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Travel trends 2021: Tweak your affiliate strategy

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2020 brought dramatic changes to the world and there’s no crystal ball to predict the future of travel going forward. However, we can already see evolving trends that will shape the travel industry in 2021.

This post looks into the key trends that are defining the way we will travel in the coming year and provides forward-looking travel insights from industry thought leaders such as Airbnb, SkyScanner, TripAdvisor, and others. The post also shares actionable tips on how to prepare for new shifts in travelers’ behavior and tweak your affiliate strategy for 2021 using the Travelpayouts affiliate network.

Travel trends to watch in 2021

On January 19, we held a webinar entitled “Travelpayouts 2021: Year in review”, in which we shared the latest travel trends, achievements of Travelpayouts throughout the year, and future plans.

After months of being on hold, the travel industry is slowly recovering. However, traveling will be different from what we are used to and it’s vital to align your affiliate marketing strategy to the main travel trends for 2021.

So, let’s take a closer look at the emerging travel trends for 2021 and determine what you can do to fine-tune your affiliate strategy for the coming year.

Trend #1: People are eager to travel

There is a united opinion among industry experts that, after almost a year of enforced staycations, people are ready to hit the road again.

Thus, according to a study conducted by Booking.com, over 84% of people are planning to travel again in the coming months.

Image Source: ADAPT with Booking.com

The 2021 Vrbo Trend Report highlights that 82% of families surveyed already have travel plans for 2021. The Airbnb US Travel Report 2021 states that the majority of Americans are ready to travel again: 54% say they have either already booked travel, are currently planning to travel, or expect to travel in 2021.

Vaxication boom

The rollout of vaccines is expected to kick off travel recovery in 2021. TripAdvisor states that 77% of travelers surveyed say they will be more likely to travel internationally if they receive the vaccine, while about 86% report that they will travel domestically.

Clayton Reid, CEO of MMGY Global, the global travel, tourism, and hospitality marketing company, also anticipates a so-called vaxication boom because people plan to take trips as soon as they’ve received the vaccination.

Trend #2: Aviation: slow recovery, low fares, and increased safety measures

According to IATA, 2020 almost put air travel on hold and resulted in the sharpest traffic decline in aviation history.

Thankfully, most industry experts expect air travel to rebound, partially in 2021. For example, Clayton Reid, CEO of MMGY Global, believes air travel will pick up dramatically in the second quarter of 2021.

However, the recovery process is likely to be rather long and difficult. According to the Air Transport Association (IATA), 2021’s air travel recovery will still only return the industry to about half of 2019 levels. 

Eurocontrol shares this opinion, predicting that European traffic will recover to 51% of 2019 levels if the vaccine is widely available to travelers.

Image Source: EUROCONTROL Think Paper No. 8: Impact of COVID-19 on European Aviation in 2020 and Outlook 2021.

Another important air travel trend is that passengers are more likely to prefer airlines offering flexible booking options and low fares. Skyscanner forecasts that low-cost carriers will have the fastest route to recovery, though some other factors, such as hygiene, safety, and flexibility, have moved to the forefront.

According to the State of Cheap Flights report, more than half (56%) of survey participants name price as their deciding factor when choosing flights, while only 10% say that COVID safety and travel flexibility is the most crucial factor.

Image Source: Scott’s Cheap Flights

Tips for affiliates:

  • Explain safety measures and precautions that airlines are taking to protect passengers
  • Teach your audience how to fly safely
  • Provide information on testing and health measures in airports
  • Provide information regarding flight ticket cancelling policies
  • Cover the changes in airport procedures
  • Promote low-cost airlines
  • Provide your audience with several transportation options, such as flights, trains, and buses.

Programs to promote:

Trend #3: Pod travel is on the rise

The Airbnb US Travel Report 2021 states that, when asked to describe meaningful travel in their own words, nearly 31% of respondents used the term “togetherness”. This shows that, after months of staying apart, people are eager to spend quality time traveling with their friends and family.

So, Airbnb believes pod travel will be one of the trends shaping travel in 2021. This form of traveling helps to minimize travel-related health risks and brings spacious self-catering accommodations to the fore.

Tips for affiliates:

  • Explain the pros and cons of traveling in pods
  • Create lists of the best self-catering apartments, cabins, and villas
  • Help customers choose family-friendly destinations
  • Cover the secrets to stress-free travel with friends
  • Help your audience pick top-quality family activities

Programs to promote:

Trend #4: Increase in alternative accommodations

In 2021, people will be traveling in pods and will be reluctant to expose themselves to large crowds of people. So, to minimize unnecessary contact and enjoy quality time with their loved ones, travelers will be looking for alternative accommodations.

This trend first emerged in 2020 and will persist in 2021. Booking reports indicate that 42% of travelers prefer to stay in a vacation home or apartment rather than in a hotel.

In response to this shift in travelers’ behavior in 2020, the service introduced the Entire homes and apartments section.

