Today is Memorial Day, the unofficial start of the U.S. summer travel season. Of course, summer will be far from normal this year, and consumers’ enthusiasm for travel has dimmed considerably. Will COVID-19 cancel summer vacation in 2020?
U.S. consumers have certainly grown more concerned with protecting their health and safety over the pandemic’s course — and that’s showing up in travel statistics. Going into the summer vacation season, airline traffic is down 94 percent year on year, and the average U.S. domestic flight only has 23 passengers.
The hotel visit of the future seems likely to include social distancing signage, temperature screenings and masked staff greeting you at check-in. In fact, the outlook is so murky that AAA dropped its annual Memorial Day travel forecast for the first time in 20 years, noting only that holiday travel volume will be “weak” this year.
But HomeToGo Co-founder and CEO Patrick Andrae isn’t quite convinced that summer vacation 2020 will be canceled. Andrae’s company is an aggregator of travel aggregators, designed to give consumers a single vantage point from which to see listings on sites like VRBO, Airbnb and various smaller home-sharing platforms.
From what he’s seen so far, consumer travel appetites are definitely changing, but haven’t gone completely away. In fact, the expert thinks this summer’s big winner could be home rentals, as consumers choose them over traditional hotels.
“I think the big advantage vacation home renters have, especially when considered against hotels, is that in a home rental, you can have your own space that you can control while you vacation,” said Andrae. “The advantage is in the name of our company — you know you actually get a home to be in while you are away.”
HomeToGo’s recently released 2020 Summer Travel Forecast does show it’s going to be a rough summer for hotels, as consumer demand for private room rentals is set to plummet.
Andrae said it’s easy to see why. Who wants to take an extended trip to a building full of strangers and stay in a room that a totally unknown party made use of a day before? He added that persistent questions about how long the coronavirus can live on surfaces have had a powerfully depressing effect on consumers' desire to stay in hotel rooms.
The expert admitted that vacation rentals have the same shared aspect as hotel rooms, but at least they offer much larger spaces where families can comfortably spread out.
Andrae said the desire to feel safe and in control has been a powerful inducement for potential vacation renters. For instance, cabin rentals on HomeToGo are up 80 percent this summer, while demand for villas and bungalows is 60 percent higher.
“In general, we are seeing a sharp pick-up in standalone, house-like vacation rentals,” he noted. “That is something people want more and more. It is a priority as the fastest-growing travel segment we see right now … even if they are allowed to go to a hotel, I think the preferences this year will push people to say: ‘Oh, I’d rather have a vacation rental.’”
Andrae added that vacationers aren’t just going to limit which structures they stay in, but also where they travel to and how far into the future they’ll book trips. Rural areas are seeing supply constraints, he said, thanks to a large volume of urban vacationers looking to get away from tight lockdown conditions. The expert also noted that places with access to beaches and gardens have enjoyed a spike in popularity.
The CEO also said that HomeToGo is seeing an increased push toward last-minute, “act-now” types of bookings. “Domestic travel has become rather short notice, because people say, ‘okay, this is what I want right now — to try to get out before any more lockdown [occurs], while it's not as hard anymore,’” Andrae said.
“Even for me personally, here in Germany, I feel like more than ever, I want to go somewhere else [after] having been locked down at home,” he continued. “And we are seeing there are a lot of people who still want to take some kind of a break. And vacation rentals offer a safer-feeling path to that.”
What Else HomeToGo Is Seeing
Andrae noted that many consumers are keeping things domestic this summer. Plenty of them are also showing an increased affinity for renting standalone houses to prevent the risk of checking into a hotel lobby or pressing elevator buttons used by perhaps thousands of strangers.
But whether that preference holds over the long term remains to be seen. HomeToGo is already seeing the rise of international bookings on its platform, although those are mostly scheduled for 2021.
What that signals to Andrae is that even in the face of a global pandemic, consumers haven’t quite given up their desire to travel to new places and experience new things. However, they do seem to be actively seeking ways to make travel feel safer and more under their control.
“We have a lot of people who have chosen things that are very much in their reach by car,” the CEO said. “People are definitely changing the journeys they are going on, but they haven't given up their desire to experience new places. They just want to feel safer while they do it.”