Destination: Wellness

Trends / Wellness
Bobbi Lockyer/Refinery29 Australia - We Are Many Image Gallery
Rebecca Rom-Frank
Mar 23, 2022
Travel restrictions may be lifting, but the pandemic continues to shape American travel desires and decisions—whether that’s because people are still wary of the virus, or because they’re eager to catch up on what they’ve missed. Pandemic‑era travel has involved a constant weighing of physical safety risks against mental health benefits, and the sum of this equation amounts to 68% of Americans now willing to pay more for travel experiences with good health and safety practices—up from just 41% in 2019—and that Americans value mental health and happiness more than ever before, according to Visual GPS. Peace of mind, as well as body, is now the key visual theme most likely to get people off the couch and booking travel plans.
Traveling to reconnect
The tearful reunions that took place when the US first reopened its borders to international travelers last November made headlines.1 After enforced time apart, our Visual GPS findings confirm that the top reason people are making travel plans in the wake of the pandemic is to reconnect with family, friends, or a romantic partner, and this need for human connection is generally the only factor outweighing Covid safety considerations.

At Getty Images, this desire to reconnect is demonstrated by the surge in customer searches related to family travel—everything from “family vacation” to “family reunion” to “family outdoors”—while pandemic‑era relics like “family home” and “family watching tv” are now firmly trending down. Visuals popular with our travel customers in 2021 reflect this, and many travel brands are following suit: eschewing the solo‑traveler wanderlust theme of its 2019 ads, Marriott’s 2021 ads captures the feeling of reconnecting with loved ones.2

The way family travel looks is evolving, too. Although hotels remain the most popular choice for family travel, both AirBnb and VRBO report increased interest in vacation rentals that can accommodate families during the pandemic. From 2019 to 2021, AirBnb saw a spike in urban family travel from 27% to 31%, in rural destinations from 32% to 42%, and family extended weekend rentals are up 70%, indicating that more families are looking for a “home away from home” travel experience.3 With the rise in visuals showing families traveling in settings that appear more domestic or where daily routines might be similar, it’s important to distinguish visually between home‑home and home‑away, through beautiful scenery, novel city views, or extra‑relaxing moments.
Physical health and safety is still more important than ever
Visual GPS found that for half of Americans surveyed, the safety of a travel destination is more important than before the pandemic, making it the top travel priority shift—especially for older adults who might be more vulnerable to Covid. But convenience plays a role, too. While the worst effects of the virus may be blunted by vaccines, a study by Longwood International found that while only 1 in 3 Americans are still concerned about getting sick, an additional 2 in 5 are concerned about the quarantining they’d have to undergo.4 At Getty Images, customer searches for travel overall are returning, but with a note of cautious optimism: as searches for “masks” trend down and “vaccine” trends up, searches for “variant,” “delta,” and “omicron” are appearing, reflecting the ongoing disruptions to the travel recovery that variants still have the potential to cause.

Masking and safety requirements are rapidly changing now, but even at the height of the pandemic, social distancing was more commonly seen than masking in popular travel industry visuals at Getty Images; visuals showing crowds and large groups notably decreased, but masks, while present, only appeared in about 3% of visuals overall. Pointedly, they mainly appeared in public transit settings such as airports, or on service industry workers to demonstrate safe customer service. Although masks remained absent from most ads and fictional visual storytelling throughout the pandemic, airline ads in particular emphasized safety measures: see examples from American Airlines,5 JetBlue,6 and Delta.7 So, while masks may still be a useful symbol in hospitality and transportation settings, travel visuals which reflect physical safety through social “pods,” privacy, and thinner crowds are still a safe bet.
Wellness expanded
American travelers are returning with higher expectations about every aspect of their experience, but Visual GPS revealed that spa facilities or a “pampering” experience would be first on the chopping block if they had to cut something. However, our travel industry customers downloaded even more visuals showing spas, pools, and other conventional representations of comfort and wellness from 2019 to 2021. There’s nothing wrong with this—studies confirm that relaxation is a big travel draw now8—but rising searches for “mental health” and “celebration” on our site speak to the dual consideration of both physical and emotional wellness in the wake of the pandemic. Interestingly, cliches like yoga are declining in favor of more fundamentally mindful travel choices, such as exploring nature, visiting a smaller town, or enjoying the setting of a unique rental home. Balancing the draw of physical comfort with mental health is an intrinsic part of the post‑Covid travel experience, and visuals that reflect this are likely to resonate with Americans in need of an escape.
Health for All