Skip to main content

3 Kinds of 2021 vacations: Tap into consumers' pent-up travel needs

You can almost feel the pent-up energy bubbling up on social media feeds and in conversations. Giddy parents on an airplane for the first time in a year. A grandma sharing a first hug with grandchildren after a year of social distancing. An itinerary coming together for an extended family summer vacation across the country.

The opportunity to seed domestic travel is already beginning to take shape, with the Travel Security Administration reporting increasing numbers of travelers each month in 2021. Meanwhile, vacation rentals in the US for this summer have seen a 27% increase and new RV shipments are expected to rise 24% for 2021 compared to 2020.

While some travelers found new ways to scratch the travel itch in 2020, travel is likely to get a little more adventurous in 2021 with vaccine roll-outs and roughly $6 trillion in excess savings as of the end of April 2021, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Travel is the top splurge North Americans are saving up for post-pandemic, and 60% of Americans imagine they will have more money to spend in 2021 on vacations because of what they didn’t spend on vacations in 2020, according to a recent Mastercard-Harris Poll.

Travel will likely still be mostly domestic but perhaps a little further from home and involving more friends and family. Along with road trips, people may be more comfortable to hop on planes and trains as shots in arms become more common. As of mid-March, 88% of US consumers say they plan to travel in the next six months, the highest level in more than a year, according to Longwood Travel Research.

Now is the time for card issuers and travel operators to develop strategies for responding to the pent-up demand for travel while keeping value, safety and new experiences top of mind. The trip-planning is already starting, according to the American Society of Travel Advisors. In a flash poll in early March, 76% of travel advisors reported an increase of customers in 2021 compared to before the pandemic, and 80% are hearing from travelers who have never worked with a travel advisor before.

Here are three types of trips that will likely dominate in 2021 and how to leverage key partnerships and solutions to engage the right travelers with the most appealing packages.

The Post-Vaccine Vacation

The ‘vax-ation’ is for the recently vaccinated person who feels safe and healthy to explore beyond their surroundings. This type of traveler will be more willing to stay in a hotel or resort than they were prior to getting the vaccine – and excited to experience travel again for the first time in a year.

While travelers in general have developed high expectations in travel operators’ health and safety standards thanks to the pandemic, the vax-ationer will also be prioritizing locations that provide value, unique experiences and a memorable first experience as they plan their return to travel. Perks like free daily breakfast for two or complimentary amenity credits, provided through the Mastercard’s Luxury Hotels & Resorts program, can go a long way in converting new customers into loyal ones. Mastercard also partners with Villas of Distinction to provide cardholders complimentary private walking tours or private yacht excursions. Partnerships with hotel groups like Preferred Hotels and InterContinental Hotel Group give cardholders their third or fourth night free at participating locations.

An eager traveler, the vax-ationer likely dealt with canceled trips in 2020 and frustration over refunds and credits. With the travel atmosphere still unpredictable, these travelers will be craving guidance as they plan upcoming trips. Issuers can provide cardholders with 24/7 access to lifestyle managers through Mastercard Travel & Lifestyle Services. These lifestyle managers can provide trip planning and advice on which destinations are open for travel and their safety protocols and requirements.

The Work-and-Play Vacation

With many professional jobs shifting online, some people are taking advantage of the shift to virtual to temporarily move their home office for a change of scenery. This can include a resort, a luxury hotel or whatever accommodation they choose, anywhere in the world, for a week, a month or even longer. According to a Harris poll, 74% of Americans already working remotely would consider taking a “work-cation” where they live and work somewhere other than their home for an extended period of time. The ideal work-cation accommodation should have all the work essentials like a large desk and high-speed Wi-Fi, along with amenities like a pool, spa and nice restaurants to unwind at the end of the workday.

This traveler will also expect an experience that sets their days apart from what they experienced working from home. Work-cations can be enhanced with special amenities and exclusive offers like after-hours access to spa treatments, room upgrades and credits.

This traveler is likely to remember these experiences when booking their first real travel experience post-pandemic, so the rise of work-cations presents a valuable opportunity for issuers and travel operators to build loyalty with travelers. Mastercard’s SessionM solution enables hotels to expand customer relationships, deliver personalized messaging and serve up optimal rewards and experiences using active customer data. With 65% of American adults regularly participating in most of the loyalty programs they have joined, according to the University of Illinois Chicago, capturing loyalty during the work-cation phase can be key to ensuring consistent spend once travel fully recovers.

The Close-to-Home Vacation

Most consumers (75%) are still concerned with Covid and its related impact, according to Mastercard’s consumer study. As a result, plenty of travelers will continue to choose summer activities closer to home. Road trips are here to stay, according to a University of Illinois survey. Nearly 60% of those surveyed consider local travel by personal vehicle the lowest risk method of travel.

There is no reason to wait to connect with these travelers. Since the start of the pandemic, Mastercard has added over 500 staycation offers and partnered with Roadtrippers, a travel provider that builds bespoke itineraries for off-the-beaten-path experiences. World & World Elite cardholders in North America get 20% off their annual subscription.

Some travelers will venture a little farther from home, creating a renewed interest in hotel stays. Mastercard works with partners to provide several safety enhancements for cardholders, including increased global health and safety guidelines, social distancing practices and contactless and touch-free entry within our airport lounge program. We also expanded private travel options such as private homes and villas, private jet discounts and car service.


Now is the time for travel operators and issuers to capture the rebound spend growing in the travel industry through partnerships that will elevate travel offers and engage travelers. Being able to offer the right products and services focused on value, safety and new experiences to the 2021 traveler that is craving them most will be key for the travel industry during recovery. An experimentation platform like Mastercard’s Test & Learn can accurately measure and optimize travel operators’ business initiatives, resulting in increased return on investment, and fast, scalable campaigns. As travelers begin to re-embrace travel in different and unique ways, they are sure to remember the brands that are working hard to keep the ability to travel safely alive.

To learn more about the Mastercard solutions that are seeding the return to travel, reach out to your Mastercard representative or contact us.

Economics Institute
Travel 2022: Trends & Transitions

After 2+ years of limited mobility, the travel industry is staging an impressive comeback. Developed by the Mastercard Economics Institute, this report provides an in-depth analysis of the travel industry’s recovery around the globe and trends in travel to watch in 2022 and beyond.

Strength in numbers: Coordinating small businesses in the tourism sector

Proper coordination across the tourism sector through a focus on cross-industry customer journeys can empower small businesses by creating the same economies of scale and liquidity that large businesses rely on.

New Approaches to Customer Engagement & Loyalty

Covid-19 shifted consumer behavior, and many of the changes are long-lasting. Learn new approaches to increase customer engagement & loyalty from Francis Hondal, President of Mastercard Loyalty & Engagement.

Who Moved My Travel? Thoughts on Global Governance

Travel & tourism has moved on and isn’t coming back in the same way. It’s less a resurrection of the sector than its reincarnation. Read this report for thoughts on how governments can bring public and private sector initiatives together to rebuild tourism and promote sustainable and inclusive growth.