. Departure is typically better off done on Thursday or Friday. So historically, we’ve seen average ticket price much lower when you leave on a Thursday or Friday. So if you book those trips on a Sunday and then plan to depart on a Thursday or Friday, you can save by far the most money.
Nisreene Atassi: It’s around 20%, right?
Chuck Thackston: Yes, yes, which is pretty significant.
Nisreene Atassi: And what about international, is that the same concept there?
Chuck Thackston: Yeah, for international it’s basically the same, but leaving on a Thursday for an international flight has historically shown the lowest average ticket price.
Nisreene Atassi: We used to see that prices would be a little bit cheaper if you had a Saturday night stay.
Christie Hudson: Yeah, so when it comes to accommodations, we did take a look at when the cheapest rates are found for hotels and other types of lodging. And this year, Sunday through Tuesday have the cheapest rates. I think that’s a good tip because often if you want to take a long weekend, you would be doing that maybe a Thursday check-in, Sunday check-out. But actually, if you do that during the first part of the week, that could save you a bunch.
Nisreene Atassi: What else should travelers be factoring in for their trips in 2021, Christie? I would imagine that, obviously, we talked a lot about flexibility so far, it’s probably a really key piece. Is there anything else sort of to the travel puzzle that people need to be considering?
Christie Hudson: Yeah. I think flexibility is going to continue to be huge for travelers. Our data showed that people actually booked refundable rates 10% more often this year compared to last. And I would expect that trend to actually continue to increase. And luckily, flexibility is more affordable than ever, so people don’t have to choose between having the ability to change their plans and getting a good deal. So our Expedia lodging data showed that average daily rates for refundable bookings were 20% cheaper this year compared to 2019.
Nisreene Atassi: That’s a really nice data point because I think oftentimes, most people book the non-refundable lodging rate because it is the cheaper one, right? And so it locks you into a little bit more restrictions, but you’re able to save on price. But now that the partners have sort of made these refundable bookings more on par with the non-refundable booking rates, or even as you said, 20% cheaper, it really is pointing in the direction of really wanting to get traveler options that they can feel comfortable with, which I think is a really good way that the industry is evolving.
Christie Hudson: I would put that under the list of things like I kind of hope stick around forever and are forever changed with travel. I think health and safety transparency is another one. Like it just feels like we’re all forever changed when it comes to increased vigilance, about our health while traveling, especially. I think this is definitely going to be something that travelers are concerned about in the coming year. And travel providers like hotels and airlines are going to be expected to continue providing all these enhanced cleaning measures to help everyone feel safe. So travelers, won’t be waiting to find out whether these types of precautions are in place when they arrive. They’re making this a big part of their decision-making process.
Chuck Thackston: There may be some changes at the airport with testing, temperature checks, those kinds of things, but that’s going to be sort of a normal thing that we work into. What all those things are and how they persist in the long-term, we’ll have to wait and see how that evolves. But there’s some good things coming out of that such as the ultra-clean aircraft. On-time performance for airlines has been really, really high this year. So airlines are using this as an opportunity to understand how they can optimize some of their operations and really, really make it a much more positive traveler experience. Those are the kinds of things that I think will persist and will end up being a good thing for the industry and the travelers themselves
Nisreene Atassi: Chuck, that’s the first time that I’ve heard about that sort of on-time departure rate being so high right now. Do you think that that’s just because they’re so focused on streamlining the boarding and the whole takeoff process, because they’re trying to keep people moving and not clustering and that social distancing piece in place? Do you think that’s why their on-time departures are going so well?
Chuck Thackston: Yeah, the easy answer quite frankly, is there are fewer flights out there, so it’s much easier to make sure they’re on time and get them to the airports that they need to be at very, very quickly. So there is an obvious answer that says fewer flights, you’re going to have more on time, let’s move on. But I also think the airlines are taking this opportunity to look at their overall operations and say, okay, how can we make these things persist once we start adding back in capacity and we get back to the 2019 levels and even higher? I think the airlines are taking this opportunity to look at those things and being able to change things so that it is much more of a very positive experience for the traveler.
Nisreene Atassi: In the near future, I think a lot of people are pretty optimistic that by summer of 2021, we’ll be able to sort of take those big summer trips. Do you think that people should start looking at booking those trips now?
Chuck Thackston: I think the keyword here is something we’ve said a lot, and that is flexibility. But looking forward to say holiday seasons next year and summer trips and spring break in 2021 and things like that, I do not think it is too early to start looking at those. Travel today can be booked far enough out that you can get those holiday deals and I think that’s not a bad thing at all to start looking at. It may be that you want to look a little bit more close to home, maybe that’s not domestic or in your backyard, but maybe it is the Caribbean instead of Southern Europe for next year. Those kind of closer to home destinations I think are really, really going to be popular and recover much more quickly than some of the longer haul international flights. So that may be one adjustment that will really work well for travelers planning in 2021.
Nisreene Atassi: Okay. All right. So, Christie, let’s shift to lodging quickly. So earlier this season, we touched on the uptick in vacation home rentals compared to hotels. What does that look like for 2021 based on the data that we’ve seen?
Christie Hudson: Yes, I think that will continue to be a popular trend. When we looked at the data for 2020 hotels and inns and motels were still very popular. In fact, they were still the most popular lodging type for Expedia. That said, the types of accommodations that are seeing the fastest growth year-on-year were ranches, and chalets, and castles, and cottages. So those are the kinds of retreats which are often found outside of the city limits and they were the perfect getaway spots for travelers who wanted nature and space to socially distance.
Nisreene Atassi: Christie, be totally honest with me, did you know that Expedia sold castles? Because I did not. And I feel very embarrassed that I didn’t know that we had this type of inventory.
