The 2020 Holiday Travel Season

Family & Friends – Joy & Laughter – Jingles All The Way — the holiday season is a time of celebration and it is fast approaching. But it can be an especially challenging time with the coronavirus pandemic tossed into the mix. So, just how are American travelers planning to share their holiday cheer and close out this unprecedented year? As part of our weekly Coronavirus Traveler Sentiment Index Study, Destination Analysts asked American travelers about their potential travel plans for this year’s holiday season.

While over half of Americans traveled during the 2019 holiday season (52.8%), this year only 28.2% say they plan on traveling for holiday festivities, with trips predominantly planned over Thanksgiving (9.2%) and Christmas (14.2%). When it comes to how they will travel to their holiday destination, the majority of those who have holiday travel plans will reach their destination by car (80.1%), while over a third are taking to the skies (35.4%).

 

Suggesting optimism around travel, those who have tentative holiday travel plans intend to take an average of 2.4 trips this year specifically to celebrate holiday season events, with 13.1 percent who say they will take 5 or more trips.

 

 

Although staying safe from COVID-19 is high on the priority list, over half of potential holiday travelers reported that they would not undergo testing prior to their 2020 holiday season travels (51.3%). Meanwhile, a third confirmed that they will undergo testing prior to their planned travel (34.8%).

In addition to less travel this holiday season, there are also signs of less spending. When asked if they expect to spend more, less or the same for holiday travel this year, 43.0% of American travelers plan to spend less on holiday travel than they did in 2019, while 14.9% plan to spend more. However, when it comes to holiday gifts, over half of American travelers expect to spend as much as they did the last year (56.5%). 15.6% say they will, in fact, increase their spending on holiday gifts, while 27.8% foresee spending less on gifts during this holiday season.

 

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Indicating a potential opportunity for the travel industry, nearly half of American travelers reported that they would feel either happy or very happy to receive a travel-related gift this holiday season (47.0%).

 

 

As we move into the 2020 holiday season, the fear of contracting coronavirus, preserving the health and safety of loved ones and the unwillingness to venture out during a pandemic are the top reasons keeping travelers at home during the upcoming months. And although there was an uptick in the percent of Americans who are not ready to travel (from 42.2% the weekend of October 9-11 to 44.5% the weekend of October 16-18), there was also an increase in the percent of Americans who are confident that they can travel safely in the current environment (from 29.3% the weekend of October 9-11 to 32.0% the weekend of October 16-18).

Hopes are high that by the 2021 holiday season we can once again hold our loved ones tight, celebrate what we hold dear and together enjoy the spirit of the season.

Update on American Travel in the Period of Coronavirus—Week of October 26th

As we have seen at other points in the pandemic, the current increase in cases has heightened Americans’ concerns for their health and financial safety and adversely impacted feelings about travel—although there are signs that travel sentiment and behavior may not be as significantly impacted as during previous surges. Testing and social distancing look most promising for bringing air travel back faster, while strict masking policies are likeliest to bring resistant shoppers back to retail stores.

 

 

IMPORTANT:These findings are brought to you from our independent research, which is not sponsored, conducted or influenced by any advertising or marketing agency. Every week since March 15th, Destination Analysts has surveyed 1,200+ American travelers about their thoughts, feelings, perceptions and behaviors surrounding travel in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and explored a variety of topics. The findings presented below represent data collected October 23rd-25th.

Key Findings to Know:

