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Research Digest

Travelers Are Wary but Optimistic This Holiday Season

Abstract

  • 2022 Holiday Travel Budgets are up 49%.
  • Consumers are less concerned about COVID this year, and only 9% of consumers expect their holiday plans to be impacted “a lot” because of the pandemic.
  • Around 66% of consumers say they are concerned about the economy this holiday season.
  • Almost half of consumers who do travel this holiday season will do so by plane.

As worries about the pandemic wind down, many consumers are increasing their holiday travel budget to make up for lost time. But there are still a few concerns that might hold them back.

Introduction

After a few years of uncertainty making it harder for consumers to imagine taking the risk of traveling during the holidays, it looks like 2022 is the year that the season gets (somewhat) back to normal. In fact, holiday travel budgets are up 49% over last year, according to a report from IBM. But there are still a number of concerns facing travelers as they make their plans for this holiday season. And considering that 86% of travel intenders are Connected TV viewers, these are worries that advertisers should be aware of when finalizing their holiday CTV advertising campaign messages.

Outlook on the Pandemic — Holiday Travel in 2022

This year, holiday travelers are much more optimistic about the effects the pandemic may have on their travel plans. This may be in part because of the widespread access and use of COVID boosters. Some holiday travelers even began planning as early as July, though those who were waiting to see how things went this year represented a much larger group, as seen in the chart from Civic Science below.

Civic Science also found that only 9% of consumers expect their holiday plans to be impacted “a lot” because of the pandemic. Those who expected COVID to affect their plans “a little” or “not at all” represented a much larger portion of those surveyed, at 27% and 64% respectively. This is a dramatic difference over last year, when at least 60% of consumers expected the pandemic to affect their travel plans in some way. 

So What Are Holiday Travelers Concerned About?

While it appears COVID is less of a worry for holiday travelers in 2022, there is another consideration that looms for many households: the economy. According to IBM, around 66% of consumers say they are concerned about the economy, and 59% are also worried that supply-chain disruptions will make their holiday planning and shopping more difficult and expensive. 

There are also other factors that consumers have indicated are areas of concern when it comes to holiday travel, some of which directly related to the state of the economy—74% of consumers are concerned about gas prices, 68% about rising travel costs, and 58% rising hotel costs.  But others are worried about potential issues that might interrupt their travel plans, such as flight cancellations, long delays at check-ins or security in airports, or staff shortages on airlines. 

How and Why Will Consumers Be Traveling This Holiday Season?

Despite these concerns, many consumers have committed to traveling this holiday season. According to a report from PwC, almost half of consumers (47%) have plans to travel during the holidays. This year will also see a pick up in the amount of travelers planning to fly, with 46% of holiday travelers indicating that they will take a flight to their destination (up from 40% in 2021 and 33% in 2020). Most of these travelers will be using online booking sites to arrange their trips, with 45% of travelers (and 60% of traveling millennials) using these sites for their holiday travel plans.

Much of holiday travel this year will be driven by a desire to reconnect with family and loved ones, according to the Amex Trendex, with 47% of those surveyed planning to travel for family gatherings this holiday season and 48% making it a priority to attend out-of-town holiday gatherings that they missed due to the pandemic. Others (58%) are traveling to renew or start a new holiday tradition this holiday season.

Demographics of Holiday Travelers

Across the board, holiday travelers are expected to spend an average of $452 on their holiday travel plans. However, when broken down into specific age categories, Millennials are expected to spend the most, at around $623, as seen in the below chart from PwC. Those in the Gen X age bracket will also spend more than the average, while Baby Boomers and Gen Z fall to the bottom of the pack at $401 and $362, respectively.

And when it comes to financial stability, IBM suggests that this holiday season consumers will tend to fall into one of four categories:

  • The Insulated (41%): Most of those in this consumer group have seen little to no difference in the income or expenses over the last year. They are easier to reach with last minute messages about holiday travel deals, with 40% planning to book their travel in the last few months of the year.
  • The Strained (31%): This consumer group is more likely to feel the effects of the dipping economy and rising interest, and half of them are in the bottom income brackets. Many of them have had a loss in income while experiencing increased household expenses. As a result, this group will be looking to cut costs during the holiday season, whether by reducing their amount of travel or looking for sales on any purchases they intend to make. 
  • The Secure (18%): One of the smaller consumer groups, these consumers are actually seeing an upswing in their finances and nearly half of them fall into the top income brackets. They plan to spend around 6.5 times more on travel than those in the “strained” category, and their holiday travel budgets are up 113% over 2021, reaching almost $6,000. 
  • The Frugal (11%): A more financially conservative group, 56% of this audience are from the lowest income brackets and have experienced the highest decline in income over the last year. However, unlike the “Strained” group, they have already found ways to cut costs on their household expenses so their monthly expenses and personal debt are also on the decline.  

Conclusion

Ultimately, it looks like we can expect holiday travel to finally pick up again after years of uncertainty. But with economic concerns and worries of travel delays lingering in the back of many holiday travelers’ minds, brands looking to reach this consumer group in the upcoming holiday season should be appealing to them with messages of holiday sales and assurances of security in order to drive them to convert.

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