2021 Summer Travel Trends — with a Glimpse at Fall and Winter

Ketchum’s Travel, Hospitality & Leisure team is keeping a close eye on 2021 summer travel trends and how they’ll translate to fall and winter travel.

With Memorial Day around the corner, 77% of Americans are planning to travel this summer — and more than half of these travelers are dusting off their suitcases to take a trip for the first time since the start of the pandemic. Pent-up demand, coupled with 50% of adults now fully vaccinated, has Americans taking an average of 2.3 leisure trips over the next three months. National initiatives like “Let’s Go There” are now encouraging Americans to make their travel dreams realities as the economy reopens, while “bleisure” travelers blur the line between business and leisure trips.

2021 Summer Travel Trends — with a Glimpse at Fall and Winter - photo of a family on a seaside dock at sunset

While sunny days are ahead, Labor Day and the shift to colder months linger in the distance. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, has urged Americans to prepare for the possibility of booster shots, which Pfizer and Moderna have said could be necessary by September. When the sun sets on a summer of traveling, what will the next phase look like?

Whether you represent a destination or a brand in the travel and leisure sectors, here are three summer travel trends to watch as marketing communications planning commences for the fall and winter seasons.

Livin’ La Vida Local… for Now 

Nearly 70% of U.S. travel searches for Memorial Day Weekend focused on remote stays between 50-300 miles from travelers’ homes, according to Airbnb. Travelers are looking for open-air destinations, off-the-grid locations and truly unique stays near national and state parks — such as a listing for 5,850 acres of an entire mountain in Big Sky, Montana. On the flip side, the proportion of American travelers who say they will be avoiding international trips reached a pandemic low of 58.8% in the past week, according to Destination Analysts. Now, one in five actively disagree that they will avoid international travel.

Takeaway: With Spain reopening its borders beginning June 7 and other international destinations starting to welcome U.S. tourists, industry leaders should consider how to bridge Americans’ affinity for the local with the imminent return of international travel. How can international travelers immerse themselves in the local culture and support local businesses, and how can you proactively form relationships with these businesses? Brainstorm creative ways to bring local offerings to the top of communications efforts — and don’t forget your growing pool of bleisure travelers, who will be looking for ways to experience a destination while visiting for work.

Cities Make a Comeback

While travelers’ love of the outdoors skyrocketed over the last year, with nearly six in 10 Americans citing a new appreciation of nature amid COVID-19, people are also planning to return to cities this summer. Of travelers who plan to take a leisure trip in the next three months, 37.4% say they will be visiting cities and urban areas, on par with rural and beach destination performance.

Takeaway: During the peak of COVID-19, we saw people fleeing cities left and right. Now, travelers are slowly coming back. Domestic and global destinations that have made strides against COVID-19 and have the proper health and safety measures in place should clearly communicate this progress and consider boosting external communications with paid support. Leverage most-loved parks and natural attractions in or near the city to showcase how travelers can have their cake and eat it too while visiting your urban center.

Travel Rules of Thumb

Traveling in the age of COVID-19 comes with an entirely new set of rules. This summer, domestic travelers will need to be wary of when and where to don a mask, and whether a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination will be required for entry into theme parks, concerts and events. Meanwhile, international travelers will need to closely follow vaccination or testing requirements for individual countries open to U.S. travelers. Looking ahead, the possibility of booster shots will add another layer of complexity to an already complex ecosystem, particularly for international travel.

Takeaway: Vaccination has already made a positive impact on the recovery of the travel, hospitality and leisure sectors, and industry leaders will need to keep a pulse on how potential new vaccination requirements, like boosters, may impact travel in the fall and winter months. Clear communication and messaging around a brand or destination’s respective rules and guidelines, especially as they continue to evolve, will be critical in maintaining relationships with consumers. Perhaps more important is having a plan in place to support employees faced with customers who refuse to abide by the rules.

Understanding how your brand or destination can apply these trends is just the beginning. Personalization and agility will be critical to your unique go-to-market strategy. Let us know how we can help you plan for and navigate post-summer travel by reaching out.

Alexa is a managing account supervisor in Ketchum’s Travel, Hospitality and Leisure sector, based in New York. She started at Ketchum as a summer fellow and has since worked with an array of incredible travel brands, including Qatar Airways, Discover Puerto Rico and Sandals Resorts. With a background in creative writing, a passion for media relations and a knack for creativity, Alexa develops and executes campaigns rooted in human truths to break through the clutter and tell her clients’ stories. Outside of the “office,” Alexa enjoys cooking, spending time on her Peloton and experiencing new destinations near and far. ​