Brand Innovators 2023 Outlook: Travel

Despite inflation-driven higher prices and a myriad of flight cancellations and lost bags, consumers were out in full force with 2022 travel and they don’t plan to cut trips in 2023. 

While 90% of travelers reported experiencing inflation this year, 75% plan to spend the same or more on travel in 2023, according to a new report from American Society of Travel Advisors. Business air travel is expected to rise 50% next year, per travel management company CWT and the Global Business Travel Association. As travelers head out, they are looking to travel brands to support them throughout their journey from booking to baggage claim and check out.

“We’re seeing people crave face-to-face connections and exploration through travel more than ever,” says Emmakate Young, managing director, brand marketing and sponsorships at Delta Air Lines. “Heading into 2023, delivering service customers can count on will continue to be essential as brands innovate new ways to connect with customers and elevate their travel experiences. People are ready to find joy in their journeys and they expect the best from the brands they trust with their travel.” 

Jayne O’Brien, head of marketing and loyalty at JetBlue, agrees.Over the past year, we have seen a strong appetite for leisure travel, with customers looking to reconnect with family, friends, and the places they love, and we expect this growth to continue as we head into 2023. Travelers want to be delighted with every phase of their journey, from booking, in-flight to arrival,” she says. “Travel marketers will need to deliver the experiences and interactions that anticipate their customers’ changing needs, which is why getting to know your customers better every day has to be a priority.” 

Forrester predicts that online travel spending will reach $1 trillion by 2023, with online air and hotel categories accounting for 66% of total travel spending. “Consumers have prioritized spend on travel and experiences this year and we don’t expect that to change as we head into 2023,” says Christine Maguire, vice president and general manager, media at Tripadvisor. “With even more global destinations re-opening their doors and looking to welcome back international visitors next year, competition for traveler attention will be fiercer than ever. Travel brands and destinations are going have to work harder to stand out from the crowd, whether that means leaning into data and insights to ensure their creative hits the right traveler, at the right time, or investing in platforms like OTT video to deliver more immersive experiences for prospective visitors.”

As consumers go online to make bookings, they are doing so throughout the year, not just around holidays and weekends. “At United Airlines, we’re seeing a permanent structural change in leisure demand because of the flexibility that hybrid work allows,” says Maggie Schmerin, head of global advertising & social media at United Airlines. “Off peak months are now almost as strong as peak months because flexible work policies mean people can be untethered from the office with new flexibility to travel more than before. This isn’t pent-up demand – we believe it’s the new normal.”

One key trend for brands to keep an eye on is the intent of travel. More consumers are looking for new and unique experiences. Forty-two percent of travelers said they would want to go on a break that focuses on their mental and physical health and 44% reported plans to go on a meditation or mindfulness retreat, according to a recent report from Booking.com. 

“Guests will continue to seek personalized experiences throughout their travel journeys,” says Christine Kettmer, senior director, global enterprise insight & strategy at Marriott International. “From the time they begin thinking of a trip, to actually taking it, to reflecting on and sharing about everything afterward, they are looking for individualized, curated moments that feel memorable and enriching. With uncertain economic times, they have even higher expectations for authentic, unique experiences.” 

Sustainable travel is also something consumers are looking for, as more people are looking to make choices that have less impact on the environment. This can include staying in eco friendly hotels and paying for carbon offsets. “Travelers are particularly conscious of sustainable choices – especially as over-tourism concerns increase,” adds Kettmer. “Both consumers and businesses are striving to reduce their environmental footprints – a move that is certainly influencing purchase decisions.”

Brands will need to keep this in mind as they push messages and packages to consumers looking to find meaning in their PTO. “Whether it’s an increased focus on sustainability or an awareness of the cultural impact of tourism on local communities, our audience is looking to explore the world in a way that has a positive impact on the planet and the people who live here,” Maguire adds. “While this shift in consumer sentiment will present a challenge for some travel marketers, it also creates real opportunities for brands and destinations prepared to make clear and genuine commitments to providing more conscientious travel options.”

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