There were few industries that were more affected by the global pandemic than travel in 2020. At its worst, in April, travel activity had dropped 84% from the same date in 2019; by the end of the year, it had finished down 52%.
As we move into a new calendar year, however, there is cautious optimism that better days are ahead. While the industry’s recovery will almost certainly be slow—returning to 2019 levels isn’t expected until 2023—it will happen. At Skift’s recent Travel Megatrends 2025 Webinar, they forecast what to expect in the months and years to come.
Three Travel Trends: Soulful, Splintered, Adaptable
Skift analysts laid out three broad trends: The first is what they categorized as Soulful travel. Leisure, they said, is going to outpace business travel in the near term. Within leisure, travelers are looking to do more than just move from one place to another. They want experience-driven vacations, where they are willing to pay more with brands that are eco-conscious. They are also more interested in investing in things like Regenerative Tourism—experiences that, for example, leave a place better than how they found it through work or volunteering.
The second major trend they forecast is that the recovery will be Splintered; in other words, not all areas of the travel industry will recover, and those that do recover won’t all do so at the same pace. There will be some clear winners moving forward and others who will just trudge along. Local and regional travel are examples of areas in the industry that are in an excellent position to recover nicely and take a larger percentage of the travel budget pie.
The third trend is that companies will continue to have to be Adaptable. The pandemic accelerated many trends that were already taking shape, and those who continue to be nimble and quick to react to market trends will fare best. Contactless and mobile, for example, were well underway to becoming standard fare in travel—the immediate health and safety concerns brought by COVID only accelerated their development and adoption by hotels, airlines, restaurants, and other entities in the industry. Travelers will want to see these things in the near-term from a safety perspective but will expect them to become a normal way of operating in the mid and long term.
The Short-Term Rental Space Grows Up
A clear winner moving forward is the short-term rental market. The hospitality industry had already begun to react and adjust before the pandemic to the growing demand, and subsequent increase in supply, for short-term rentals. Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) like Airbnb and VRBO that specialize in listing short-term rentals have seen significant growth in the last couple of years, culminating in Airbnb’s record-breaking IPO in 2020.
Short-term rentals are perfectly positioned to not only survive but thrive moving forward, building off the gains the sector made during the pandemic. They are on track to outperform hotels in 2021.
Additionally, the rise of regional companies, like China’s Trip.com Group and India’s MakeMyTrip, have established themselves as leaders in the short-term rental market space in their respective geographies. Even major hotel chains began moving into short-term rentals, placing residences within their properties and resorts and tapping into markets where traditional hotels haven’t worked in the past.
While trends do look promising for the short-term rental industry in the coming years, it won’t be all smooth sailing. Municipalities worried about affordable housing and curbing unruly house parties, for example, may seek to impose restrictions or outright bans on short-term rentals in their jurisdictions.
Travel Is a Megatrend
While the future remains uncertain, one thing has become clear—travel has established itself as a Megatrend. No matter what happens with other aspects of the recovery or the overall health of the economy, people have proven that they will always want to travel and experience the world.
Whether it’s a far-flung tropical island or the town next door, the travel industry overall, and the short-term rental market in particular, can expect to not only recover to pre-pandemic levels but to grow as we enter the third decade of the 21st Century.