Quarterly Travel Recovery Index - Part I: 2021 Confidence Report

Introducing Hopper’s Quarterly Travel Recovery Index, where the expert team at travel booking app Hopper will take a deep dive into the travel sector’s rebound following the spread of COVID-19.

Adit Damodaran - Feb. 8, 2021

Introducing Hopper’s Quarterly Travel Recovery Index, where the expert team at travel booking app Hopper will take a deep dive into the travel sector’s rebound following the spread of COVID-19. 

Each Index will be reported in three parts, with each part focusing on a different aspect of the travel industry’s recovery. Over the course of the year, we will measure recovery through the same method of analysis. 

In part one of three, this first report of the Index will focus specifically on analyzing consumer confidence in travel’s recovery in 2021 – based on the latest search demand and recent travel booking data.

It’s clear that there is a lot of pent up travel demand. As the vaccine begins its roll out across the US, the million dollar question is when are people expecting to travel again?

Is Travel Confidence Returning? 

Travel Demand as an Indicator of Consumer Confidence

Domestic travel demand, as represented by volume of search demand, is clustered in the first half of 2021. This clustering is primarily due to the majority of travelers booking closer to the date of their departure. 

However, looking at which parts of the year are growing the quickest reveals a more interesting trend. Here we compare the volume of Searches in the first half of December 2020 to those in the last half of December 2020 for Flights Departing in 2021. We saw lots of growth in demand for flights departing in July and August over the past month. In fact, domestic searches for mid-summer travel (July 15th to August 15th) saw a 100% increase in the past two weeks, nearly doubling in search demand.

Demand
Weighted change in searches for 2021 domestic flights

While search volume remains highest for flights in the early quarters of 2021, we are seeing demand grow quickest for summer (particularly July 4th) travel. Searches for flights departing the week of July 4th, 2021 increased on average 9% in the past two weeks.

This suggests travelers are feeling confident about vaccine rollout by July 2021.  

What Destinations Are People Searching For?

Domestic Searches:

Compared to last year, coastal destinations have trended down for Spring 2021 flight searches, while more inland destinations have trended up. Travelers’ motivations for Spring 2021 travel may still be driven by visiting family rather than leisure vacations, with the exception being airports that serve as the gateway to ski resorts - such as Denver and Vail; which have performed exceptionally well in searches.

The airports that have decreased the most in search volume compared to last year include Los Angeles (-6%), Las Vegas (-3%), Ft. Lauderdale (-3%), Miami (-3%), San Francisco (-2%), and Honolulu (-2%). Notably, Los Angeles has experienced a surge in Covid cases in the past month to become the new epicenter amid already lower demand for travel. Travelers seem to be trending away from densely populated urban areas towards smaller cities.

The cities trending the most in search volume are Austin, TX; Charlotte, NC; Denver, CO; Atlanta, GA; and Washington, DC. These destinations saw an increase in share of searches compared to last year.

The most popular domestic searches overall for Spring 2021 were Denver, CO; Atlanta, GA; Austin, TX, Boston, MA, and Dallas, TX further supporting that travelers are choosing to venture to smaller cities.

Domestic Searches
Most searched domestic destinations for Spring 2021

International Searches:

Supported by cheaper international airfare relative to other regions, travellers are showing interest in Caribbean destinations for Spring 2021. Collectively, the top 5 most popular Caribbean destinations increased their share of total international search volume by a sizable 5%, with Cancun leading the way at a whopping 2% increase in total international search volume. 

Tokyo performs well throughout 2021 international searches, as it is set to host the Olympic Games originally planned for Summer 2020. London led the way (-3%) in cities seeing a decreasing share in international search volume compared to this time last year, with Shanghai (-2%), Barcelona (-1%), and Paris (-1%) following suit. The UK recently announced a new national lockdown for England, which may be contributing to London’s decreased search volume relative to last year. However, it still sees the second most searches for international flights from the U.S. for Spring 2021.

International Searches
Most searched international destinations for Spring 2021

Where are people going?

Travel Bookings for Spring 2021

Given that Hopper’s user base skews toward younger, millennial travelers, Hopper bookings data trends more toward leisurely vacation travel than broader travel industry search demand. The top destinations booked for Spring 2021 are primarily leisure destinations including, Honolulu, HI; Miami, FL; Phoenix, AZ; Kahului, HI and Denver, CO. Similarly trending international bookings include warm-weather, vacation hot-spots close to the U.S like Cancun, Mexico; San Juan, Puerto Rico; San Jose del Cabo, Mexico; St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Many of our users are taking advantage of travel insurance and trip protection options, such as Hopper’s Flexible Booking Plan when booking future travel, so they can cancel or change plans if and when needed due to COVID-19.

Most Booked Destinations
Top flights travelers are booking for Spring 2021

Methodology:

Most Popular Searches identifies the destinations with the highest share of search volume based on the past six weeks of GDS data. 

Top Trending Destinations signifies the destinations whose share of search volume has increased the most with the last six weeks of GDS data compared to this time last year.

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