Although the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing, a semblance of normalcy is returning to parts of the United States as businesses start to reopen. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 52.7 percent of Americans have now received at least one dose of vaccine and about 44 percent are now fully vaccinated. Correspondingly, Sensor Tower Store Intelligence data reveals that U.S. consumers are beginning to plan for travel once more, causing app installs in that category to climb 123 percent year-over-year in May to 24.7 million, or more than double the same month last year.
The Travel Category Sees a Rebound
In the first half of 2021, travel app installs are projected to hit approximately 124.7 million from across the U.S. app stores, up 35 percent Y/Y from 92.6 million in the same period last year. The travel industry was hit hard by the pandemic globally, and in the U.S. installs fell 36 percent in H1 2020 from 144.3 million in the H1 2019.
Although first-time downloads of travel apps in the U.S. are forecasted to be up compared to 1H20, the category is still in the midst of its recovery, as installs in 1H21 will reach only about 86 percent of the adoption seen during the same period in 2019.
Top U.S. Airline Downloads Grow 311% Y/Y in May
Out of the subcategories of travel apps covered in this analysis, airlines saw the biggest growth when compared to 2020. The top five most-downloaded airline apps in the U.S. in May—American Airlines, Delta, Southwest, United, and Spirit—climbed to a combined 2.6 million installs last month, up 311 percent from about 632,000 in May 2020. This was also slightly higher—by about 4 percent—than the 2.5 million downloads seen by the top five U.S. airline apps in May 2019.
The top five airline apps in the U.S. are projected to collectively reach 12.8 million downloads in 1H21, up 64 percent Y/Y.
Vacation-booking apps such as Expedia, Hotels.com, Booking.com, Priceline, and Hopper saw their combined U.S. installs grow 300 percent Y/Y to 3.3 million last month. The top five most-downloaded apps of this type in the U.S. also saw the largest increase among the various travel app cohorts when compared to May 2019, climbing 65 percent from 2 million that year. These apps are projected to climb 87 percent Y/Y in the first half of 2021 to 16.6 million downloads in the U.S.
Top Homestay and Hotel Apps See Increasing Demand
Last month, Airbnb and Vrbo saw their U.S. adoption climb 38 percent Y/Y to 1.8 million. In May 2020, the two apps collectively reached 1.3 million downloads in the U.S. This showed no change from the year prior, likely because consumers viewed these homestays as safer, socially distant options.
Unlike Airbnb and Vrbo, the top U.S. hotel brands saw a dip in installs in May 2020 when downloads fell 63 percent Y/Y to 242,000 from 660,000 in the prior-year period. Last month saw a surge in consumer interest as U.S. installs of these apps climbed 258 percent Y/Y to 867,000, a figure which was up 31 percent even when compared to May 2019.
The surge in downloads for hotel brands might also be due to the innovations that many franchises have rolled out to appeal to remote workers. Programs such as Work from Hyatt now offer extended stays to members along with single-day office spaces, while other brands such as Marriott and InterContinental Hotels Group have launched monthly subscription plans that enable consumers to stay at any lodging in their networks.
These top hotel brand apps in the U.S. are projected to reach about 4.6 million downloads in the first half of 2021, double what they saw last year. Airbnb and Vrbo are projected to reach about 11.3 million, up 53 percent from 1H20.
Traveler Confidence Varies Worldwide
Out of the top 10 countries with the highest vaccination rates and populations above 20 million, Canada has the highest vaccination rate with about 65 percent of its population having received at least one dose according to Our World In Data. However, year-to-date installs of travel apps there have only reached about 43 percent of pre-pandemic levels.
In other countries, the national vaccination rate doesn’t always correspond with the rebound in travel app installs. For example, although only about 29 percent of the population in Argentina has received at least one dose of vaccine so far this year, adoption of travel apps there has reached 80 percent of pre-pandemic levels, the highest among the top 10 countries.
In the U.S. the vaccination rate has reached approximately 53 percent for at least one dose and U.S. travel apps have recovered about 77 percent of pre-pandemic adoption.
The resurgence of consumer interest in travel in various markets is encouraging. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing, and the sector still has many challenges ahead.
The disparity between vaccination rates and travel app adoption shows that other variables are factoring into consumers’ decisions to travel. Industry leaders will have to continue innovating, and hopefully as more vaccinations roll out worldwide, consumers will begin to feel more confident in traveling.
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