Update on American Travel in the Period of Coronavirus—Week of November 2

Americans largely see the immediate future as a difficult one in regard to the pandemic, making a significant proportion to associate guilt and irresponsibility with travel right now. As they look to their travel future, the pandemic has shifted their priorities to focus more on exploring the United States and spending time with their families.

 

 

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 30th-November 1st.

Key Findings to Know:

  • American travelers have been increasingly prioritizing relaxation as a lifestyle priority. Perhaps in part to this, the average level of daily stress Americans have been feeling has been on the decline since the summer.
  • Virus anxiety is uneven across the country—now highest in the Northeast and Southern regions, among Gen X, urban residents and those feeling not yet ready to travel.
  • American travelers are somewhat split on maintaining their optimism; however, they largely see the immediate future as difficult. This week 60.9% expect the pandemic situation to get worse in the United States in the next month, up over 5% in one week.
  • The worsening feelings about the pandemic continue to negatively impact sentiment towards travel in the near-term. Excitement levels about taking a getaway in the next month, openness to travel inspiration, and confidence they can travel safely decreased, while perceptions of travel activities as unsafe again increased.
  • These feelings extend into greater emotional depth. Fully half agree that traveling right now feels irresponsible. Over 40% feel, or would feel, guilty traveling right now.
  • The declining sentiment towards travel has affected behavior, as well, including for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. While 13.6% definitively say they will travel for Thanksgiving this year–down slightly from 15.8% the week of August 17th, those that felt uncertain in August have largely moved to “no” for Thanksgiving trips.
  • Of those traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday, nearly 80% describe this as trips taken primarily to spend time with friends and family in their homes. The mean distance traveled will be 533 miles, and the average reported trip length will be 4.3 days.
  • However, given travel’s importance to Americans, it continues. This week, fewer agree that they have lost their interest in/taste for traveling for the time being. Americans travel readiness state-of-mind remained stable (54.6%), as did the proportion that say they will engage in travel avoidance until the coronavirus situation is more resolved (54.7%). There is also a declining need for a vaccine to travel (39.5%).
  • As to how the pandemic has shifted priorities and the way this will potentially impact travel in the longer term, the most agreement was shared that they would be traveling more domestically/seeing the United States and traveling more with family in the next 2 years.
  • Don’t forget to register to attend a full update of these findings on Tuesday, November 3rd at 11:00am ET.

Although Tuesday’s election and rising COVID-19 cases certainly serve as sources of potential tension, since April, American travelers have been increasingly prioritizing relaxation as a lifestyle priority. Perhaps in part to this, the average level of daily stress Americans have been feeling has been on the decline since the summer.

 

 

Overall, the percent of Americans who feel high degrees of concern about personally contracting COVID-19 trended down this week to 69.3% from 72.0%. Virus anxiety is uneven across the country—now highest in the Northeast and Southern regions, among Gen X, urban residents and those feeling not yet ready to travel.

 

 

American travelers are somewhat split on maintaining their optimism, with 32.9% believing things will get better soon and 38.2% not. However, they largely see the immediate future as difficult. This week 60.9% expect the pandemic situation to get worse in the United States in the next month, up over 5% in one week. In addition, 62.6% expect this Coronavirus will thrive in the upcoming cold weather.

 

 

The worsening feelings about the pandemic continue to negatively impact sentiment towards travel in the near-term. Excitement levels about taking a getaway in the next month and openness to travel inspiration decreased again this week, while perceptions of travel activities as unsafe again increased. Confidence that they can travel safely in the current environment eroded 5 percentage points in the past 3 weeks (26.5% from 32.0%). Even comfort going out for leisure activities in their own communities has similarly declined (41.7% from 47.4% October 18th).

 

 

These feelings extend into greater emotional depth. Fully half agree that traveling right now feels irresponsible. Over 40% feel, or would feel, guilty traveling right now.

