Update on American Travel in the Period of Coronavirus—Week of December 27th

After long holding steady, the perceived safety of travel activities is now faltering with this current virus surge. However, the vaccine remains a light to many American travelers who are increasingly willing to take it.

 

 

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 December 25th-27th.

Key Findings to Know:

  • Americans’ coronavirus-related anxiety levels remained consistent.
  • Americans exhibited more polarization this week on whether the coronavirus situation will get worse or better.
  • For the first time in four months, those in a ready-to-travel mind set fell below 50%.
  • After a sustained period of stability, this current—and largest—surge in coronavirus cases has started to worsen safety perceptions about travel and leisure activities.
  • There has also been a slight increase in the percent of Americans who have seen COVID-19 related reports in the media about travel destinations where people were behaving in a manner that would make them feel uncomfortable visiting.
  • The recently developed COVID-19 vaccines remain a continual source of light for many Americans. Nearly 63% say these vaccines make them optimistic about life returning to near-normal in the next 6 months. The perceived safety of these vaccines has grown to 63.8%, and American’s willingness to take the COVID-19 vaccine hit 54.1% this week.
  • Even in the early stages of distribution, the vaccine has had a positive impact on travel. Three-in-ten American travelers now say they have begun planning or booking future travel in anticipation of the COVID-19 vaccine being widely available. This is even more pronounced among younger travelers.
  • With the vaccine-motivated optimism, many American travelers are looking to get inspired. Right now, about half of American travelers say they are open to learning about new destinations to travel to.
  • In terms of the channels they feel most receptive to travel messaging in, Millennial and Gen Z travelers say Instagram and Facebook, Gen X and Baby Boomer travelers say search engines and email campaigns.
  • Since the onset of the pandemic, 17.3% of American travelers say they have gotten new ideas for places to visit from digital influencers.

As Americans celebrated the Christmas holiday, their coronavirus-related anxiety levels remained consistent. The percent of Americans with elevated concerns about personally contracting the virus (70.3%), their friends/family contracting the virus (76.0%), the virus’ impact on their personal financial situation (53.8%) and the national economy (80.0%) were on par with last week. Interestingly, Americans exhibited more polarization this week on whether the coronavirus situation will get worse or better—the percent that feel it will get worse in the next month grew to 54.5% from 50.9%, while the percent that feel it will get better also grew to 22.1% from 17.8% last week. But given that a study high of 63.3% feel they wouldn’t be able to fully enjoy travel right now and 53.5% say they would feel guilty traveling, for the first time in four months, those in a ready-to-travel mind set fell below 50%.

 

 

After a sustained period of stability, this current—and largest—surge in coronavirus cases has started to worsen safety perceptions about travel and leisure activities. The percent of Americans who feel activities such as attending large venue sporting events, visiting an amusement park, zoo or other outdoor attraction, flying on a commercial airline, and going shopping are unsafe has risen in the last few weeks. There has also been a slight increase in the percent of Americans who have seen COVID-19 related reports in the media about travel destinations where people were behaving in a manner that would make them feel uncomfortable visiting. This week, Florida is the top destination Americans report hearing negative coronavirus related tourism coverage of, followed by California and New York.

 

 

The recently developed COVID-19 vaccines remain a continual source of light for many Americans. Nearly 63% say these vaccines make them optimistic about life returning to near-normal in the next 6 months. The perceived safety of these vaccines has grown almost 14% in the last two months to 63.8%, and American’s willingness to take the COVID-19 vaccine is on the rise, hitting 54.1% this week.

 

 

Even in the early stages of distribution, the vaccine has had a positive impact on travel. Over 53% say the vaccine makes them optimistic they can travel safely within the next 6 months. Three-in-ten American travelers now say they have begun planning or booking future travel in anticipation of the COVID-19 vaccine being widely available, and 83.7% have at least tentative trip plans right now. Vaccine-inspired travel planning is even more pronounced among younger travelers. In total, 38.3% of Millennial age travelers say they have begun planning and booking trips because of vaccine distribution expectations.