Image source: Booking.com

Airbnb expects that less common accommodation types, such as cabins, glamp sites, treehouses, and cottages, will skyrocket in popularity in 2021. These accommodation options allow holidaymakers to experience anything-but-ordinary stays while enjoying peace and relaxation away from crowds.

Tips for affiliates:

  • Focus on single-residence accommodations
  • Promote different types of alternative accommodations, including less common options, such as treehouses, glamp sites, cottages, etc.
  • Build lists of the most romantic, scary, and peaceful getaways, as well as the accommodation types most suitable to each
  • Explain the benefits of alternative accommodations to your users
  • Share your ideas about the best occasions for unique getaways

Programs to promote:

Trend #5: Domestic travel is all the rage

Skyscanner reports that 2020 witnessed a surge in searches for domestic travel, especially in APAC countries, and this trend is likely to continue in 2021.

Image Source: Skyscanner

According to TripAdvisor, 74% of global travelers surveyed plan to take at least one overnight domestic leisure trip in 2021.

Image Source: Tripadvisor

The Airbnb US Travel Report 2021 also highlights that 56% of respondents prefer a domestic or local destination, while 21% of the survey participants want to go abroad.

Tips for affiliates:

  • Explain why today is the perfect time to travel locally
  • Share domestic vacation ideas
  • Help your audience discover hidden gems in their own country
  • Build lists of top local places for weekend getaways
  • Create hands-on destination guides
  • Share your own itineraries and travel experiences

Trend #6: People are planning to travel abroad

The Year of the Travel Rebound: 5 Traveler Trends to Watch Out for in 2021 Report by TripAdvisor states that 47% of all respondents globally are planning to travel abroad in 2021, with less than a third (30%) of travelers saying they don’t expect to travel internationally at all this year.

Image Source: Tripadvisor

Tips for affiliates:

  • Share lists of the safest destinations to visit during the pandemic (update it regularly). If you can’t build your own list, you can drive traffic to readymade travel maps.
  • Put together hands-on guides on how travelers can solve COVID-related problems abroad.
  • Build an online community to share and discuss safety tips and recent travel news
  • Keep your audience up to date about travel restrictions around the world, as well as the policies, requirements, and quarantine rules for specific destinations.

Here’s a list of official interactive resources providing the most current information about COVID-19 travel restrictions and quarantine measures:

Trend #7: Road trips and car rentals will be rising

Booking.com forecasts a shift in transport preferences with 46% of travelers choosing to avoid public transport out of fear of contracting the coronavirus.

According to the Vrbo Trend Report 2021, 59% of families are more likely to opt for driving on their next trip. The report by Google and BCG also states that 73% of people prefer to travel by car in 2021.

Image Source: Actions for Destination Marketers to Navigate in a Covid-19 World by Google and BCG

So, road trips are expected to be one of the most popular ways to explore the world amid the pandemic as they allow travelers to minimize social contact. In addition, this form of transport gives you the freedom to travel at your own pace anywhere you want.

Tips for affiliates:

  • Include car rentals and RV shares into your affiliate strategy
  • Explain the benefits of renting a car or RV during the pandemic
  • Put together road trip routes and itineraries 
  • Share road trip hacks for traveling with kids and pets
  • Cover the pros and cons of road trips 
  • Create beginner guides for RV travelers

For more insights, have a look at the posts on how to promote car rentals and RV shares.

Programs to promote

Trend #8: The year of worcations

In 2020, remote working became mainstream. Industry giants predict that, in 2021, many people working and studying remotely will want to experience the life of digital nomads.

According to Booking.com, 37% of travelers have already considered relocating to work or study remotely.

Image source: Booking.com

The platform added the Work-friendly label to properties offering free Wi-Fi and a table or a desk to work at.

Image source: Booking.com

Tips for affiliates:

  • Promote longer stays and work-friendly accommodations. For instance, this is quite easy to do with Booking.com, as they have a special filter for such accommodation options.
  • Explain the benefits and challenges of being a digital nomad.
  • Focus on small-to-midsize cities that combine nature and comfort.
  • Create guides on how to pick long-term accommodations.
  • Make lists of the best co-working places in each destination.
  • Describe accommodation options from the work side (if there is good Wi-Fi, office tables, and so on).

Programs to promote:

Trend #9: People will want to travel on their terms

Due to the havoc caused by COVID-19, people want to be able to change their travel plans down the road. So, travelers have become increasingly aware of cancellation policies and refund processes.

The Booking.com report says that 74% of respondents believe airlines need to offer more flexible tickets, while 46% prefer refundable accommodations, and 36% want the flexibility to cancel without being charged.

 Also, according to Skyscanner’s New World of Travel report, the average booking window has become shorter, as the ever-changing travel guidelines and uncertainty make people book trips closer to their departure date. This trend is set to continue throughout 2021.