Christie Hudson: Well, the word castle, I’m like, okay, are we talking Ireland or Europe, but considering how many travelers stayed domestic, that means there must be some castles in the US somewhere that we didn’t even know about.
Nisreene Atassi: Yeah. We need to find those. All right. Well, maybe that’s a topic for-
Christie Hudson: Upcoming podcast.
Nisreene Atassi: Yeah. That’s the next episode, is how to find the best castle right in your backyard. I like that.
In the beginning, you mentioned the Robot Show Restaurant in Japan as a top activity. What were some of the major experiences that people were doing in 2020?
Christie Hudson: I mean, maybe not as novel sounding as a Robot Restaurant Show, but there’s definitely still activities being booked. The theme for activities is similar to a lot of the themes for travel, which was there was a lot of outdoor stuff. So there was a boat tour in Miami, or zoos like the San Diego zoo were really popular. And then there were a whole bunch of people who were adding adrenaline-seeking to their vacations. We had zip-lining and ATV in Mexico. And then one of the more interesting ones I think, and again, I learned something by doing this report, and that was that the top trending activity was the Philadelphia Flower Show, which is apparently the nation’s largest and longest-running flower show. Who knew?
Nisreene Atassi: We learn something new every day. Yeah, I definitely didn’t know that. Okay. Well, I think in terms of activities, I will say this, for some reason I have been doing, well, I’ve spent a lot of my stay-at-home time over the past couple of months, dreaming of all of my past travel trips and planning where I’m going to go next. And ironically, the one thing that I’ve been really reflecting on is all of this sort of adventurous activities that I’ve done and how much I’ve really enjoyed those, and while as I get older, they don’t seem often top of mind. But whereas I reflect back on my memories and some of my fondest travel memories, a lot of them do have to do with adrenaline rush activity. So it’s something that I’m cognizant of now and want to keep pursuing because obviously, that’s what’s going to create those lasting memories for it. So good to see that others like that sort of rush of adrenaline every now and again.
Chuck Thackston: Let me add in there just a little bit of a personal perspective if you will. One of the things that-
Christie Hudson: You’ve been to the Philadelphia Flower Show, Chuck?
Chuck Thackston: I have not been to that. The National Button Conference is a conversation for a different day, however. But one of the things that sort of we’re talking around here is looking for those new adventures and new destinations that may have been sort of in the back of your mind before, but bring those to the front of your mind because there may be some opportunities to try some of those new destinations that are different from your regular city or your regular beach vacation, things like that. Looking for those new adventures and new destinations, not necessarily adrenaline rushes, although those are great, but looking for something new and different, and there’s a whole lot of information out there. And I was browsing through the Expedia site this morning, and there’s some very, very cool things that you can do that just may not have been top of mind before, but those are some things that could offer some really good opportunities as we sort of ease back into more normalcy.
Christie Hudson: I also noticed with activities, something that made me wonder if it wasn’t just travelers who are doing these things and booking these things. So many of the activities that are the fastest growing for this last year, were in cities. And we’ve just talked about pretty extensively how cities weren’t really the top of the list for tourism. But it makes me think that perhaps people who live in cities, who can’t get out of town for their normal vacations are looking to do things within their own city, to experience their own city in a new way, do something that a tourist would do in their own city. Maybe it wasn’t a bunch of travelers who went to the San Diego zoo, it was people from the surrounding areas who just decided they needed something to do in their hometown.
Nisreene Atassi: Yeah. I think that’s a really interesting point as well because these activities, while sometimes we always think that, oh, this is an activity for tourists, we’ve all been forced to be tourists in our own homes at this point or in our own cities or in the town next door. So it’s a bit of a mindset shift, which I think it’s good to hear that people are still doing their best to sort of get out there and feed their wanderlust where they can.
So in looking at 2021, do we have any predictions on where we think people might be traveling to?
Christie Hudson: Yeah. So when we looked at search data for 2021, we saw two kind of categories. I would call one of them island escapist. When we looked at the top 20 destinations, I think about half of them were islands and the other third were popular beach resorts. And then the rest were larger cities that I think we’re all eager to return to. So as we look ahead to the next year, I think people are going to be wanting to, like Chuck said, go to the Caribbean, go to Mexico, go to Hawaii. But they’re also looking at places like the Maldives or French Polynesia, and those places are popping up as well.
Nisreene Atassi: Yeah. So we’ve got a couple of bucket lists destinations, but it sounds like people really want to just get into a true vacation mode and relax, which I appreciate.
Christie Hudson: Completely.
Chuck Thackston: I think in 2021, it’s going to be very similar to some of the things that Christie was talking about. But I would expect most people to want to stay a little bit closer to home as the recovery kind of evolves and gets a very strong foothold. The airlines, for example, they’re continuing to update their schedules data and things like that, so putting more seats in the market. And as 2021 unfolds, we’re going to see a lot more of those seats return to the market. So those destinations, even if there are only a few flights today, those flights are going to start to come back I think fairly quickly in the first half of 2021.
Nisreene Atassi: That’s great. And I love the optimism. I think we can all agree that 2020 has really dealt us a few blows and we’re all quite eager for it to come to an end and appreciate that travel in 2021 is looking pretty good. So, that’s a wrap on today’s episode. My guests today have been Christie Hudson, Senior PR Manager of Expedia, and Chuck Thackston, Managing Director of Data Science and research for ARC. Thanks, both of you for helping me look into a travel crystal ball for next year.
Chuck Thackston: Thanks for having us over.
Christie Hudson: Thanks for having me.
Nisreene Atassi: I’m Nisreene Atassi, and this is Out Travel the System, brought to you by Expedia. Okay. Armed with all of this data, I’m off to research some possible trip options for myself, including for our next episode, which will take an extensive look at travel to Mexico. Happy travels.