People are prioritising travel spend – booking short haul and searching long haul the preference

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Although 2022 is presenting a number of global and regional challenges – the war in Ukraine, the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, the rising cost of living and hikes in jet fuel prices – demand for international travel, after taking a small dip in February, is increasing, reports the metasearch engine and travel agency Skyscanner in its May-2022 release of its latest Horizons insight.

The report crunches three months of data from the start of the year to provide insight into the latest traveller behaviours and patterns – and how they compare to pre-pandemic.

While it is clear that a full recovery is some way off, there’s certainly positive momentum in many parts of the world, and changing traveller trends.

Despite challenging headwinds, the aviation industry continues to prove its resilience, driven by considerable traveller demand across all regions.

There's good news for aviation and the wider travel sector too.

“We're seeing positive signals that seasonality is returning in both booking horizons and trip lengths, providing a degree of certainty going forward”, says Hugh Aitken, VP of flights at Skyscanner.

Travel will take 'greater share' of leisure spending wallet

In the immediate term, there's clear demand for domestic and short haul travel, with long haul's recovery on the horizon as airlines relaunch pre-pandemic routes, announce new destinations, and restrictions in many countries in APAC are finally relaxed.

“It’s clear that travel will take a greater share of wallet this year than any other leisure spending, as more parts of the world are within reach than at any other time over the past two years”, explains Mr Aitken.

Travel firmly back on the agenda for 2022

The May-2022 edition of Skyscanner Horizons identifies that travel is firmly back on the agenda for 2022, despite the continued pandemic and the emergence of new challenges.

“Long haul is coming back, people are prioritising their spend on travel and booking longer trips. City breaks are also making a triumphant return”, it says.

The report combines consumer polling with Skyscanner flight search and booking data from the Americas, APAC and EMEA regions to provide an overview of 1Q2022 travel demand. It also explores key indicators such as travel spend, booking horizons, haul type, trip length and trending destinations, and how they compare to pre-pandemic (2019).

The polling research is based on 4,000 surveys by OnePoll, conducted from 31-Mar-2022 to 06-Apr-2022, of American, Australian, British and German adults who intend to travel abroad in 2022. The demand data is based on Skyscanner 1Q2022 search and redirect data for all outbound travel dates in 2022 across all platforms analysed in Apr-2022 and compared to the equivalent period in 2019.

Prioritising spend joins low prices and ticket flexibility as travel priority

In Skyscanner’s previous Horizons report from Oct-2021 it revealed that low prices, free cancellation and greater ticket flexibility provided the biggest incentives for travellers to book a flight.

These factors remain true through 2022, but the preference now is booking short haul and searching long haul – a result of testing and quarantine requirements in some destinations.

However, when those requirements are removed, Skyscanner already acknowledges seeing leisure demand rebound very quickly.

Market conditions leading to important business shifts

Aviation is still some way from a full recovery, but market conditions are leading to important shifts that will ultimately benefit travellers, according to Skyscanner.

These include the streamlining of fleets by retiring older aircraft and introducing newer, more fuel-efficient models; new direct domestic and international routes connecting travellers with parts of the world only previously reachable via a one-stop or multi-stop journey; and new airlines entering the market, including a focus on low cost long haul.

Strong demand for international travel; consumers set to prioritise travel spend in 2022

Though faced with a rising cost of living, travellers are planning to spend more this year, observes Skyscanner.

“Their budgets are higher, they’re booking longer trips and spending more on accommodation. But they remain price conscious”, it says.

Skyscanner's traveller survey revealed that nearly 90% of respondents were planning to spend more or the same on travel abroad than pre-pandemic, with half spending more. Leading the charge are Australians, with approaching two in three (60%) keen to splash out more this year. Only 6% of travellers across all markets surveyed are planning to spend less.

The findings show though that travellers do remain price conscious and will be flexible on when and where they go to secure the best deals.

Growth in longer booking horizons and trip lengths

Those with higher budgets are planning to spend their money on longer trips (48%), accommodation upgrades (43%) or more expensive destinations (41%), according to the survey responses.

Longer trips are most popular with Australians (58%), as are holidays further away (48%), while UK travellers are going to upgrade their accommodation and choose more expensive destinations. German travellers are eyeing up longer trips and pricier accommodation.

Americans lead the way when it comes to spending more on cabin class and rooms, with 46% planning to upgrade their airfare and 50% their accommodation. More Americans also want to increase their spending on sustainable initiatives, such as greener flights or carbon offsetting, than other nationalities.

Historical seasonality is returning as longer trips are planned

Trip length increases in Jul-2022 in EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) is a sign that summer holidays are back on the agenda, says Skyscanner. At this time its data shows 67% of trips are for longer than a week, nearly a third are for two weeks to a month, and 14% are for longer than a month.