  • High concerns among American travelers about contracting the coronavirus and its impact on personal finances and the national economy rose this week, as numbers of cases soared across the U.S.
  • As new infection records continued to be set in the U.S., Americans’ strong concerns about virus contraction and the pandemic’s impact on personal finances and the greater economy marched upwards again this week. Pessimism about the virus’ course in the U.S. is firmly back in a heightened period.
  • The increased anxiety about the virus coincides with decreasing excitement levels about taking a getaway in the next month and openness to travel inspiration.
  • Perceptions of travel activities as unsafe and the percent of Americans who agree they have lost their taste for travel for the time being ticked up this week.
  • However, there are signs that travel may not be as significantly impacted as it was in previous surges during the pandemic. 35.1% of American travelers feel they have gained confidence in how to navigate the pandemic in the last three months. Americans are now actually exhibiting less agreement that they will avoid travel until the coronavirus situation is more resolved and their state of mind about travel readiness remained constant from last week.
  • Three-quarters still have trips at least tentatively planned, and the joy travel brings remains ingrained. Nearly 60% of Americans agree that having a vacation scheduled in the next six months would make them feel there is something happy to look forward to.
  • Air travel also looks to continue a measured recovery. Over 35% plan to travel by air in the next 6 months.
  • Examining policies that may bring more Americans back to air travel sooner, comfort with airlines requiring a COVID-19 test prior to boarding increased to 50.7% from 43.2% just two weeks ago. However, social distancing continues to be important to a significant share of Americans when it comes to air travel.
  • Well over 80% of American travelers plan to shop at a retail store at some point in the remainder of the year, although currently, relatively few plan to take a leisure trip specifically to shop for the holidays (6.7%).
  • The health and safety protocols Americans most desire for the in-person retail experience include social distancing guidelines enforced and strict masking requirements, although required masking for patrons and staff is seen as absolutely required by those Americans who still perceive shopping as unsafe.
  • Don’t forget to register to attend a full update of these findings, including a panel discussion with retail professionals about what to expect this season, on Tuesday, October 27th at 11:00am ET.

As new infection records continued to be set in the U.S., Americans’ strong concerns about virus contraction and the pandemic’s impact on personal finances and the greater economy marched upwards again this week. Pessimism about the virus’ course in the U.S. is firmly back in a heightened period, returning to levels last seen in July, during the virus’ summer surge.

 

 

As we have seen at other points in the pandemic, the increase in cases and thus concerns has adversely impacted feelings about travel, particularly in the near-term. The increased anxiety about the virus coincides with decreasing excitement levels about taking a getaway in the next month and openness to travel inspiration.

 

 

Although slightly, perceptions of travel activities as unsafe ticked up this week after a sustained period of decline. Similarly, the percent of Americans who agree they have lost their taste for travel for the time being also somewhat increased after holding stable for the last two months.

 

 

However, there are signs that travel may not be as significantly impacted as it was in previous surges during the pandemic. While half feel unchanged, 35.1% of American travelers feel they have gained confidence in how to navigate the pandemic in the last three months. Americans are now actually exhibiting less agreement that they will avoid travel until the coronavirus situation is more resolved (54.7%). Americans’ state of mind about travel readiness remained constant from last week (55.3%).

 

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Trips also continued to be anticipated and planned. Three-quarters still have trips at least tentatively planned. And the joy travel brings remains ingrained. Nearly 60% of Americans agree that having a vacation scheduled in the next six months would make them feel there is something happy to look forward to.

 

 

Air travel also looks to continue a measured recovery. Last week, the TSA screened 1 million daily passengers for the first time since March. Fully 20% of American travelers we surveyed this week reported traveling by air during the pandemic to date. Over 35% plan to travel by air in the next 6 months. Another 31.9% are pushing out to May or later in 2021 (although 18.0% say they won’t return to air travel until 2022). Examining policies that may bring more Americans back to air travel sooner, comfort with airlines requiring a COVID-19 test prior to boarding increased to 50.7% from 43.2% just two weeks ago. However, social distancing continues to be important to a significant share of Americans when it comes to air travel. Half are not in agreement with the major airlines returning to full passenger capacity and nearly 40% report they would be uncomfortable flying if the seat next to them was occupied by a stranger.

 

With shopping such a commonly planned trip activity and the holiday season upon us, our research this week also looked specifically at Americans’ retail behaviors and feelings about the in-person experience amidst the pandemic. Nearly all surveyed have shopped in-person at some kind of store (most commonly supermarkets) during the pandemic. The relatively strongest perceptions of safety were felt at specialty stores and the relatively least felt at big box stores. Well over 80% plan to shop at a retail store at some point in the remainder of the year, although currently, relatively few plan to take a leisure trip specifically to shop for the holidays (6.7%). Those who currently plan to only shop online for the holidays are evenly split on whether they could be convinced to shop in-person. The health and safety protocols Americans most desire for the in-person retail experience include social distancing guidelines enforced and strict masking requirements, although required masking for patrons and staff is seen as absolutely required by those Americans who still perceive shopping as unsafe.

A complimentary report of these key findings is available for you to download and share.
You can register for our online presentation of these findings Tuesday at 11:00am EST.
We appreciate your support of this research from our small but mighty team of devoted tourism researchers. If you would like further and deeper insights from the complete study, you can learn more here. Please consider donating or purchasing to support this research.
To make sure you receive notifications of our latest findings, you can sign up here.
If you need shareable graphics, content for presentations, video presentations and more, please visit our COVID-19 Insights Media page here.

