With vaccinations rolling out, our collective wanderlust is at an all-time high, and the travel industry is in the midst of a massive transformation that will continue to evolve as more Americans get back out there.
“From increased flexibility and shorter lead-times to new health and safety measures and an increased focus on traveler wellbeing, the way people plan, book, and physically travel will never be the same,” advises Priceline CEO Brett Keller.
With that in mind, Priceline took a look at how travel is changing and what’s to come. “After a devastating pandemic kept us locked in our homes for over a year, people are making plans to travel more often than in the past,” Keller continues. “Not only are leisure travelers desperate to make up for lost travel opportunities in 2020, but the slow recovery of business travel and broad availability of deals will fuel even more leisure demand.” In fact, one-third of Americans plan to travel out of town this spring, while over another third plan to do so this summer.
Read on to learn how travel preferences are changing, the most popular destinations and where to find the best deals as we enter the spring and summer peak travel season.
ESCAPISM IS TOP OF MIND
Looking at the top 10 destinations for spring 2021, U.S. travelers are booking hotel stays in warm-weather and tropical locales.
New to the list are Oahu, the Florida Keys, St. Petersburg/Clearwater and Puerto Rico, which replaced the larger cities that typically comprise the top 10.
- Las Vegas 6. St. Petersburg/Clearwater, Florida
- Orlando 7. The Florida Keys
- Cancun 8. New Orleans
- Miami 9. Puerto Rico
- Oahu, Hawaii 10. Phoenix
When it comes to air travel, people are prioritizing similar destinations such as Las Vegas and Orlando.
- Las Vegas 6. Oahu, Hawaii
- Orlando 7. Cancun
- Miami 8. Los Angeles
- San Juan, Puerto Rico 9. Atlanta
- Fort Lauderdale 10. Tampa
With five cities, the Sunshine State dominates the top 10 destinations for car rentals. Orlando remains the most popular for the second year, while Miami jumped from the 9th spot to the 3rd.
- Orlando 6. Fort Lauderdale
- Las Vegas 7. Denver
- Miami 8. Fort Myers
- Tampa 9. Los Angeles
- Phoenix 10. Maui, Hawaii
Looking across hotels, flights, and car rentals, Las Vegas and Orlando are holding steady as the most popular destinations, even despite reduced access to attractions. Not coincidentally, both cities—as reflected in the trend just below—are offering great deals right now. Meanwhile, Hawaii is of increasing interest, further highlighting that Americans are longing for both entertainment and beach escapes.
WALLET-FRIENDLY STAYS CAN BE HAD IN THE SOUTH AND WEST
Travel deals are more important than ever and Priceline has identified the top destinations where you can stretch your dollar.
This year, the average hotel stay in these 10 cities costs under $140 a night, which means you can enjoy a great getaway without blowing your budget. Eighty percent of these locales jumped in their ranking compared to 2020, with South Dakota’s majestic Black Hills, home to Mt. Rushmore, and Pigeon Forge, only a 25-minute drive from Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park, gaining the most momentum.
1. Las Vegas ($87) 6. Houston ($127)
2. Minneapolis ($114) 7. Seattle ($129)
3. The Black Hills, South Dakota ($115) 8. Dallas ($130)
4. Denver ($116) 9. Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg, Tennessee ($135)
5. Orlando ($125) 10. Tampa ($138)
Destinations with the biggest average percentage discounts on hotels include a mix of urban and coastal locales.
- Myrtle Beach (-51%) 6. Flagstaff/Sedona (-38%)
- The Florida Keys (-45%) 7. Dominican Republic (-38%)
- Denver (-40%) 8. Indianapolis (-37%)
- Savannah (-40%) 9. Big Island, Hawaii (-36%)
- Charleston (-39%) 10. Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg, Tennessee (-34%)
LOCAL EXPLORATION MATTERS MORE THAN EVER
When the pandemic took hold, flights came to an almost screeching halt. According to round-trip flight bookings on Priceline, travelers flew four billion miles fewer in 2020 than they did in 2019. Not only did people fly less often, but they also did not travel as far: the average distance dropped by 20 percent in 2020 (1,307 miles), compared to the same period in 2019 (1,654 miles).
Instead, Americans took to the road, exploring neighboring areas they may never have considered as vacation destinations before the pandemic, bringing a renewed appreciation for the classic American road trip. Of those renting cars, 70 percent4 are taking road trips within their own state and going an average of 184 miles.4 Similarly, local hotel stays are on the rise. Today’s travelers are booking their stays within their own state 10 percent more than prior years.
“What we learned in the last year is that travel is such an important part of our lives that even during times of uncertainty, we will find ways to explore safely closer to home,” says Brigit Zimmerman, Priceline SVP of Flight, Hotel and Packages.
PACKAGE DEALS ENABLE WORKCATIONS
PACKAGE DEALS ENABLE WORKCATIONS
The blurring of work-life boundaries gave rise to the “bleisure” trip or workcation, a hybrid of business and leisure travel, last year. As flexible work schedules become a long-term possibility for many, these extended leisure-first trips, which incorporate remote work as part of the experience, will continue to drive unique booking preferences.
“Though bleisure trips incorporate work, they are funded out of the pockets of consumers,” says Keller. “As a result, we’re seeing 165 percent growth in summer bundled and package bookings, which streamline the booking process and offer great savings.”
LAST-MINUTE TRIPS ARE LIKELY HERE TO STAY
When the pandemic took hold, American travelers overwhelmingly started booking at the last minute, within the same week or even the same day of heading on a trip. While the average advanced purchase window for hotel stays is up 47 percent in 2021 compared to 2020—showing that traveler confidence is increasing—it is still 13 percent later than in 2019.
“While the average advance booking window is gradually increasing, indicating a newfound traveler confidence, the last-minute booking behavior driven by Covid-19 is likely here to stay,” advises Zimmerman. “The traveler mindset has changed; last-minute travel paired with more flexible booking options means easier travel and peace of mind.”
As domestic tourism ramps up this spring, and the industry begins to recover, we will see continued preference for beachy and tropical getaways, alongside an ongoing appreciation for our local surroundings and an increased willingness to blend our vacations with work. And as consumers resume regular travel in search of connection and new experiences, Priceline is here to help them do just that by making unforgettable trips—at great values—available at their fingertips.