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Americans say they’re eager to return to travel, but most trips in 2021 are likely to remain domestic and closer to home, according to a travel report released by Airbnb this week.
“Americans are telling us they actually are planning to travel this year,” said Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky during a Thursday interview featured as part of the Bloomberg Year Ahead conference. “But something’s going to be different about how they travel. They want to get in cars and travel within a tank of gas, about 200 miles, typically staying in small communities with their friends and family. I think [we’ll see] a shift from mass travel to meaningful travel.”
According to Airbnb’s “From Isolation to Connection: Travel in 2021” study, which showcases findings from a December survey of 1,036 U.S. adults, around 54% of Americans have either already booked travel, are planning to travel or expect to travel in 2021.
Domestic and local destinations remain most in demand, with 56% of respondents saying they’d prefer a trip somewhere domestic/local over somewhere international or farther away. Likewise, one in five surveyed said they wanted their destination to be within driving distance of home.
That shift toward domestic and local appears to be a global phenomenon, as reflected in Airbnb’s top-searched destinations, which include searches for 2021 bookings in markets like Derbyshire county in the U.K.; Rodanthe, N.C.; Forks, Wash.; and the Muskoka Lakes in Ontario.
Other priorities for travelers in 2021 include affordability, with 54% of respondents ranking it as their leading concern, and health and safety protocols, which ranked second.
Additionally, 32% reported that they want the “vast majority of people” at a destination to be vaccinated in order for them to consider traveling there, while 30% said they will want testing to be available at their destination.
“Vaccinations are going to be critical,” said Chesky. “Two of the top reasons people want to get vaccinated are because they want to see their friends and family and be safe, and they want to travel and be safe.”
Airbnb’s report indicates that only 6% of respondents claimed to miss business travel and that 36% of people expect to travel less for work after the pandemic compared with how often they traveled for business prepandemic.
“I don’t think that business travel is coming back the way it was,” said Chesky. “It doesn’t mean business travel’s not coming back, just [that] I think people are going to rethink getting on a plane for a meeting.”
Meanwhile, with a successful IPO now in the rearview mirror, Chesky emphasized that Airbnb would be ramping up its focus on customer service in the coming year, calling 2021 an opportunity for the platform to start “perfecting every detail” of its service model. Spearheading the company’s customer service strategy is former Apple executive Tara Bunch, who joined Airbnb as global head of operations last May.
“One of the things we’re seeing in the hospitality industry is [that] many other companies are starting to cut back service as they cut back costs,” added Chesky. “We want to be doing just the opposite. We want to be increasing service.”