The Return to Convention Travel


 

 

Here in San Francisco, where Destination Analysts’ is headquartered, we miss all the conventions we were fortunate to host pre-pandemic—and the visitors from around the world they brought. However, a recovery in this segment is happening. As of October 19th, our Coronavirus Travel Sentiment Index Study shows that 15.7% of American travelers overall—and nearly 40% of convention travelers—say they have plans to attend one or more of these events in the next year, up from 11.1% in May. The percent of convention travelers who report they would be happy if asked to attend such a meeting in the next six months has grown to 49.7% from 40.8% in June. To gain further insight on the convention travel market—including changing travel policies, the trends that look here to stay and the shifting business landscape—Destination Analysts’ President & CEO Erin Francis-Cummings interviewed a panel of meeting planners during our October 20th industry update webinar.

Here are 5 key takeaways that meeting planners shared about the recovery of meetings and convention travel:

 
When it comes to the return of in-person meetings, there are still many unknown factors. However, there are signs of hope around small meetings. While large in-person meetings are being planned far into the future, smaller business meetings are currently taking place. According to Adam Tillotson, Director of Regional Sales for Global Meeting Sources, “There are still meetings happening right now. I had a client meeting last week and one 2-3 weeks ago and these were both in person. They were national, but these were small meetings with 15-20 people at a time.” Several factors ensured a safe environment that allowed for the smooth and successful execution of these meetings. In addition to the small group size, these meetings were set outdoors under warm weather conditions. Adam planned meetings that were nearly exclusively held outdoors. As Adam shared, destinations that are “warm, outdoors and open” are ideal for small meetings, as he was able to plan a program that ensured attendees felt both safe and comfortable.

Virtual meetings don’t come close to the level of engagement of in-person meetings. Simply put, virtual meetings cannot replace the personal aspects of meeting in-person. As Katina Lancaster, Meetings Manager for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, stated, “Even given how much we have done virtually in the last 8 months, people want to meet in person. I know I do.” Brenda Glass, Director of Sales at Site Search, further emphasized, “I just think there is nothing like personal meetings where you are able to interact with everybody on a human level. I would like hugs and handshakes to come back.”

Hybrid meetings are here to stay. With business primarily conducted virtually over the past 8 months, it’s inevitable that the meetings industry has evolved and will evolve. Meeting planners see these past months as “a forced period of trial into virtual meetings” and the lessons learned from virtual meetings can be adapted into in-person meetings when they return, though it’s unlikely that virtual meetings will be obsolete once in-person meetings do return. According to Katina, “Hybrid [virtual and in-person] meetings are here to stay. I think it allows organizations to reach a larger audience than they normally would with in-person meetings.”

Destination marketing organizations and their partners can leverage specials and deals to book future meetings. Despite the fact that small in-person meetings are successfully being planned, bigger in-person meetings are not forgotten. None of Brenda’s 2020 meetings were cancelled, but rather rebooked for 2021. And she’s taking full advantage of the specials and discounts offered by destinations to book larger in-person meetings. The CVBs Brenda works with “have been wonderful throughout this whole process. I get emails from them all the time with the specials their hotels might be running and the incentives they may have. And I’m able to pass that on to the groups that are booking for next year and into 2023, letting them know that we should do this now and that great deals are on the table.”

To help bring meetings back, DMOs should communicate safety protocols and keep small groups in mind. When asked what could be done to bring in-person meetings back, Katina stated that “CVBs can continue to develop ways to make their destination safe and inviting for meetings to return.” Communicating safety protocols to meeting planners can ultimately help attendees feel safe and comfortable. DMOs should also keep in mind that small meetings are happening and should take advantage of the opportunities available. Destinations that are open, spacious and warm can certainly accommodate outdoor meetings and this message should be delivered to meeting planners. As shared by Adam, “Don’t sleep on these small groups. Look for these board meetings, look for these risk-tolerant industries and folks that are willing to travel and are happy to travel. And if you are a sun and fun destination, now is the time to spend money and get in front of people because people are willing to travel to come to your destination.”

