Research from WeTravel compares pre- and post-pandemic travel customer data and finds a ‘shift in travel consumerism’. Rose Dykins reports

Booking platform WeTravel has released in-depth research into how traveller booking behaviours and preferences have evolved since the pandemic – and how travel businesses are responding.

WeTravel’s first-ever travel trends report Purchasing Habits: The Future of Travel Bookings and Payments, used data from thousands of tour operators and group travel businesses to understand how the way consumers purchase travel is shifting after Covid-19.

The report combined data from more than 3,000 WeTravel clients and an external survey of 150 tour operators and group travel organisers that are not affiliated with WeTravel. The survey responses were compared to booking data from 2019 (pre-pandemic) to explore behavioural shifts in travellers and their expectations around how they purchase trips.

Through analysing this data, WeTravel’s research identified a “shift in travel consumerism” post-2020. Some key findings include the increased importance of personalised tours, expectations for shorter booking lead times – and the impact this has on managing on-the-ground staff and suppliers – and the need for travel companies to understand how to customise payment options (such as offering Book Now, Pay Later solutions).

Another top finding from WeTravel’s research was that in 2023, women account for almost 70 per cent of bookings (an increase of more than 10 per cent since 2019), meaning they are driving purchasing decisions when it comes to travel.

What’s more, the data showed the typical age of travel bookers is maturing. In 2019, the average age of a traveller who booked and paid for a tour was 30, whereas in 2023, the average age of travel purchaser is closer to 40, with the highest growth in travel bookings coming from 40-55 age group, followed by those aged 61 and over.

The WeTravel research also found more than 86 per cent of travel companies increased their trip pricing by 10 per cent or more in 2023 compared to 2022 – and more than a quarter increased their trip pricing by more than 25 per cent during the same period. For wellness travel companies, the average trip cost increased by 16 per cent during this time.

In terms of what travellers are demanding, customisation came through as a key trend. 56 per cent of travel companies reported an increased consumer demand for tours instead of all-inclusive packages.

Meanwhile, more than 85 per cent now offer add-ons and customisable options for their tours – an increase of nearly 20 per cent compared to 2019 – with the most popular options being special activities and tours (64 per cent) and extra days (36 per cent).

Another clear trend was a shift in the lead-in time that travellers were booking trips – with travellers booking closer to their departure date for fear of cancellations. For 60 per cent of tour operators, travellers are now booking less than three months prior to departure.

Since 2019, they have seen a more than 20 per cent decrease in booking lead time compared to 2019, which saw more than 50 per cent of bookings, with a six-to-12 month lead time. At the same time, 50 per cent of respondents said they expect their travellers to book closer to departure date to reduce cancellations and refunds

In terms of financing their travel, customers are looking to spread the cost of their trip over more time than pre-pandemic. In 2019, the most common payment option for travellers was to pay a deposit and final payment 30 days prior to departure.

Now, in 2023, the most common payment option is a deposit followed by four instalment payments prior to departure. In terms of booking tours, cash or credit card were both the most commonly used payment methods in 2019. In 2023, debit card is the most used payment method, followed by methods such as Apple Pay.

The research also highlighted an increase in demand for consumers to pay with local methods when purchasing global tours from international businesses. Examples include Interact in Canada, iDel in the Netherlands and Sofort in Germany. In line with this, 30 per cent of travel company respondents said they expected their travel payment methods to change to online, local payment options by the end of 2023.

Ted Clements, CEO of WeTravel, says: “As an anomaly to industry-wide, global consumerism, traditional…pre-pandemic travel was often a well-thought-[out], not impulsive purchasing decision, predominantly purchased up-front with cash or credit card, as the industry followed consumer cues with a slow embrace to e-commerce solutions that dominated other industries selling common goods or services.

“However, after a two-year industry standstill, commonplace travel purchasing has been disrupted. Now the data finds expectation of personalisation, customisation, and automation, which is well expected from consumer purchasing in differing industries, is dominating this year’s purchasing decisions.”