AAA: Booking Patterns, Cleanliness Among Persistent US Travel Trends
Traveler trends continue to evolve in the U.S., but some recent developments that have emerged in the past few years are here to stay, according to Stacey Barber, AAA's executive director of travel.
During a break at the recent BWH Hotel Group's Fifth Annual Women in Leadership Forum in Cleveland, Barber said that travelers are still ranking cleanliness and personalization as chief concerns among their checklists when booking hotels. They're also being less impulsive and paying more attention to planning trips in advance to ensure safety.
1. Lengths of Stays Increase
Barber has observed that travelers are more commonly extending their trips, in large part due to the continued trend of blending business trips with leisure.
More people "now are working from home, so their spouses or kids can come join them" on these bleisure trips, she added.
Additionally, of the 48 million travelers recorded in AAA's Independence Day forecast released in June, roughly 42 million traveled by car.
"That's going to continue," she added. "What we're seeing from our members is it's not just back to warmer climates; we're starting to see them go back to big cities."
AAA projects that travel around this year's Thanksgiving holiday will be near 2019 levels, with a majority of travelers taking road trips. In 2019, AAA projected 55.3 million travelers for Thanksgiving that year.
2. Spontaneous Travel Dwindles
Barber said it seems as if "the spontaneity of travel is not what it used to be" compared to pre-pandemic.
Even leading right up to the pandemic, spontaneous travel wasn't as prevalent.
"I think that's because of the tools, the digital world that we live in," she added. "You can sit there and say, 'OK, I'm now going to be here by this time.'"
Barber said this shift isn't necessarily because people don't want to live impulsively, but they want to ensure that where they go is safe, secure and clean.
3. Cleanliness, Sustainability Still Top of Mind
The hyperawareness of cleanliness never used to come into the booking decision as much as it has since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Barber said. Since then, everyone's mindsets have shifted.
"Now it's top of mind, all the time," she said, adding most consumers wouldn't mind paying a higher average daily rate to ensure that they're entering a hotel with enhanced sanitation.
AAA's Diamond program includes 34 inspectors that comb through properties in North America, South America and the Caribbean.
"We did a six-month pilot, and we launched summer of last year, what's called an ATP program, and that's actually used in hospitals. We test surfaces for cleanliness. Now, it doesn't test for COVID but it does test for bacteria and other things that could bring sickness to traveling guests," she said.
As of Oct. 1, AAA has inspected all 26,000 properties in its portfolio, she said. AAA has a preferred hotel networkof partners and gives AAA/CAA members perks and discounts when staying at those properties.
AAA has also streamlined this process to inspect properties on a quicker timeline.
"Previously, we were looking at about an 18-month inspection window and we have now gotten that down to 12 months," she said. "On an annual basis, we'll be able to inspect all 26,000 properties."
Another layer to the cleaning aspect is how properties are achieving it in a sustainable way, she said.
"That's a huge piece for travelers today," she said.
4. Travelers Want Personalization
Hotel guests are still yearning for personalization and to feel welcome, especially as they are paying higher average daily rates, Barber said.
"People's expectations have changed," she said. "But it's also understanding who's coming into your property, because people are still very self-conscious ... so understanding, do they want that human interaction or do they want that contactless approach?"
She said its imperative that hoteliers keep these options top of mind and are able to deliver on these experiences.
5. Trips to Wide-Open Spaces Not Slowing
In 2020, there was a large push from travelers heading to destinations with wide-open spaces, such as beaches and national parks that are within driving distances, and Barber said that trend is "definitely not slowing down" overall.
"We're still seeing a tremendous amount of traffic out to the national parks and beaches," she said.
However, during the colder winter months, there will be a decline in drive-market trips, she said, because "the people who are going to be doing those winter escapes ... they'll fly ... because they're usually coming from the north. But the national parks are one of our top destinations, we don't see that declining."