The HR Perspective on the Return to Business Travel



During Destination Analysts’ industry update webinar on October 20th, Destination Analysts’ President & CEO Erin Francis-Cummings interviewed a panel of HR and meeting planner professionals, including Elaine Cameron, Global Senior Director of Human Resources at Munchkin, Inc.

Here are three insights that emerged about how HR views the return to business travel:

Employee health and safety must be top priority. As a global brand with offices located all over the world, travel was essential to normal business operations at Munchkin prior to the pandemic. However, employee travel is currently restricted to “business critical travel only.” One of the primary factors that HR is seeking for business travel to resume to normal levels is when employees feel safe to do so, which is gauged through employee surveys. Elaine predicts this sentiment will more fully return after a vaccine is available.
 

HR is currently responsible for business travel approval, and these trips must meet several criteria in order to be approved.
These are:

– The business meeting must be proven to meet corporate safety standards
– Travel can only be to or within destinations that do not have travel restrictions in place
– The business meeting must be deemed critical to business operations or goals (e.g. tactile client presentations)
 

While it may take time to fully return, business travel is still perceived as integral to success. With the upcoming cold season and tighter travel restrictions in Europe and beyond, Elaine predicted that the earliest business travel would regularly resume at Munchkin is April, although a readily available vaccine would accelerate the timeline. Yet business travel is seen as fundamental to company operations—especially when it comes to hiring new high-level executives and interacting with key clients—so HR and other executive management will be happy when employees can more easily get back on the road again.

The Evolution of Traveler Needs and Destination Marketing


 

It is critical that destination marketing be customer-first, led by traveling consumer desires. Using the McKinsey and Company’s framework for “The evolution of traveler needs being accelerated by major pre-COVID-19 trends,” Destination Analysts demonstrates how destination marketing can meet and succeed at each trend to make travel not just safer post pandemic, but better.

Update on American Travel in the Period of Coronavirus—Week of October 19th

A strong growth in coronavirus cases across the U.S. has brought renewed anxiety among travelers, dampening their travel readiness and trip plans, including for the upcoming holidays. Meanwhile, niche travel for skiing/snowboarding and conventions/group meetings still appears to be moving steadily towards recovery.

 

 

IMPORTANT:These findings are brought to you from our independent research, which is not sponsored, conducted or influenced by any advertising or marketing agency. Every week since March 15th, Destination Analysts has surveyed 1,200+ American travelers about their thoughts, feelings, perceptions and behaviors surrounding travel in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and explored a variety of topics. The findings presented below represent data collected October 16th-18th.

Key Findings to Know:

  • High concerns among American travelers’ about contracting the coronavirus and its impact on personal finances and the national economy rose this week, as numbers of cases soared across the U.S.
  • Pessimism about the course the virus will take in the U.S is now clearly on a renewed growth path.
  • While these darkening feelings did not meaningfully impact safety perceptions about travel, they did adversely affect both travel readiness and trip plans.
  • It appears that nearly 25% fewer Americans will be traveling to celebrate the holidays this year. The majority of those not traveling have a pandemic related reason for not doing so.
  • Those who will travel during the holidays are planning on taking 2.4 trips on average, with 35.4% saying they will travel by air. However, 27.8% plan to decrease their spending on these holiday trips relative to last year. Over one-third (34.8%) plan to test themselves for COVID-19 prior to their trips.
  • Nearly 40% of convention travelers say they have plans to attend a convention/group meeting event in the next year. The percent of convention travelers who report they would be happy if asked to attend such a meeting in the next six months has grown to 49.7% from 40.8% in June. Trust in both the conference organizers to institute protocols that look out for attendees’ health and fellow attendees to behave appropriately as not to spread COVID-19 has also grown significantly.
  • It is important for the travel industry to be realistic about the threat that virtual meetings pose to the volume and economic impact of this type of travel in the future. While 60% of American travelers say they prefer or strongly prefer in-person to virtual conventions/conferences, one-in-five feel neutral—fine to go either way—and another 20% say they prefer virtual.
  • Don’t forget to register to attend a full update of these findings, including a panel discussion with HR and meetings professionals, on Tuesday, October 20th at 11:00am ET

High concerns about contracting the coronavirus and its impact on personal finances and the national economy rose this week, as numbers of cases soared across nearly the entire United States.

 

 

Pessimism about the course the virus will take in the U.S is now clearly on a renewed growth path. Nearly three-quarters of American travelers feel it’s likely our country will have another wave of infections this year; less than 8% feel it’s unlikely.