Image source: Skyscanner

Tips for affiliates:

  • Explain the ins and outs of refund and cancellation policies for flights and accommodation amid the pandemic
  • Explain the rights and obligations of passengers
  • Promote refundable accommodations
  • Focus on last-minute deals
  • Share tips on planning more flexible trips
  • Create how-to guides for getting a full refund in case of schedule changes and cancellations
  • Promote services that can help your audience solve flight problems

Programs to promote

Trend #10: The young are expected to resume travel first

The Contiki’s Voice of a Generation survey highlights that 100% of respondents aged 18-35 are currently dreaming of travel. This survey revealed that 63% plan to travel in 2021, while about 71% would get a vaccination to travel.

Image source: Contiki

Musement agrees and predicts that young adventurous travelers will be the earliest contributors to the market recovery.

Tips for affiliates:

As GenZ and millennials might be the key to the market recovery and the first to resume travel when restrictions are lifted, keep this audience in mind when promoting travel. 

Trend #11: Focus on cleanliness and safety

Though people can’t wait to roam the world and experience more of it soon, safety remains top of mind.

According to the ADAPT with Booking.com report, 70% of travelers are more likely to book a property if it’s clear what health and hygiene policies are in place. The report also highlights that properties with additional health and safety measures have witnessed an 11% increase in the number of bookings.

In response to this trend, Booking.com and other hotel search engines have added the Extra health and safety measures label on their websites.

COVID-related medical and trip cancellation coverage will be another priority for people traveling internationally amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tips for affiliates:

  • Promote accommodations with enhanced cleaning and safety measures
  • Compare different insurance providers and plans to help your audience find the best pandemic travel insurance
  • Focus on more secluded getaway spots
  • Create content about cleanliness protocols, on-demand testing, airline cleaning solutions, etc.
  • Craft guides sharing actionable tips for safe travel
  • Put together lists of the safest places to travel in 2021
  • Keep your audience up to date about the latest travel requirements and regulations
  • Create lists of places offering contactless stays 
  • Offer cleaning products and monetize these items with Amazon Associates or it’s alternatives

Programs to promote:

Trend #12: Budget-friendly trips

Due to the COVID-19 economic downturn, people have become more price-conscious and many prefer discounted trips.

The poll conducted by Booking.com reveals that 75% of respondents say that good value rates, deals, and discounts are important, while 40% prefer a discounted trip to a place they wouldn’t have otherwise chosen than paying more for a dream destination.

Image Source: Booking.com

Tips for affiliates:

  • Share money-savvy travel hacks
  • Create lists of the most budget-friendly destinations and accommodations
  • Put together cheap eats guides
  • Describe the best free things to do in each destination
  • Teach your audience how to plan their bucket-list trips on a shoestring budget
  • Promote last-minute travel deals

Do not worry too much about the average bill, you may face some decreases, but an increase in sales volume will cover any losses.

By contrast, the State of Cheap Flights in 2021 report states that 54% of the survey participants indicate that they saved at least $2,000 by not taking their planned trips in 2020 and are planning to spend their savings on more travel in 2021.

Image Source: Scott’s Cheap Flights

Trend #13: Making the most of travel

After the period of forced staycations, people not only want to act on their urge to travel, they are ready to make the most of their trips.

Expedia.com predicts that travelers are set to book more activities to make up for the lost time. Yet, they will choose to experience their once-in-a-lifetime adventures in a safe and self-contained way.

Tips for affiliates: 

  • Promote outdoor activities such as cycling, nature-focused adventures, trekking, yachting, safari holidays, etc.
  • Help your audience find anti-social sightseeing options (individual or small group tours)
  • Offer online experiences to those who are not yet ready to hit the open road
  • Help travelers discover private dining setups or the best takeaway spots in each destination
  • Promote wellness packages that people will want to enjoy after a period of unprecedented unsettlement

Programs to promote:

Trend #14: More sustainable travel 

The lockdowns have revealed how much tourism negatively impacts the environment. That is why travelers are becoming increasingly aware of their eco-footprint when traveling and are looking for more planet-friendly ways to explore the world.

Booking.com highlights that over 50% of travelers worldwide want to travel more responsibly in the future.

Image Source: Booking.com

Tips for affiliates:

  • Share actionable tips on minimizing one’s ecofootprint when traveling
  • Come up with eco-friendly souvenir ideas
  • Describe can’t-miss responsible travel experiences
  • Create lists of top destinations for sustainable tourism

How to tweak your affiliate strategy for 2021

Today, the situation in the travel industry is in a constant state of flux, but the travel trends we’ve covered in this post are likely to persist. Keep them in mind to create a winning affiliate strategy and stay ahead of the game in 2021.

Now is definitely the best time to create new content, communicate with your audience, keep up with trends, and do travel blogging. Even in the subpar environment of 2020, Travelpayouts affiliates earned more than $3.5 million and, in 2021, you must be ready to ride the wave of the growing travel market.