 

 

With the vaccine-motivated optimism, many American travelers are looking to get inspired. Right now, about half of American travelers say they are open to learning about new destinations to travel to. In terms of the channels they feel most receptive to travel messaging in, Millennial and Gen Z travelers say Instagram and Facebook, followed by email, online articles, streaming video services and ads on the Internet. Gen X travelers say they can best be reached through search engines, email campaigns, Facebook and broadcast television. Baby Boomer travelers largely say they are most receptive to travel messaging through search engines, followed by email campaigns, broadcast television and printed official visitor guides. Even with travel so disrupted this year, since the onset of the pandemic, 17.3% of American travelers say they have gotten new ideas for places to visit from digital influencers. This is driven largely by younger travelers, nearly one-third of which report being travel inspired by a digital influencer.

 

 

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.
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Update on American Travel in the Period of Coronavirus—Week of December 20th

Although the Christmas and ensuing travel season will be quite off of normal, Americans are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel grow brighter with vaccine progress. Now 46% have moved into the planning and booking stage for 2021 travel.

 

 

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 December 18th-20th.

Key Findings to Know:

  • After a sustained period of skewing towards readiness between August and November, half of American travelers feel their mindset around travel right now is one of hesitation and delay. Only 41.9% feel confident they can travel safely right now, down from a high of 49.7% just two weeks ago.
  • As AAA and other sources are also predicting, Christmas travel will be down significantly from 2019, when nearly one-third of American travelers took a Christmas holiday trip. This week, just 17.4% of American travelers say they will take a trip for the holiday, with 6.9% still unsure. Cancellations of a Christmas trip due to the pandemic were reported by 28.5%.
  • For those who are traveling for Christmas, the average Christmas trip will be 4.6 days to a destination 597 miles away—although 56.7% will be under 500 miles.
  • Thankfully, there was further progress on the vaccine front. National anxiety levels about contraction of the coronavirus and its impact on personal finances and the economy all dropped. Most notably, there was a 10-point drop in the percent of Americans who feel the coronavirus situation will get worse in the next month. Instead, nearly a third feel the situation will stay the same.
  • The vaccine news appears to continue to have a positive influence on Americans’ travel sentiment for the future. The percent reporting an avoidance of international travel and conventions/conferences are both at 42-week lows, and openness to travel inspiration rebounded. American travelers are saying they will take an average of 3 leisure trips in 2021, with the May-August period the most common for travel.
  • Americans are showing a growing agreement to take the vaccine.
  • With the vaccine distribution timeline increasingly clear, 32.9% of Americans are now in the starting or actively planning a trip stage for 2021.
  • However, the pandemic effects may linger for some time as Americans still express some travel hesitation, even with the vaccines. When asked to describe how they are going to approach getting back into travel in the period immediately after vaccines become widely available to the public, three quarters of American travelers say that they will get back carefully or test the waters first.
  • There is the strongest support among American travelers for vaccine requirements for boarding flights and cruise ships.
  • Don’t forget to register to attend a full update of these findings on Tuesday, December 22nd at 11:00am ET.

As American travelers answered our survey questions this weekend, daily new coronavirus cases reached nearly a quarter million in the United States. Thus, after a sustained period of skewing towards readiness between August and November, half of American travelers feel their mindset around travel right now is one of hesitation and delay. Only 41.9% feel confident they can travel safely right now, down from a high of 49.7% just two weeks ago. Over half of American travelers continue to say they would feel guilty traveling now and fully 60.0% wouldn’t be able to fully enjoy it if they did. A majority feel traveling on a commercial airline is unsafe (57.5%), while 42.0% feel similarly about staying in a hotel and 49.9% believe staying in an AirBnB or home rental is also unsafe. Nearing half of American travelers (49.4%) report they have cancelled or postponed an upcoming trip specifically due this current surge in COVID cases. The greatest leap in cancellations and postponements caused by this increased outbreak occurred after the Thanksgiving holiday (when the percent jumped from 38.1% to 46.9%) but has incrementally grown each week since.

