This year, Christmas might not be so merry for the travel industry. While Labor Day travel was down only slightly this year, the upcoming winter holidays could be a different story. That's according to figures from vacation property management software firm Guesty.
The firm found that Labor Day accommodations bookings were 5% lower than in 2019, but advance reservations for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve this year are off by 16%, 35% and 33%, respectively, compared with a year ago at this time.
The difference could be tied to unknowns about where the pandemic is headed.
"We have seen holiday bookings fluctuate month over month based on consumer confidence in regards to lifting restrictions and recovery and, on the flip side, wane when the virus gains traction," said Omer Rabin, Guesty's managing director, Americas. "As many assume that the colder seasons will result in an uplift in cases, it's no surprise we see a decrease in bookings over the holiday season."
Guesty is used by short-term hosts and property management companies to manage rentals in conjunction with booking channels such as Airbnb, Booking.com and Vrbo.
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A trend toward last-minute accommodations reservations could help mitigate the decrease in advance holiday travel bookings, however. In August, Guesty found a 3% uptick in reservations made within one day of travel and a 5% jump in same-day reservations. That same month, the majority of reservations were made within seven days of check-in. If the pattern holds, holiday numbers might end up better than they now look.
"I predict that the pattern of last-minute bookings will continue and that we will see many book stays one to two weeks ahead of Thanksgiving and Christmas this year," said Rabin.
That prediction is backed up by data from Adobe, whose latest Digital Economy Index showed a rise in last-minute flight reservations. From Sept. 1, the Tuesday preceding Labor Day weekend, consumers booked 19% more flights than the week prior. In 2019, growth in the same period was only 4%. The numbers suggest travelers are now waiting to book flights until almost the last minute, say Adobe officials.
"If Labor Day is any indication, consumers may be ready to travel during the upcoming holiday season, although bookings may not come in until the last minute," said John Copeland, Adobe's vice president of marketing and customer insights, in a statement. "While the travel industry is still recovering, we are starting to see more people willing to book flights – just much closer to their departure date.
"This has potentially positive implications for the holiday season."
What might also help is an increased willingness on the part of airlines and accommodations providers to help with rebooking and cancellation. "Short-term rental hosts' increasing flexible cancellation policies will also likely continue in order to incentivize travelers to book," said Rabin.
However, rates have in some cases gone up. Guesty tracked a 7% rise in average nightly rates for Thanksgiving rental stays this year compared with 2019.