How are people searching for UK travel in 2021?

After a devastating 2020 that saw the tourism industry shut down for the better part of six months, a sense of optimism and energy surrounds UK travel in 2021.

As of 19 July, fully vaccinated UK travellers no longer needed to quarantine when returning from any amber list country. And as of 2 August, people fully vaccinated in the EU and US no longer need to isolate when coming to England, Scotland, and Wales from an amber list country. 

As COVID-19 pandemic-era travel restrictions ease, Britons are once again planning holidays to European destinations and abroad. Let’s look at what they’re searching for and how search volume for UK travel in 2021 has picked up.

COVID trends for UK travel in 2021

UK travellers planning holidays seek answers about pandemic restrictions and safety. The top trending questions focus around vaccines, not surprising in an era of the NHS COVID pass and other vaccine passports. Travelers also want to know which countries are safe to travel to and how many restrictions they might face. Trending questions show high interest in traveling to the U.S., while trending headlines show increased interest in rules regarding travel to Canada and Ireland.

Airbnb vs. hotel vs. motel

Are UK travellers more interested in booking a hotel, motel or airbnb? When we looked at search volume starting in 2017, we found that hotels and airbnbs trended quite closely all the way up to January 2021. But in recent months, hotels have emerged as a clear winner in the ‘hotel vs. airbnb’ search battle.

According to the New York Times, travellers are favoring hotels due to their consistent, professional cleaning procedures and more lenient refund policies, which often allow people to cancel their reservations 48 or 24 hours in advance. Many airbnbs have more restrictive cancellation policies. In addition, hotels are becoming cheaper than they were prior to the pandemic, says NerdWallet.

Trending countries for UK travellers

A look at the top eight countries being searched in the UK show some interesting trends, many based on which countries are listed on the UK’s red, amber and green lists

For example, search volume for ‘travel to Ireland’ rose steadily from April to May 2021, likely because it’s the top “green list” area, meaning UK travellers don’t need a COVID-19 test nor do they need to quarantine upon arrival to England.

Conversely, search volume for ‘travel to Portugal’ took a big drop in August 2020 when the country was on the red list. When it moved to the green list in March 2021, it led to a spike in search volume for April and May 2021, which also possibly coincided with the UEFA Champions League Final on 29 May. A few days after the final, Portugal was placed back on the red list. As of 4 August, Portugal was on the amber list, while Madeira was on the green list.

Search volume for ‘travel to Greece’ took a nosedive in August 2020 and only recently showed signs of recovery. This is potentially due to the somewhat complicated rules Greece has had in place for travellers.

Seven of the eight frequently searched destinations for UK travellers are on the amber list; not surprising, since that’s the biggest list of the three. Turkey is the only red list country among the top eight.

Long haul vs. short haul flights

When it comes to UK travel in 2021, how far are Britons willing to travel? Our data shows a somewhat surprising consistency in searches for ‘long haul flights’. In contrast, search volume for ‘short haul flights’ dropped in September 2020 and hasn’t truly recovered, despite a brief bump up in January 2021. 

For ‘long haul flights’, Dubai ranks as the top destination UK travellers are searching for, followed closely by Los Angeles, New York and Singapore.

The decline in ‘short haul flights’ searches could be less related to the pandemic and more related to the move toward social responsibility throughout Europe. For example, in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the aviation industry, leaders in France have proposed banning short haul flights for travel that takes less than two-and-a-half hours by train. The search decline for ‘short haul flights’ could also be due to stricter measures regarding COVID-19, PCR tests and vaccinations in European nations.

Barcelona is far and away the top ‘short haul flight’ search destination for UK travellers:

What’s the future of UK travel in 2021 and beyond?

With more countries worldwide instituting COVID-19 vaccine passports and UK prime minister Boris Johnson urging to get the travel industry moving again, the future of UK travel in 2021 and beyond looks quite promising indeed. Adding to the optimism is the remote work revolution, which now allows many people to work from any destination. It will be interesting to watch how search trends for UK travel continue to develop in the upcoming months.

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