Trip length in the region shortens again in Sep-2022, with nearly half of demand (47%) for a week or less, while 1-2 weeks increases its share to 30%. Another notable spike in trip length is visible in Dec-2022 and Jan-2023 next year as travellers search for bigger trips: 35%-40% of demand is for trips of two weeks to a month, and a third for trips of 1-2 weeks.

In the Americas, trip length has also begun lengthening, from Mar-2022, says Skyscanner.

In Jun-2022, 66% of demand is for trips longer than a week, with a fifth for trips over a month, according to its data, and in Jul-2022, segments of 1-2 weeks and two weeks to a month make up more than half (57%) of demand.

Like EMEA, there’s also an increase in shorter trip lengths after summer, with one week or less reaching 40% of demand volume and 1-2 weeks hitting 34% in Oct-2022. Again, there’s a surge in demand for trips of two weeks to a month (34%) in Dec-2022. And from Jan-2023, trip lengths of one week or less and 1-2 weeks regain popularity.

Expectedly, trip lengths in APAC (Asia-Pacific) vary more over the next 12 months than in other regions, but they still follow a similar overall trend.

Longer trips increase from Mar-2022 and peak in Jun-2022 and Jul-2022, where nearly half (47%) are for two weeks to a month and longer than a month.  Like EMEA and the Americas, demand for longer trips increases again in Dec-2022: 79% are for longer than a week, 35% for two weeks to a month, and more than 20% for longer than a month.

Booking behaviours start to return to normality as traveller confidence accelerates

Booking horizons, haul, type and trip length are starting to return to normality as traveller confidence accelerates, acknowledges Skyscanner, but right now they still remain different from the pre-pandemic environment.

For example, in EMEA, the historical booking behaviour in 2019 meant high numbers of travellers (35%) planning and booking trips 90 days or more before departure. A comparison with 2022 sees bookings more than 90 days out remain below 2019 levels, with growth throughout the 7 to 89 day windows and the largest rise in the 60-89 day period (up +38%).

In the Americas, like EMEA, the +90 days segment volume in 2022 is lower compared to pre-pandemic (on average down -8% over the period). However, Skyscanner’s research shows that from week one to week 12 of 2022 there’s growth (+15%) in this segment, as well as 30-59 days (+31%) and 60-89 days (+44%), as travellers look ahead to key seasonal travel periods.

Booking horizons in APAC are further off pre-pandemic ‘norms’ than in other regions.

On average, the share of 7-29 days remains significantly higher in 2022 than in 2019 (37% vs 27%), as does the share of <1week (25% vs 15%), despite a sharp decline.

“This reflects behaviour where travel demand bounces back as soon as restrictions are removed or relaxed”, says Skyscanner.

Doha the world’s top trending destination, with the biggest rise in searches over the past three years

When other airlines suspended almost all their flights during the COVID-19 pandemic, Qatar Airways remained flying, connecting passengers via its Hamad International Airport hub and bringing arrivals to Doha, the Persian Gulf coastal capital of Qatar. This will be a landmark year for Qatar, which will host the FIFA World Cup in 4Q 2022.

Skyscanner’s research identifies Doha as the world’s top trending destination, with the biggest rise in searches over the past three years, heading the trending destinations for the EMEA and Americas regions and fourth in the Asia Pacific region.

EMEA’s top trending destinations a mix of short and long haul markets

In EMEA, Doha has surged 172 places ahead of Izmir, which has risen by more than 150 spots as airlines have launched new routes to Turkey’s Aegean coast. Meanwhile, Amman, Jordan’s capital, is also seeing large growth courtesy of new routes to and from Europe, pushing it into the top ten trending destinations.

Travellers seeking sun and beach holidays are behind the rise of long haul destinations. Mexico’s relaxed entry rules continue to draw travellers after the country’s tourism boom of 2021, while Manila and Singapore make the list as restrictions ease across Asia-Pacific.

US second cities boosted by US domestic LCC network growth

In the Americas, Doha has jumped 262 places to take the top spot, but interestingly, below Doha, five US cities have benefitted from more low cost carrier routes and increasing interest in second cities from travellers – St Louis the highest ranking among them.

Amman features again, moving up 120 places following the addition of new long haul flights from the US.

In South America, domestic searches by Brazilians have pushed Curitiba, the capital of Paraná state, up to ninth in the regional ranking.

Easing restrictions help raise Newcastle and Hyderabad profiles for APAC travellers

Across Asia Pacific, Newcastle, in Australia’s state of New South Wales, tops the list as restrictions ease across the country.

It's a similar story for Hyderabad, the capital of India’s Telangana state, where restrictions allowing summer travel were eased at the end of Mar-2022.

Indonesia’s Yogyakarta, famed for its cultural heritage, moves up 100 places due to the Eid al-Fitr holiday, and Chengdu in China increases its popularity by 81 places.

Most destinations, though, are outside Asia-Pacific, and seem to reflect both a desire for long haul travel and the opportunity for friends and family to reunite after such a long period apart.

Download the latest Skyscanner Horizons report