It’s travel, but not as we know

With the pandemic phase of COVID-19 drawing to an end, all eyes are now on the travel industry to see how it reinvents itself after what has been a turbulent few years. 

While much is still uncertain, what is becoming increasingly clear is that the far-reaching consequences of Coronavirus will continue to change the face of the tourism industry and redefine travel as we know it. Not least because the post pandemic traveller is a very different beast. Consumers may well be suffering from COVID-induced cabin fever, but memories of the travel turbulence will mean that flexibility and refund policies will likely continue to be front of mind.  And, the industry will probably be subject to increased scrutiny from customers looking for reassurance that their bookings and deposits will be better protected.

These shifts in consumer behaviour are further compounded by the fact that the pandemic only served to supercharge our collective digital evolution. The travel industry may well find that switched-on consumers are now far less tolerant of convoluted booking processes and disconnected customer journeys resulting in poor end-to-end experiences and a distinct lack of transparency.

Not presuming to know all the answers, we commissioned some research to find out. Join us as we discover what’s changed for the travel sector, what if (anything’s) stayed the same, and what it all means for an industry on the cusp of a post COVID comeback.


Part 1 - How travel has changed

So, what’s important to customers as we move into more of a post-pandemic environment?

In February 2022, we commissioned InsightAvenue to interview over 2,500 people from the UK and across Europe and ask them about their experiences of booking travel within the last 12 months. So, this is the first set of key findings, and it’s based around what’s changed recently.

On initial examination, it’s good news for the travel industry, with 45% of those surveyed planning 2-3 trips this year, with 3 trips being the average.

But, dig a little deeper and it’s easy to see that travel booking behaviours have changed since the start of the pandemic. 82% say they would definitely or probably look more closely at refund and cancellation policies. This is perhaps unsurprising given that one in four (25%) had to cancel travel plans last year and 36% had to reschedule or postpone a trip​.

And, while the demise of the travel agent has been predicted for years, COVID has served to highlight the value that an OTA can bring to travel plans. When asked about their preference for booking travel, the most preferred option (39%) was to book through an online travel agent. It seems that, when faced with complications and ever-changing regulations, it pays to have a travel agent watching your back, not least as they offer a single point of contact for refunds and rearrangements.

With 74% shopping around for the best deals and 64% saying they are booking closer to the time of travel, post pandemic travellers appear to be collectively applying some thinking when it comes to booking their main holiday.

Now, only 4% would book a two-week foreign holiday a year in advance, with 49% prefering to book a month or less before travel – taking a similar approach to booking a European city break. More than half (53%) of those surveyed are booking more, shorter trips, with the expectation that some may get cancelled (54%). 

Yes, it seems that instant economy thinking  finally extends to the annual holiday. Now, the idea of planning and booking up to a year in advance is considered risky, while booking at the last minute, when there’s a clearer picture of the prevailing situation, is a better option for those who are not ready to gamble with their getaway.

The risk used to be not booking in time. Now, the risk is booking too early.


Aside from price, the most important factors when booking travel in 2022 are flexibility in being able to make changes to a booking (50%), clear refund policies (49%) and clear communication from the travel provider during and after the booking (42%)​. Issues of transparency and control are obviously high on the agenda for the post pandemic traveller and there’s zero tolerance for a bad refund process.

Which brings its own complications. After all, one of the reasons so many OTAs went out of business during the pandemic was because of an inability to handle refunds smoothly. These are particularly complex in the travel industry because what is a single payment for the customer is split up into multiple outgoing payments to different suppliers. Unfortunately, customers are growing used to expecting this to be refunded as if it’s a 1:1 transaction.

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