Outdoor experiences and exploring closer to home
After a year of lockdowns and life postponed, travelers booked outdoor experiences in record numbers.
Half of Americans—and nearly 60% of Gen-Z and millennials—reported the ability to travel again as their biggest highlight of 2021*. As winter gave way to spring, travelers knew outdoor activities were the safest way to get back on the road exploring. It’s no surprise that the 10 fastest-growing experiences categories (and 18 of the top 20) were all related to outdoor activities. In fact, nearly half (48%) of the experiences booked this year were predominantly outdoors.
The reality of the pandemic made us seek out outdoor experiences, but it’s our innate, human desire for wonder that made experiences like the Grand Canyon West Rim Bus Tour & Hoover Dam Photo Stop with Optional Skywalk or the Chicago Lake and River Architecture Tour grow by more than 1000% over 2019 bookings.
Experiences growth between 2019 and 2021
Travel restrictions and safety concerns meant travelers sought out experiences closer to home.
While exploring the four corners of the earth might not have been as easy or possible, nearly half (48%) of Americans said they sought out closer, more local experiences in the past year. That’s why nearly 100 different markets in North America saw demand for experiences double versus pre-pandemic, with the top locations—such as Tulum, Cabo San Lucas, and Denali National Park—breaking 500% growth.
In fact, all 10 of the fastest growing experiences by bookings—over pre-pandemic 2019 demand—are US-based experiences. From a San Diego Harbor Cruise to Boston’s Ghosts & Gravestones Night-Time Trolley Tour, those experiences all grew by more than 700%. This is an astounding reminder of how important travel has been in rebounding from the depths of lockdown.
Destination growth between 2019 and 2021
Experiences tell a human story about a world reopening—and a desire for exploration and wonder.
The travel industry's remarkable and ongoing recovery—even as new variants emerge—underscores the value we place on adventure, exploration, and wonder.
“It’s been a challenging couple of years for the travel and experiences sector, but there’s good news—travelers travel,” commented Laurel Greatrix, VP of Brand and Communications at Viator. "COVID tethered our ability to explore the world, but not our desire for it. We saw travelers work around risk and restrictions, trying things in new places. That's led to extraordinary growth in regional travel and outdoor experiences—and an extraordinary recovery for travel in general."
This year, much like the last, will still have uncertainty, but what is certain is that our need to explore is relentless and extraordinary. According to a recent Tripadvisor report, intent to travel in 2022 is higher than in 2019 reported travel, and more than 1 in 3 Americans say it’s more important now than before the pandemic that they choose a destination where they can immerse themselves in "authentic local experiences." With Americans spending 29% more on their average booking in 2022 than they did in 2019, the future of travel is still looking bright.
Top travel destinations for 2022
Top experience categories for 2022
Fastest growing products (2019 vs. 2021)
- Grand Canyon West Rim Bus Tour & Hoover Dam Photo Stop with Optional Skywalk (1256%)
- Chicago Lake and River Architecture Tour (1230%)
- 90-Minute Chicago River Architecture Tour (1199%)
- Miami Millionaire’s Row Cruise (1066%)
- Best of Nashville City Tour on Double Decker Bus (971%)
- Boston Ghosts & Gravestones Night-Time Trolley Tour (899%)
- Lake Michigan Sightseeing Cruise (854%)
- San Diego Harbor Cruise (802%)
- Nashville Hop On Hop Off Trolley Tour (763%)
- History & Hauntings of Salem Guided Walking Tour (731%)
Top travel destinations and top experience categories are based on data as of January 2022.
*Omnibus survey fielded from December 8–9, 2021, and was conducted across 1,000 responses from US consumers sampled using a blind online panel recruitment. The overall margin of error for the research is +/- 3.02% at a 95% confidence interval.