Holiday Travel Still Lags, but Millennials Will Drive Nontraditional Trips in December

The pandemic continues to stall the travel industry’s recovery, writes travel and hospitality analyst Lindsey Roeschke, but brands can find new opportunities among millennials itching to get away for non-holiday-related reasons

Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Tadiana Martinez

Winter holiday travel will return at higher levels this year, but it won’t bounce back to pre-pandemic volume. In order to engage those who are hitting the road, travel brands should consider the full spectrum of motivations for holiday travel — particularly millennials, who are the generation most likely to get away for reasons unrelated to the holidays.

Travel for the upcoming winter holidays — the period beginning after Thanksgiving and continuing through New Year’s — will suffer the same setbacks as Thanksgiving travel in 2021. But there are some promising trends, as consumers are open to longer trips and many are motivated to travel for a variety of reasons beyond traditional holiday celebrations.

Even the most fervent holiday travelers are still cutting back on trips

Mirroring the travel trends that have defined 2021, travel over the winter holidays will occur at a lower volume than in pre-pandemic years. Even among those who always traveled in previous years, more than 1 in 5 say they will stay home for the holidays this year.

Many Holiday Travelers Will Stay Home This Year

Share of adults who said the following about their winter holiday travel:

Poll conducted Oct. 28-31, 2021, among 2,200 U.S. adults, with a margin of error of +/-2%.

While this continued slump isn’t great news for an industry crippled by the pandemic, the upside is that those who are traveling for the holidays plan to do so over greater distances and for longer periods compared with Thanksgiving. Travelers are more likely to say they will spend more this November than they would in a typical year.

Many people still feel uncertain about whether they will travel during the holiday window, but the share of consumers who plan to take the longest trips — a week or more — remains consistent with pre-pandemic levels.

Travelers hit the road for reasons other than holiday celebrations

Holiday get-togethers and celebrations are the primary reason for travel during this time of year, but Americans are planning trips for myriad other reasons as well, with adventure, luxury and cultural immersion among the most commonly cited.

Motivations for Travel Extend Beyond Holiday Celebrations

Respondents were asked the purpose of their upcoming leisure travel

Poll conducted Oct. 28-31, 2021, among 2,200 U.S. adults, with a margin of error of +/-2%.

The desire to relax is the second most common reason for traveling, which is a stark contrast to the usual chaos of trips around this time of year. With COVID-19 concerns still high and travel volume increasing, industry brands must take care to provide guests with opportunities to relax where possible.

Travel for non-holiday reasons is driven by millennials, who have unique needs and behaviors

Millennials are especially likely to travel this winter for non-holiday-related reasons. While 63 percent of Gen Xers and baby boomers say they will travel for the purpose of spending the holidays with friends and family, among millennials 10 percent fewer say the same.

This isn’t to say that family isn’t part of millennials’ travel plans at all. In fact, almost half say they will be traveling with children. But compared with other generations, their trips are more likely to be in pursuit of goals like adventure or culture. Nearly a quarter of millennials who are traveling say they will go abroad — more than twice the share of Gen Xers and six times the share of baby boomers who said the same.

Many millennials craving an escape will also struggle to leave the real world behind as they travel. Forty-eight percent say they will work while on the road, with 37 percent saying they will work as much as or more than they would if they were at home.

Millennials Will Take Their Work With Them Over the Holidays

Share of millennials who say they will work during their winter vacations

Poll conducted Oct. 28-31, 2021, among 2,200 U.S. adults, with a margin of error of +/-2%. Total may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

Additional space for work — along with the reality of traveling with children — helps to explain millennials’ higher likelihood of choosing rental properties over hotels for their holiday travels. Brands that deliver on these needs may also be able to capitalize on an emerging trend that could persist over the long term, as decentralized workspaces will likely drive more millennials to work from the road in 2022 and beyond.

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