 

 

These darkening feelings did not meaningfully impact safety perceptions about travel, as the average percent deeming the travel activities tracked in our study continued to decline. Openness to travel inspiration (51.7%) and excitement levels (53.8%) for a potential getaway in the near-term remained flat. However, the increased anxiety did adversely affect both travel readiness—those in a “ready to travel” state of mind decreased to a 3-week low 55.5%—and trip plans, as the percent of Americans with trips at least tentatively planned dropped back to 75% after being at 80% for the last few weeks.

 

 

The pandemic, and the current state of it, has deterred a number of Americans from holiday travel and celebrations for now. Based on reported holiday season-related travel in 2019 and what American travelers anticipate for the 2020 holiday season, it appears that nearly 25% fewer Americans will be traveling to celebrate the holidays this year. The majority of those not traveling have a pandemic related reason for not doing so, including general fear of the virus and not wanting to risk the health of loved ones. Anticipated participation in holiday traditions is down, with 46.3% of American travelers even saying they are likely to skip one or more holiday season dinner gatherings due to coronavirus safety concerns. Those who WILL travel for the holidays are planning on taking 2.4 trips on average, with 35.4% saying they will travel by air. However, 27.8% plan to decrease their spending on these holiday trips relative to last year. Over one-third (34.8%) plan to test themselves for COVID-19 prior to their trips.

 

 

During and beyond the holidays, what might the upcoming ski/snowboard season look like for travel? Of ski/snowboard travelers who have a destination they regularly visit for overnight ski/snowboard trips, 68.3% say they are likely to return to this favored destination on an overnight trip this season. Nearly 30% of these travelers also say they are open to taking a trip to new ski/snowboard destinations, as well. January (32.0%) and February (28.0%) are the top months reported for upcoming ski/snowboard trips, although 20.7% are now reporting they will take such a trip in March (up from 15.2% who reported a March ski/snowboard trip back in August). There has also been modest growth in the percent who say their ski/snowboard trips will include air travel (51.5% from 48.4% in August).

 

 

Tracking the recovery of business and convention/group meeting travel, although 71.1% of American travelers overall say they are unlikely to attend conventions until the coronavirus situation is more resolved, this metric is at one of the lowest points it has been during the pandemic. This week 15.7% of American travelers overall—and nearly 40% of convention travelers—say they have plans to attend one or more of these events in the next year, up from 11.1% in May. The percent of convention travelers who report they would be happy if asked to attend such a meeting in the next six months has grown to 49.7% from 40.8% in June. Trust in both the conference organizers to institute protocols that look out for attendees’ health and fellow attendees to behave appropriately as not to spread COVID-19 has also grown significantly.

 

However, it is important for the travel industry to be realistic about the threat that virtual meetings pose—and the level of preference being expressed for these versus in-person—to the volume and economic impact of this type of travel in the future. While 60% of American travelers say they prefer or strongly prefer in-person to virtual conventions/conferences, one-in-five feel neutral—fine to go either way—and a similar proportion say they prefer virtual. Interestingly, while Millennial and younger travelers are likelier than those in other generations to say they prefer virtual conferences (14.9%) it’s the Baby Boomers who are relatively likelier to “strongly” prefer meeting virtually (10.2%). Among those who attended a virtual convention recently, when asked to compare how satisfied they were with virtually participating compared to in-person, 71.2% reported being satisfied. Dissatisfaction was only expressed by 12.0%.

A complimentary report of these key findings is available for you to download and share.
You can register for our online presentation of these findings Tuesday at 11:00am EST.
We appreciate your support of this research from our small but mighty team of devoted tourism researchers. If you would like further and deeper insights from the complete study, you can learn more here. Please consider donating or purchasing to support this research.
To make sure you receive notifications of our latest findings, you can sign up here.
If you need shareable graphics, content for presentations, video presentations and more, please visit our COVID-19 Insights Media page here.