 

 

The declining sentiment towards travel has affected behavior, as well, including for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. The percent with any trip plans declined to 72% from 75%. While 13.6% definitively say they will travel for Thanksgiving this year–down slightly from 15.8% the week of August 17th, those that felt uncertain in August have largely moved to “no” for Thanksgiving trips. Of those traveling for the holiday nearly 80% describe this as trips taken primarily to spend time with friends and family in their homes. The mean distance traveled will be 533 miles, although two-thirds will travel less than 500 miles. The average reported trip length will be 4.3 days. While half will stay in the home of a friend or relative, about 18% say they will stay in a luxury hotel property and another 18% plan to stay in a 3 or 4-star hotel. These travelers report they will gather with an average of 5.7 people for their Thanksgiving celebration.

 

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However, given travel’s importance to Americans, it continues. This week, fewer agree that they have lost their interest in/taste for traveling for the time being (down to 42.4% from 46.6%). Americans travel readiness state-of-mind remained stable (54.6%), as did the proportion that say they will engage in travel avoidance until the coronavirus situation is more resolved (54.7%). There is also a declining need for a vaccine to travel (39.5%). As to how the pandemic has shifted priorities and the way this will potentially impact travel in the longer term, this week we asked Americans “as you look out over the next two years, in which ways (if at all) do you expect your travel priorities will change compared to BEFORE the Coronavirus situation?” The most agreement was shared that they would be traveling more domestically/seeing the United States and traveling more with family. Nearly a quarter say they will be visiting more destinations on their bucket list and saying yes to new travel ideas and experiences.

 

 

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.
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Can More be Done to Get Americans Back to Traveling the Friendly Skies?

 

Believe it or not, Americans are now trudging into the eighth month of this pandemic. At times it feels impossible that we’ve been in this crisis for this long and yet simultaneously it also feels as if lifetimes (plural) have passed. However, as our new pandemic lives stretch on, some of us have felt more confident that we can safely navigate this new reality, and slowly Americans have started venturing outside the bubbles they call home. A large part of this is due to the shared human experience of COVID fatigue, but much more important driving forces are the new safety practices and procedures businesses have had to implement to make their customers feel safe.

One of the key industries that still has headway to make in convincing Americans it is safe enough to travel again is the airline industry. Although they have adopted new safety procedures such as allowing for social distancing at boarding gates, electrostatic cleaning of air cabins, HEPA air filtration and strict mask policies, only 1-in-5 American travelers have traveled by commercial airline since the start of the pandemic in March. Another safety practice airlines have implemented is limiting the number of passengers onboard by leaving middle seats empty. But come December 1st, Alaska, Delta, and Hawaiian will be the only airlines to continue this policy.

As one might expect, Americans are largely disapproving of this change. In fact, half of American travelers who expect to take a trip on a commercial plane sometime between now and 2022 disagree with airlines’ decision to no longer limit the number of passengers onboard (50.0%). In contrast, just over a quarter agree with this policy change (28.5%). Interestingly, Millennials were divided on this issue (38.4% agree, 38.8% disagree), while Boomers were overwhelmingly against it (16.2% agree, and 62.4% disagree).

 

 

The prospect of having a stranger sitting in the seat next to you while traveling on an airplane largely makes us uncomfortable. In fact, two-fifths expressed discomfort with this scenario (39.4%), and another one-fifth said it would be an absolute deal breaker (20.7%). Although it’s tough to say definitely how this will impact Americans’ likelihood to book air travel in the future, it does appear that at least some may hold out on booking those tickets until other changes (in either safety procedures or the prevalence of the virus) take place.

 

 

We can’t fault airlines for reversing their empty middle seat policies. Like the rest of us, their business has been severely impacted by the pandemic and they are doing what they can to keep their heads above water. So are there other means to get travelers to feel safe enough to fly again? In our Coronavirus Travel Sentiment Index Study fielded October 24th-26th, we asked if a commercial airline required all passengers to take and pass a COVID-19 test prior to boarding, how comfortable would that make travelers to take a flight? Half (50.7%) said it would make them comfortable or very comfortable.

 

 

So it does appear that a required COVID test could significantly increase travelers’ comfortability with flying, which in turn could translate into increased passenger loads. Increasing travelers’ safety perceptions around all elements of the travel journey, especially ones where they have to be in confined spaces with strangers, will be paramount to the industry’s recovery and with such a complex and long-lasting issue like COVID, we can not rest on our laurels. Our industry will no doubt rise to the challenge and one day (hopefully in the near future) this will all be a distant memory and an important lesson we all toast to on a full flight to our long awaited paradise vacation.