A Look Back on a Wonder-Filled 2021
Half of Americans—and nearly 60% of Gen-Z and millennials—reported the ability to travel again as their biggest highlight of 2021*. We watched best friends reunite for weekends away, grandchildren leap into their grandparents' arms at the arrivals gate, and trips of a lifetime finally come to fruition.
This was a year in which the wonder of travel, the wonder of kinship, and the wonder of life was cherished in new ways.
We ventured outside—but stayed nearby
While COVID lockdowns were swift, sudden, and startling, our reemergence was anything but. Once we learned about social distancing, masks, and how to safely do what we love, Americans tried new activities and travelled to unexpected places at record rates—even surpassing pre-pandemic levels.
In the spring of 2021, the sustained explosion in demand for outdoor experiences began, with water sports (311%), general outdoor activities (152%), and cruises (122%) showing some of the biggest growth across categories. The ten 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 number one experience booked on Viator this year was an outdoor architecture tour of Chicago, which grew by over 400% from 2019.
But it wasn’t just what travelers were doing—it was where. Because of the pandemic, nearly half (48%) of Americans said they sought out closer, more local experiences than in the past. Nearly one hundred 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.
What Delta can teach us about Omicron
The Delta variant cast doubts on our summer 2021 plans but the reality was a boom in regional, outdoor-focused travel. That growth lasted into the fall, a time when seasonal trends—cooler weather, a return to school—historically leads to less travel. Instead, we saw more.
What does this tell us? It tells us that after a long, hard struggle through lockdown, we hungered for travel. To explore, to discover, to connect. It tells us of our tenacious desire for experiences—and the spirited ways we’ll seek out wonder, even as the pandemic does its best to thwart us.
The uncertainty of Omicron looms—40% of Americans are more concerned about traveling than they were before the new variant was announced. But if we learned anything in 2021, it’s that demand for discovery is insatiable, resilient, and durable.
As we look ahead to 2022, we encourage everyone to—safely, of course—#FindYourWonder.
*The survey was 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.