The hospitality industry, usually booming with holiday bookings and seasonal vacations at this time of year, is currently experiencing one of the sector’s worst financial periods in history. Specifically when it comes to hotels. Pandemic fears and coronavirus restrictions have kept room rates low but capacities limited, resulting in a steady decline since early March. In fact, consumers’ overall likelihood to stay at even the best-known hotel chains has trended downward by a total of seven percentage points over the last six months, dropping from 30% in May to 23% in November.

Hospitality experts predict that hotels aren’t likely to see major signs of rebounding until 2023. That being said, while major hospitality brands and other accommodation styles pivot in order to attract new and returning guests, it turns out that prioritizing travelers’ perceptions of security and safety may help maintain revenues to some extent. According to a series of recent CivicScience surveys, consumers are apparently more willing to consider staying in places that offer stricter safety measures and the promise of trusted cleaning services. When it comes to holiday travel this year, trust — more than price, convenience, or perks — is the most valued amenity. 

For those planning to travel, brand-name hotel chains and resorts seem to be the next best thing to the homes of family and friends. Forty percent of Americans said they would trust a luxury hotel or resort more than accommodation alternatives. Consumers also seem to associate price with safety during the pandemic. In fact, in a survey of more than 17,300 U.S. adults, only 6% of respondents chose the generally more affordable options of motel-style and budget hotel chains as their top trusted options. 

No doubt, comfort plays a huge role in this decision making process. While it makes sense that hotels and resorts can rely on established brands to relay comfort, people aren’t especially keen to take their chances with smaller establishments like bed and breakfasts or rental listings. Interestingly, more Americans report higher comfort levels with staying in some form of outdoor structure or cabin (9%) than inns (3%) and Airbnb rentals (8%). 

And travelers heavily prioritize not only the level stringency that is regulated by safety restrictions but also the overall enforcement of these measures. This weighs heavily into both risking travel as well as where they choose to stay. Seventy-nine percent of Americans feel that COVID-19 safety protocols are ‘very important.’ And among recent travelers who have experienced hotel stays within the last six months, a combined 90% feel that coronavirus protocols must be strictly enforced to at least some degree in order to seal the deal on bookings.

Furthermore, choice isn’t necessarily reliant upon income. While pricier hotels are unsurprisingly more popular among the highest earners, name-brand chains and resorts are also the first choice among all income levels for those not staying with friends and family. Equally important, all income levels are similarly less inclined to choose small or boutique hotels and individual rentals like AirBnb, even though these accommodation styles likely have fewer total guests at any given time and tend to offer more privacy. Clearly, consumers’ comfort resonates not with the number of guests staying around them, but how they will be staying in terms of quality and expected cleanliness.

Finally, gender plays an important part here, too. Women are nine percentage points more likely than men to require strict enforcement of COVID-19 protocols when choosing a hotel. 

So, considering that people report valuing safety and peace of mind over other indicators like budget and amenities, are travelers actually booking fewer independent accommodation styles? As it turns out, yes. According to a survey of more than 92,432 adults, the data reflect an overall decline in Airbnb stays, down from 12% to 11% in the last three quarters. Similarly, reported bookings of boutique hotels this year have remained relatively flat into the fourth quarter, decreasing by a total of one percentage point. 

For the 2020 holidays, it seems that people will choose to stay at locations that assure the most protection against COVID-19. And while folks primarily wish to stay with relatives and loved ones, it turns out that the second-best option are larger hotel chains — which tend to have more guests — than individual rentals and single-family AirBnbs. All in all, if hospitality businesses wish to increase their potential profits right now, it is probably more effective to serve the expectation of safety instead of offering new luxuries or even lower prices. 

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