Advertising That Motivates Travel


 

During our industry update webinar on October 13th, Destination Analysts’ Founder & Managing Director, Dave Bratton, moderated a panel of leisure travelers to gain insight on the types and aspects of destination advertising that motivate travel right now. From their evaluation of current destination advertising, here are three key takeaways that emerged:

 

1. Leisure travelers appreciate seeing masks because it gives them the confidence that locals and visitors alike will take safety seriously. As Emma from Buena Vista, CO commented, “I spend a lot of time with my parents and my fiance’s parents who are very covid-concerned, so for me one of the big things keeping me from wanting to go travel is that I don’t want to put them at risk. But seeing advertisements with people wearing masks gives me a lot of confidence in that destination – they are taking this seriously and I won’t feel like I am putting my family at risk if I go there.” Brandi from Washington, DC shared similar feelings about the same Denver ad featuring people wearing masks: “It definitely helps me become more comfortable with even the thought of traveling. Shortly after the shut down, I learned I was going to be expecting a baby, so I have been going crazy about anti-covid mechanisms…So it is a relief to see that you can still travel and be safe as well…It definitely brings confidence if I were to even think about traveling.”

 

2. The pandemic hasn’t changed some things—leisure travelers still want to know what is absolutely unique about a destination. (And food still works! Make it look appealing.) From our thousands of qualitative in-depth interviews and focus groups, travelers consistently share that they want to know what is unique about a destination, with a common question being “What can I do there that I can’t do anywhere else?” Our recent panel reflected this very notion as they evaluated current ads for several U.S. destinations. These travelers brought up wanting to see unique facets of the destination, particularly around dining and cuisine. Additionally, content featuring food should be visually appealing. As some of these travelers commented,

“It would be really cool to see socially distanced friends enjoying food and drinking, showing what makes it [the destination] unique.”
“I love Louisiana’s food but this to me is not a lot of food, it’s not really an appealing color and neither is the way it’s framed. Considering it is such a foodie state, this to me is underwhelming.”

 

3. Advertising does get noticed and does work towards convincing people to visit a destination. When asked about receiving digital ads, these travelers shared positive reactions. Not only do they enjoy seeing digital ads, but such ads inspire ideas for future travel, oftentimes for places that they might not have otherwise considered. Kevin from Boston, MA stated, “I love getting ads, especially for the places I haven’t been to before. It kind of entices me to look into it a little bit more. Like Emma just said about the beautiful pristine beach – I would have never known that [about the destination] and now they’ve enticed me to go there.” He continued to share, “As long as it’s not overload, I don’t mind. I literally get emails everyday with travel ads and every single day, I’m clicking them and I am opening them up to see if there is a good deal or a good place I can go. I enjoy looking at them.” Particularly given the current coronavirus situation, Emma voiced her preference for travel ads over consumer products saying “We’re all stuck at home and if I am going to look at an ad, I would rather look at a vacation ad, even if only to daydream, than an ad for shoes that nobody will see me wear.”

5 Insights from Island Destination Leaders


 

 

Here we are in October 2020, and the novel coronavirus is still wreaking havoc on our health and economies. There have been nearly 8 million reported cases in the U.S. alone, including our own POTUS. Nevertheless, American travelers appear to feel more in control and less fearful of travel experiences, as a rising proportion report that they are in a “ready to travel” mindset, and 80% saying they have at least tentative trip plans right now . And while we remain nowhere close to pre-pandemic levels of travel, there is a growing openness to travel inspiration, although safety is decidedly a top priority in traveling consumer decisions. With the benefit of their more controlled points of entry, island destinations have been called upon to be leaders in the creation of safe travel protocols and the marketing of safe travel. They also have and continue to be enormously popular destinations (one-third of American travelers have visited an island in the past 3 years, based on the findings from most recent Coronavirus Traveler Sentiment Index). During our industry update on October 6th, Destination Analysts Senior Director of Research, Myha Gallagher, interviewed Leah Chandler, Chief Marketing Officer for Discover Puerto Rico, Erin Smith, Chief Information Officer for the Bermuda Tourism Authority, and Eduardo Elias, Product Manager for the Azores Promotion Board about how their respective destinations have adapted for travel in the time of coronavirus and what they anticipate for the future.

The following are key takeaways from this interesting and timely panel discussion.

 
Island destinations have implemented various protocols in order to safely welcome and execute travel. The most common of these protocols is for visitors to take a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of boarding the plane to the island and to present proof of negative test results.

Visitors willingly comply with the protocols enforced by island destinations. So far, these island destinations have not experienced push back from visitors on the new and stringent COVID-19 protocols as they acknowledge and understand that such measures are for their own personal health and safety, as well as the health of the island population and economy.

