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Four trends that are reshaping the travel industry in the wake of the pandemic

As travel picks up in 2022, hotels and hospitality companies will be catering to guests by innovating on everything from wellness to sustainability

Four trends that are reshaping the travel industry in the wake of the pandemic

The events of the last two years made many rethink their priorities, creating a slowdown of epic proportions, which gave people time to assess what really matters to them. They connected with long-distance loved ones, adopted pets, got really good at baking bread, created at-home fitness routines, and moved away from bustling cities in search of more space and more peace. Now, as prepandemic activities like travel are finally picking back up, people find they are also packing their newfound routines, preferences, and passions, creating a shift in traveler expectations and experiences.

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As a leader in the hospitality industry for more than a century, Hilton has observed and shaped the evolution of the traveler. To better understand how this year unlike any other has changed us as travelers, Hilton tapped its own experts and data—from food and beverage, digital innovation, wellness, design and more—and produced a just-released trends report, The 2022 Traveler: Emerging Trends and the Redefined Traveler. The report examines the macro and micro consumer trends that are emerging and predicted to thrive in 2022.

“Over the last nearly two years, our brands have had to adapt and grow with travelers to meet their evolving needs—whether it was innovating the booking and check-in experience, enhancing on-property wellness elements or better accommodating pets,” said Matt Schuyler, chief brand officer, Hilton. “But the reality is, while the pandemic changed travel, it’s more important to realize that it also substantively changed people. This report delves into the eye-opening insights from our teams around the world—teams of people serving people—and showcases optimism. The past two years have been hard on everyone, but at Hilton, we see a bright future ahead.”

Looking at the 2022 traveler profile defined within the report, a number of key themes emerged, indicating not only how the hospitality industry is evolving, but also providing insights to companies around the world:

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TREND 1: MAKE IT SIMPLE AND CONVENIENT

During the pandemic, home delivery of groceries, restaurant meals, and even alcohol became the new normal. Many people chose convenience over price, opting for simplicity during a trying time. Two years later, consumers aren’t willing to give up those conveniences they found in the early days of the pandemic.

The digital, contactless experience is here to stay, pushing the travel and hospitality industry to utilize innovations to drive more valuable in-person connections. Dynata and Blackbox Research recently conducted a study examining the feelings, preferences and expectations of more than 10,000 people across 17 countries regarding travel in a post COVID-19 era. It found that contactless travel will be a new standard expected by travelers, with 76% indicating that their preferred travel destinations would have airports offering reliable touchless identity and contactless clearance experiences.

Hotels and restaurants have risen to the occasion by utilizing technology, such as contactless payments and digital check-in, to reduce foot traffic and time spent at the front desk. For example, travelers adopted the Hilton Honors app at greater speeds than ever before, which allows guests to check-in, check-out, choose their room location and access their room with a digital key. Last month, Hilton became the first major hotel company to introduce Digital Key Share, which allows room keys to be shared with friends and family members safely and securely, giving travelers more freedom within their travel experiences.

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Some all-inclusive resorts are phasing out the paper wristbands that have become synonymous with their on-property experience. Instead, they are adopting a durable, smart-tech wristband, which allows guests to do everything from open their room doors to authorize contactless payments outside of the all-inclusive offerings.

Creating seamless experiences that marry traditional hospitality with convenient, modern innovation will drive brand loyalty as travelers seek stability and familiarity, even while in transit.

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TREND 2: OFFER WELLNESS FOR THE MIND, BODY & SOUL

The past two years created an unprecedented spotlight on health—leading to a focus on holistic wellness for the mind, body, and soul.

With corporate cultures focusing on mental health as never before, more companies are maintaining hybrid or fully remote work environments. This has opened up new types of travelers—from the work-cation traveler, signing on to emails from the beach for months at a time, to the rise in extended stay hotels as remote workers travel back to their headquarters for occasional meetings or trainings.

Physically, people became accustomed to working out in their own small, or unique, spaces or neighborhoods during the pandemic. They created new fitness routines—and many stuck to them. These travelers are going to be seeking out hotels and local companies that will help them maintain those new healthy routines while on the road.

