Most travelers express the desire for full refunds over enhanced cleaning when renting a car. Expedia Group says the industry must adapt to new expectations and offer increased flexibility in the post-pandemic environment. - Photo via Reinhart Julian on Unsplash

Most travelers express the desire for full refunds over enhanced cleaning when renting a car. Expedia Group says the industry must adapt to new expectations and offer increased flexibility in the post-pandemic environment.

Photo via Reinhart Julian on Unsplash

As the travel and car rental industries are rebounding, new survey results from Expedia Group reveal consumers’ expectations in this new environment. Conducted this past May, Expedia Group says its Traveler Value Index shows that flexibility and trust topped responses.

Flexibility Over Price 

Expedia Group’s research indicates that nearly one in four global travelers value full refunds above all else when booking a rental car — a shift from the conventional wisdom that price drives consumer behavior, according to Expedia Group.

This is followed by enhanced cleaning, which is more preferred in the U.S., yet the second-highest priority globally. This is consistent with pre-pandemic traveler behavior and is possibly due to car transportation being perceived as lower risk than other methods, the report notes.

Millennials in the U.S. and Canada value flexibility, ranking the ability to make changes second. The trend of North American millennials valuing flexibility is also evident in air travel, showing how the ability to change plans without penalty is worth more than lower pricing. 

“To capitalize on the surge of post-pandemic travel, the car rental industry will need to adapt to these new expectations and provide more flexibility while reassuring travelers that the vehicle will be safe and clean,” comments Sue Spinney, VP, ground transport and activities for Expedia Group. “The situation of COVID-19 is ever-changing, and travelers want to ensure that their pocketbooks – as well as their health – are protected.”

Expedia Group recommends that rental operators ensure they can deliver on the specific amenities, features, or policies included in their listing to build trust and ease travelers’ anxiety.

Traveler Value Index: Car Rental

The trend of refunds being most-valued, followed by cleaning, is consistent with the pre-pandemic traveler. Among other findings: More than a third of travelers have larger travel budgets now compared to 2020, and more want to take frequent, shorter trips rather than fewer, longer trips. - Graphic courtesy of Expedia Group

The trend of refunds being most-valued, followed by cleaning, is consistent with the pre-pandemic traveler. Among other findings: More than a third of travelers have larger travel budgets now compared to 2020, and more want to take frequent, shorter trips rather than fewer, longer trips.

Graphic courtesy of Expedia Group

Traveler Value Index: Other Key Takeaways

  • The return of urban escapes: Vacation rentals in remote areas are surging due to the volume of domestic travel to drivable destinations. Most travelers (81%) are considering a trip to a remote area, mountain, or small town in the next 18 months. However, city-centric trips are on the rise. Searches for major cities are increasing across Expedia’s marketplace: Las Vegas, (+40%), Melbourne (+90%), Paris (+30%) and Sydney (+85%). 
  • Travel is the top priority: More than a third (34%) of travelers have larger travel budgets now compared to 2020. In fact, nearly one in five (18%) expect travel to be the thing they spend the most on in 2021. People are also willing to cut back on other expenses to save more for travel. 
  • Vaccine passport to the world: Vaccines are key to reopening international travel corridors, and nearly three-quarters (71%) of travelers are comfortable with the concept of a vaccine passport.
  • Back to the air and sea: Half of travelers (50%) plan to board a plane in the next 12 months, while two-thirds overall prefer to drive. One in 10 travelers say they plan to travel by cruise, a significant signal that the travel recovery is expanding.
  • Booking travel on new sites: Nearly half of travelers (48%) are open to booking through sites and companies they have never used before, if they believe that the travel provider can be trusted. Nearly three in five travelers (59%) are willing to increase their spend to make the trip more sustainable, including three-quarters (76%) of Mexican travelers. The willingness to spend extra on sustainability shows that the environment is top of mind for many travelers. 
  • Close to home, for now: Most travelers (60%) will opt for domestic travel for the short-term, though the outlook for international travel is improving with more than a quarter (27%) of travelers eyeing a trip to another country in the next 12 months. Expedia Group data validates that trend, as nearly 60% of searches for domestic travel fell within the zero to 21- day search period from January to March 2021.
  • Quick getaways: More travelers want to take frequent, shorter trips (41%), compared to those who want fewer, longer trips (28%) or a combination of shorter and longer trips (31%).

“The worldwide pause in travel has made us realize how important it is to connect to each other, connect with our communities, and connect with other cultures,” Spinney says. “With ongoing fluctuations in supply in the market, the car rental companies who come out on top will be the ones who can offer flexibility to offset the current increased prices. The industry should anticipate that the emphasis on increased financial security will prevail for months to come, and adapting to these shifting attitudes is key for continued success in this new reality.”

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