Report Overview

This report highlights the latest insights from the Skift Travel Health Index. The index covers travel’s performance since January 2020, up to and including January 2022.

The Skift Travel Health Index is a real-time measure of the performance of the travel industry at large, and the core verticals within it. The Index provides the travel industry with a powerful tool for strategic planning, which is of utmost importance as times remain uncertain.

Skift Research launched the Index in May 2020 as the Skift Recovery Index. We are now rebranding the index as the Skift Travel Health Index, to reflect some far-ranging changes: the addition of many more indicators, additional data partners, and most importantly, our continued effort to track the industry health beyond the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

We have added CarTrawler and OTA Insight as new partners for the coming year, in our drive to continuously improve the insights captured by the Index. We are thankful to the continued support of our other data partners: Amadeus, Aviasales, Beyond, Cendyn, Collinson, Criteo, Duetto, ForwardKeys, Hotelbeds, Key Data Dashboard, OAG, Onyx CenterSource, RateGain, Shiji Group, Skyscanner, Sojern, Transparent, and TrustYou, which allow us to provide you with a monthly assessment of travel’s performance.

Introducing the New Skift Travel Health Index

Welcome to the relaunched Skift Travel Health Index, previously known as the Skift Recovery Index. We have worked hard to provide you with a much improved tracking tool. 

Increased and improved data

As we move into 2022, we have not only changed the name of the Index, but also taken the opportunity to greatly enhance the Index design.

The amount of data captured from our data partners is upped from 55 indicators (different data points) to 84 indicators per country each month. 

Where possible, indicators are split between domestic, inbound, and outbound travel to allow for better analysis of the domestic versus international interplay.

Data is further strengthened with the addition of pacing data for airlines, hotels, and car rentals. Pacing data provides on-the-books reservation data for future months, indicating whether the pace of bookings lags behind or leads 2019 levels, and gives a strong indication of what’s to come in the next months.

As travel sectors and countries are recovering at different speeds, we are now able to compare data to both 2019 and 2021. We will continue to use 2019 as our main benchmark year.

All these changes mean that we will be collating around 3,750 data points each month, a total of 45,000 data points for all of 2022.

New data partners added

Moving forward, we will be working with 20 data partners. The partner line-up is strengthened with OTA Insight, providing hotel published room rate data, and CarTrawler, our exclusive car rental data provider moving forward. 

With the help of all our data partners, we will be able to provide the most comprehensive view of the travel industry’s performance. 

Trusted Index design remains

The basic concept of the Index remains unchanged. The Index is designed to provide an easy overview of the health of the travel industry. We have tracked the industry since the beginning of 2020. For 2020, 2021, and 2022 data, the performance of each indicator is compared to the same time in 2019. The Index provides a score relative to a baseline reading of 100 for the same month in 2019.

The Index focuses on the travel performance in 22 of the largest tourism economies.

All indicators collected from our partners are aggregated into performance categories and sub-categories. Here we have made a small change by splitting the data into five verticals, splitting the previously used vertical ‘Lodging’ into ‘Hotels’ and ‘Vacation Rentals’: 

Each vertical is further divided by intent indicators, booking indicators, and key performance indicators. More on this in our analysis below. 

The full methodology can be found on our website

Much more data on our new dashboard

We have launched a new dashboard on our homepage which visualizes the Index data, so that our readers can extract more relevant data and insights from the Index. This is a must-use tool for travel businesses, governments, and DMOs to track those travel sectors and source or destination markets that are key to their own success.  

Next to Index data, the dashboard also collates additional data insights from our partners, including insights like bookings windows, lead times, bookings by travel types, and flight capacity by airline type. 

Bookmark the Travel Health Index homepage for easy access to the dashboard.   

Moving Into 2022, No Movement in Global Index Score 

A new year means new opportunities. As we reported in our December 2021 Highlights report, 2021 might not have shown the recovery hoped by everyone in the travel industry. There were certainly a lot of bright sparks and green shoots, but most travel sectors continued to lag significantly behind 2019 performance levels. 

Looking at the start of 2022, the global Index score did not move between December 2021 and January 2022, remaining at 65 points, indicating the overall health of the travel industry sits 35% below January 2019 levels. 

Despite the zero point month-over-month movement, the score is 21 points higher than at the same time last year.  

(Note that the global and regional scores are weighted based on each country’s tourism output, so the scores of China and the U.S. weigh heavier than Mexico or the UAE, because tourism expenditure is much higher in the former countries.)

Omicron Dampens Performance for Some, But Has Little Impact On Others 

At a regional level we see a mixed picture, with North and Latin America seeing a decline in performance, while Europe and the Middle East and Africa are seeing their performance improve. The surge in the MEA region is largely down to South Africa recovering strongly after it was the country hit first and hardest by the Omicron outbreak. South Africa was the only country that saw its daily cases decline during January, from an average of 15,800 per day in December 2021 to 4,700 per day in January 2022, a decline of 70%. 