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Knowing that wellness is more than just fitness, with an increased focus on taking care of the whole body, travelers will look for hotels that offer creative solutions to cater to their soul as well. Innovative programs such as mindfulness spa experiences, wellness concierges or unique locally focused wellness amenities, like teas meant to reduce the effects of jetlag and elevation sickness, are expected to appear more frequently at hotels around world. Design is expected to consider the new mindset of the traveler in purposeful ways, such as aiming to calm or, alternatively, bringing energy to spaces, where needed.

TREND 3: HELP BRING NEW PASSIONS TO LIFE

In the early days of the pandemic, people embraced their passions or adopted new hobbies (or pets) to pass the time, entertain or find purpose in their every day. These new and refreshed hobbies are leading to the rise of a new kind of traveler, one is who is getting reacquainted with travel but often with new complexities around how to successfully pack their new passions within their carry-ons.

Travelers are expected to crave authentic, local experiences that acquaint them with a destination or culture on a deeper level than ever before. It’s predicted that hotels will rise to the occasion in new, creative ways.

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From a culinary perspective, that could mean partnering with local guides, chefs, and artisans to develop bespoke programs that are available only to guests. Experts expect culinary experiences and culinary-focused trips will rise in popularity, especially among luxury travelers. These travelers are expected to emerge from the pandemic with refined tastes and seek travel adventures that complement their passions.

Interestingly, there is expected to be a rise in more approachable luxury dining experiences. Michelin star restaurants will continue to deliver impeccable service, unforgettable, fresh ingredients and “wow worthy” ambiances, but strict restaurant dress codes are decreasing, with more top chefs seeing patrons in high-end jeans and blazers than suits and evening dresses on the average night.

And when it comes to pampering passions, there is a new traveler to consider: the family pet. According to the ASPCA, approximately 23 million U.S. homes welcomed a pet since the beginning of the pandemic, which accounts for nearly 1 in 5 households, and experts expect more people will want to bring their furry friends on future trips. While many hotels around the world have catered to cats and dogs in creative ways before, people are now looking for accommodations that are increasingly “pet-friendly” instead of simply “pet tolerant.”

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This means more hotels will offer amenities like beds, bowls, treats, and toys to ease the travel experience for pet parents. Travelers will even see some hotels go above and beyond with pet-focused room-service menus, neighborhood walking, or activity guides and on-premises dog parks that accommodate four-legged travelers.

TREND 4: HELP SUSTAIN THEIR COMMITMENTS TO THE WORLD

More than ever, travelers want to reduce their carbon footprint when exploring the world. Experts agree there will be greater loyalty for hotel brands that are eco-conscious and supportive of local communities. According to Accenture, 86% of travelers want to travel more sustainably, but only half of that number manage to do so often. American Express’ Global Travel Trends Report indicated that 72% of respondents agree that they are passionate about traveling to destinations to help boost tourism revenue and the local economy, and 77% agree they want to be more conscious about supporting small, local businesses while traveling.

Looking to 2022, it’s expected that more people will seek out restaurants that source local, sustainable ingredients. Travelers are expected to be more attuned to innovative building designs that minimize energy waste as well as appreciate hotels that participate in recycling programs that reduce single-use plastics and recycle hotel soap and other bath amenities. Some hotels are investing in programs that include solar ovens, rooftop gardens, and vegan suites, giving travelers more options than ever to experience the world with a smaller carbon footprint.

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IN SUMMARY: TRAVELERS HAVE CHANGED, BUT THE BENEFITS OF TRAVEL REMAIN

The traveler may have changed during the pandemic, but the benefits of travel remains the same: Travel has the ability to increase emotional health and wellness, while also making the world a smaller place. And after a tough two years, that’s something we all need. For more insight on how the pandemic altered the global traveler and how the hospitality industry can innovate to meet their needs, check out the The 2022 Traveler: Emerging Trends and the Redefined Traveler, a report from Hilton.

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