Is travel recovering? Latest stats suggest family travel is driving hotel and car rental bookings

Has the travel recovery begun? Certainly there is a reason to be optimistic for the first time in awhile. Families, feeling antsy after weeks in lockdown, are taking to the road. And the latest statistics show they are heading to hotels near open spaces where the kids can have fun.

This is exactly the sort of behavior we have predicted. We’ve dubbed the phenomenon the return of the station-wagon vacation. And we remain convinced it points toward recovery.

However it would be premature to suggest that a travel recovery has arrived. The statistics we see are better than they have been. And they are heading in the right direction. But things still look abysmal when compared with year-earlier figures.

To understand what we mean, it’s helpful to look at two sets of numbers. One for the recent past and one for the near future.

What the recent past in hotels says about the travel recovery

Hotel data provider STR has released figures showing that for the week ending May 9, U.S. hoteliers sold more than 10 million room nights for the first time since the end of March. For the week ending May 16, that number neared 11 million — an occupancy rate of 32.4 percent. That marks the fifth consecutive week of increases.

Yet as good as that occupancy rate may look in the coronavirus era, it’s a drop of 54.1 percent from the comparable week in 2019.

STR notes that the boost in occupancy is driven by leisure travel as consumers pile into cars and head for outdoor recreation. “Weekend occupancies continue to increase at a healthy clip, especially in drive-to destinations with beach access like Florida, or national park access, such as Gatlinburg, Tennessee,” STR said.

Interestingly, STR sees similar trends in Asia. In China, the domestic resort market appears to have begun a slow recovery. Meanwhile CNN is reporting that most of Europe is working toward a broad reopening of its vacation industry by summer.

What the near future says about a travel recovery

At <intent>, our data is focused on future actions, rather than the recent past. We’re in the predictive intelligence business and we operate the world’s smartest travel-specific ad marketplace. That gives us unusual levels of insight into what consumers intend to do in travel in the future. We know what they are thinking about doing, when they want to do it, and how committed they are to those plans.

Our data is showing sustained, on-going growth in both page views and conversions on nearly every major travel site.

Here are some details:

  • In the US, hotel bookings were down 82% year-over-year during the peak of the COVID-19 crisis. But in recent days our data shows US hotel bookings down just 65% YoY, a sign that the U.S. appears to be recovering at a stronger rate than the rest of the world.
  • We’ve seen the strongest recovery in car rental bookings, which were down as much as 82% YoY globally during the peak. But in recent days car bookings are down just 58% YoY globally. More importantly, the trend shows continued rapid growth in car rental bookings.
  • In the US, car-rental bookings during the peak were down 80% YoY. Recent days have shown US car bookings down just 56% YoY and climbing fast as people look to book domestic holidays this summer.

All of this doesn’t mean the travel recovery is here and unstoppable. If we’ve all learned one thing in the past few months it’s to expect the unexpected. Still, it doesn’t seem too optimistic to say the recovery is on its way. And that it’s driving in a rental car toward a hotel on the beach.

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