The residence and travel party size of visitor groups have shifted compared to pre-pandemic times. In addition to changes in where visitors come from, travel groups are now smaller due to government restrictions on travel from countries with high COVID-19 cases.

Island destinations are cautiously optimistic about the comeback of cruises. As the cruise industry is significant, and arguably essential, to the economies of these island destinations, such destinations are patiently awaiting when cruises can safely return. Although taking a cruise continues to largely be perceived as unsafe among the general American traveling population, those who took cruises prior to the pandemic are far less likely to feel this way. In fact, over 13% of American travelers said they planned to take a cruise in the coming months. As such, some of these islands “are taking a very cautious approach to the gradual plan of resuming those fleet operations…we are optimistic that cruise industry and the ships are going to gradually return…in Q1 at this point.”

The greatest challenge for island marketers, and perhaps all destination marketers, is getting the right message to the right people right now. These destination marketers are seeking to identify the channels with the “right people that are ready to take that trip” and “giving them a reason to push them over the edge to making that decision.” Additional challenges island marketers face are restoring consumer confidence to travel and pushing consistent messaging around coronavirus-related safety protocols.

Let the Beat Drop, Not the Mask: What We Learned From the CountOnMeNC Campaign

As consumer aspiration and demand for travel continues to express itself, there is clearly growing optimism around leisure travel. The majority of American travelers continue to report at least tentative trip plans right now and at least a quarter say that leisure travel will be an essential or high priority in their spending over the next three months. Given this, it’s ever more important to learn from our industry peers on how they have re-opened to welcome travelers.

During our industry update webinar on September 15th, Visit NC showcased the organization’s CountOnMeNC initiative designed for the purpose of a safe and full re-opening.

 

 

The CountOnMeNC program objectives are to increase resident and traveler confidence in engaging in dining, hospitality and travel activities by demonstrating businesses’ commitment to COVID-19 safety measures and to encourage consumer commitment to such measures. Over the past few weeks, American travelers surveyed in our Coronavirus Traveler Sentiment Index Study who are “confident” or “very confident” that they can travel safely right now has trended around 30%—illustrating a key opportunity to get the remaining 70% to feel confident in traveling safely.

Programs such as the CountOnMeNC campaign can certainly help boost confidence around safe travel, especially as consumers continue to show aspirations for travel. One of the campaign’s core messages is to urge residents and visitors alike to exercise the 3 W’s, all of which are preventative measures to protect oneself from, and slow the spread of, COVID-19:

1). Wear a mask
2). Wait your distance
3). Wash your hands

 

To communicate this important message, Visit NC took a creative approach and came up with this:

 

 

 

The animated video, Sunny the character and the jingle reflect how American travelers would like travel destinations to communicate to them and the tones they consider most appealing right now: friendly, fun/entertaining, honest and direct.

As clear indicators of the CountOnMeNC campaign’s success, over 14,000 training certificates from more than 3,400 state businesses have been earned and more than 10,400 consumers have taken the pledge to commit to COVID-19 safety measures. The CountOnMeNC brand is growing each day, increasing awareness that the brand represents North Carolina’s safe re-opening. State businesses associated with the brand are committed to pandemic safety measures, while travelers are assured that they can safely experience North Carolina in the current environment.

 

 

Through the CountOnMeNC initiative’s efforts in “letting the beat drop and not the mask,” Visit NC sets a great example for other destinations and shows how consumer confidence in traveling safely can ultimately be elevated.

Update on American Travel in the Period of Coronavirus—Week of October 12th

More Americans than ever during the pandemic period are recalling travel advertising and saying these ads are making them very happy—and seeing masked travelers in travel ads is a positive. Meanwhile, airlines’ potential induction of mandatory COVID-19 tests prior to boarding looks like it will help move more hesitant travelers back to flying.

 

 

IMPORTANT: These findings are brought to you from our independent research, which is not sponsored, conducted or influenced by any advertising or marketing agency. Every week since March 15th, Destination Analysts has surveyed 1,200+ American travelers about their thoughts, feelings, perceptions and behaviors surrounding travel in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and explored a variety of topics. The findings presented below represent data collected October 9th-11th.