Omicron also impacted performance in Europe during December 2021. Cases increased rapidly in most countries in the region, but the growth of new cases slowed down somewhat in January. This positively impacted the performance in Europe. 

Conversely, growth of new cases ramped up in Asia Pacific, Latin America, and North America in January, with Index scores negatively impacted. Numbers increased fastest in the U.S., where an additional 450,000 cases on average per day meant the country saw more than 650,000 new cases per day in January 2022, a 226% increase from December 2021.  

There is, however, a lot of fluctuation in travel performances during January, with the fear of Omicron possibly impacting travel scores more than the actual rise or fall of case numbers. Comparing the month-over-month increase in cases with the month-over-month change of the Index shows how South Africa performed best, but other countries like the UK also performed strongly despite rising cases. The U.S. did see its travel score decline, but not as much as other countries like Brazil or India. 

The true impact of Omicron, then, is unclear. We should also put a caveat to these month-over-month comparisons, since the new Index design and additional indicators we now track will have an impact on country scores. While we have attempted to make this impact as small as possible, we can’t completely alleviate it. 

Aviation Sector: Decent Performance But New Bookings Lagging

The aviation industry, maybe not-surprisingly, was the weakest performing sector in January 2022, averaging at 51% of 2019 levels.   

Moving forward we will be tracking each sector by bundling a number of indicators into three buckets: Intent, Bookings, and Performance. Flight intent includes data on online searches for flights. Flight bookings are reservations made for future flights, while flight performance includes key performance indicators like realized passenger volumes, seat capacity, and load factors. 

January 2022 data highlights how Asia Pacific has a long way to recover. None of the three buckets are above 50% of 2019 levels. With the exception of the Middle East and Africa, performance indicators outperform intent and booking indicators. This indicates that January was a decent month, with passenger volumes and seat capacity higher relative to new bookings made (for future dates) in January. This might be down to the uncertainty around Omicron, with people searching and booking fewer flights. 

Looking at seat capacity, we can see that domestic capacity continues to trump international, but airlines are clearly optimistic, with international capacity increasing rapidly over the next three months up to April 2022. With our data showing that bookings are lagging, though, it is likely that this international future capacity will evaporate.

Hotels: Pricing Power Boosts Performance

The hotel industry, while performing better than aviation, also lags behind 2019 levels. We are seeing a very similar pattern to aviation, in that Asia Pacific is the weakest performing region, although not nearly as much as in aviation due to strong domestic performances, and with intent and bookings lagging key performance indicators like occupancy rates and average daily room rates. 

The strength of the performance bucket is a tale of two halves, with occupancy levels still considerably below 2019 levels in many countries, but room prices significantly higher in most countries. Data from OTA Insight shows that only 4 of the 22 countries analyzed had lower average published room rates in January 2022 than in January 2019. Tellingly, three of these four countries are Asian countries with some of the weakest overall Index scores and low demand. 

So most countries have strong pricing power compared to 2019, and actually, all countries had higher published room rates this past January compared to January 2021. These high prices are really driving the hotel sector’s performance at present, with new booking levels and hotel search levels still much below 2019 ‘normals’. Here, Latin and North America are performing strongest.  

The major weakness, however, in hotels’ performance becomes clear when we parse the indicators by domestic versus international. Domestic indicators track consistently higher than inbound indicators, with the exception of Mexico and the UAE, which have very strong international demand. 

Japan stands out for very strong domestic performance, with inbound performance almost nonexistent. Japan’s government put a ban on non-resident foreigners in place at the end of November as the first case of the Omicron variant was confirmed, which will last until at least the end of February. 

Vacation Rentals: Improved Year-over-Year Performance

Vacation rentals continue their strong performance into 2022. Occupancy data from Transparent shows that average occupancy rates in Asia Pacific are still about 20% below pre-pandemic levels, and this has likely worsened due to Omicron in January. All other regions are hovering around the 0% mark, indicating that the volume of demand is back to pre-pandemic levels. In North America, occupancy levels have been above 2019 levels since May last year.

When analyzing a more holistic bucket of all volume and value indicators included in our Index, we see that most countries tracked above 2019 levels, and the vacation rental sector has improved its key performance indicators in all countries year over year. 

Car Rental: Travelers Paying a Premium

A strong pattern is emerging here. Looking at the car rental sector, we see similar patterns to the hotels and aviation sectors. Bookings were far below pre-pandemic levels in January 2022, but the key performance indicators including the number of rental days (volume) and average daily transaction value (value), scored above 2019 levels in Europe, Middle East and Africa, and the Americas.  

People are paying a lot more for their car rentals now than before the pandemic. Data from CarTrawler shows that only for outbound bookings made from China, the daily transaction value per car is lower than before the pandemic, but with outbound travel all but banned by the Chinese government, we should not put too much weight to this finding. Residents from the UK have seen the largest relative increase in the price of their car rental bookings, with transaction values per day increased by around 130% for both outbound and domestic trips. In Mexico, domestic car rental costs increased by almost 500%. 

Data Tables