Key Findings to Know:

  • American travelers’ concerns about the novel coronavirus moved back up this week after decreasing last week, and with virus records occurring in the Midwest, Wisconsin has become one of the top destinations people talk about as having coronavirus issues.
  • Nevertheless, consumer aspiration and demand for travel continues to express itself. Approximately 80% of American travelers continue to report that they have at least tentative trip plans right now and at least a quarter of American travelers report that leisure travel will be an essential or high priority in their spending in the next three months.
  • More Americans than any other time during the pandemic period are now open to discounting as a travel motivator.
  • The perception of travel activities as unsafe declined again to a new pandemic period low this week, inching closer to where perceptions were March 15th.
  • More American travelers than ever during the pandemic period are now able to recall recent travel advertising and, more importantly, there has also been a 10% increase in the last three months of the number of American travelers who say the most recent travel ad they saw made them “very happy”.
  • Americans are seeking honesty but friendliness in their travel advertising; something that strikes an authoritative tone is largely seen as a turn-off.
  • Nearly 70% feel positive or very positive about seeing travelers with facemasks in travel ads, while less than 10% have a negative response.
  • In looking at trust to provide the information needed to travel safely, in addition to their friends and relatives, traveling Americans are placing the relatively highest degrees of trust in official tourism organizations, including state tourism offices and local convention & visitors bureaus.
  • In looking towards the recovery of the airline industry, among the more than 40 percent of American travelers who still feel stronger hesitation about travel, nearly 77% of this group of travelers say that mandatory COVID-19 tests prior to boarding would be important to getting them to take a flight in the next six months—demonstrating the ability of such measures to get people back to flying.

American travelers’ concerns about the novel coronavirus moved back up this week after decreasing last week, more notably fears about friends or family contracting the virus. With several Midwestern states reporting record one-day rises in cases and hospitalizations, Wisconsin has now seen an increase in the number who name the state as a top destination most talked about as having coronavirus issues. The percent of American travelers who say they are less likely to visit a place in the post-pandemic future because of their current Coronavirus-related issues has gone back up to 33.5% from 28.4% one month ago.

 

 

Nevertheless, consumer aspiration and demand for travel continues to express itself. Approximately 80% of American travelers continue to report that they have at least tentative trip plans right now and about 40% say their very next trip will take place this Fall. At least a quarter of American travelers report that leisure travel will be an essential or high priority in their spending in the next three months, on par with or even ahead of gifts for friends and relatives, online entertainment and home improvements. Excitement for potential near-term getaways and openness to travel inspiration continues slowly increasing.

 

 

In addition, more Americans than any other time during the pandemic period are now open to discounting as a travel motivator—a sign that a proportion of American travelers have now opened up to travel rather than being firmly unwilling.

 

 

More American travelers than ever during the pandemic period are now able to recall recent travel advertising and, more importantly, there has also been a 10% increase in the last three months of the number of American travelers who say the most recent travel ad they saw made them “very happy” (29.3%—while another 32.7% reported the ad made them “happy”). When asked about the tone of the travel advertising they want to see right now, Americans are seeking honesty but friendliness. In fact, something that strikes an authoritative tone is largely seen as a turn-off.

 

 

Notably, the perception of travel activities as unsafe declined again to a new pandemic period low this week, inching closer to where perceptions were March 15th. However, COVID-19 safety remains paramount to most American travelers’ trip decisions. Thus, when it comes to travel advertising, nearly 70% feel positive or very positive about seeing travelers with face masks in travel ads (after shown such an ad tested in this week’s survey), while less than 10% have a negative response.

 

 

When it comes to resources trusted to provide the information needed to travel safely, in addition to their friends and relatives, American travelers are placing the relatively highest degrees of trust in official tourism organizations, including state tourism offices and local convention & visitors bureaus. Compared to younger generations, Baby Boomers are less giving of trust to other sources. And save for government agencies, those least marketable for travel right now are also less trusting of these resources to let them know it’s safe to travel, while those most marketable for travel are generally more trusting of these sources.

 

In looking towards the recovery of the airline industry, we asked American travelers how important certain COVID-19 protocols potentially instituted by the airlines would be to getting them to take a flight in the next six months. Approximately 80 percent of American travelers said mandatory face masks and enforced social distancing would be important or very important to their decision to travel by air. Two-thirds considered other protocols such as testing and temperature checks to be important or very important. However, among the more than 40 percent of American travelers who still feel stronger hesitation about travel, nearly 77% of this group of travelers say that mandatory COVID-19 tests prior to boarding would be important to getting them to take a flight in the next six months—demonstrating the ability of such measures to get people back to flying.

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