 

 

As AAA and other sources are also predicting, Christmas travel will be down significantly from 2019, when nearly one-third of American travelers took a Christmas holiday trip. This week, just 17.4% of American travelers say they will take a trip for the holiday, with 6.9% still unsure. Cancellations of a Christmas trip due to the pandemic were reported by 28.5%, and 45.3% say they have friends or family who would normally travel for the holiday but are not this year. For those who are traveling for Christmas, being with friends and family is, of course, the most common primary reason for their trip, but nearly half say they are also driven by taking a vacation/getaway. While staying in the homes of their friends and family is likeliest, hotels and other lodging will certainly see Christmas travelers. The average Christmas trip will be 4.6 days to a destination 597 miles away—although 56.7% will be under 500 miles.

 

 

Thankfully, there was further progress on the vaccine front. As Moderna’s vaccine was approved and healthcare workers across the U.S. began receiving the first doses, national anxiety levels about contraction of the coronavirus and its impact on personal finances and the economy all dropped. Most notably, there was a 10-point drop in the percent of Americans who feel the coronavirus situation will get worse in the next month. Instead, nearly a third feel the situation will stay the same.

 

 

The vaccine news appears to continue to have a positive influence on Americans’ travel sentiment for the future. The percent reporting an avoidance of international travel and conventions/conferences are both at 42-week lows (70.9% and 65.0%, respectively). Openness to travel inspiration rebounded to 5.4 on an 11-point scale after dipping to 4.9 three weeks ago. American travelers are saying they will take an average of 3 leisure trips in 2021. The May-August period looks to be the most common for travel; over 20% say they already have at least tentative trip plans in those months.

 

 

Looking more deeply into the impact of the COVID-19 vaccine on travel, 49.6% agree they are not traveling until vaccines are made widely available. Fortunately, Americans are showing a growing agreement to take the vaccine. This week, the majority (51.7%) say they will take one of the recently developed vaccines (up from 39.2% the week of November 7th), and 61.6% feel they are safe. With the vaccine distribution timeline increasingly clear, 32.9% of Americans are now in the starting or actively planning a trip stage for 2021. However, the pandemic effects may linger for some time as Americans still express some travel hesitation, even with the vaccines. When asked to describe how they are going to approach getting back into travel in the period immediately after vaccines become widely available to the public, three quarters of American travelers say that they will get back carefully (37.2%) or test the waters first (37.0%).

 

 

Now that the COVID-19 vaccine is here, new questions about vaccine requirements inevitably arise. There is the strongest support among American travelers for vaccine requirements for boarding flights and cruise ships. Although there is lesser agreement for vaccine requirements for conventions, hotel stays, sports and other live events, support among Americans right now approaches half.

 

 

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.

Rules, Regulations and Restrictions….Oh My!

New pandemic-invoked travel rules, regulations and restrictions can be challenging to navigate. Of course, in this reality, compliance with these rules is critical to combatting the spread of COVID-19 and keeping people healthy and safe. In terms of how COVID-related travel restrictions have factored into travel this year, the December 14th wave of our Coronavirus Travel Sentiment Index Study found that nearly 70 percent of Americans travelers have had planned trips impacted by the coronavirus situation, and of those whose travel was affected, about 30% reported that government travel restrictions were a reason. Another 10 percent cited COVID-related business/employer-mandated restrictions as a travel disrupter.

 

 

How do Americans feel about these travel restrictions and regulations? In the November 30th wave of the Coronavirus Travel Sentiment Index Study, we explored American travelers’ support of such restrictions and how these rules could ultimately influence travel behavior.

At the home community level, over half of American travelers agree or strongly agree that they support the implementation of more restrictive COVID-19 rules in their community (56.4%). Meanwhile, one-in-five do not support more restrictive rules where they live (19.2%).

 

 

In addition to their support of more restrictive COVID-19 rules in their home communities, over two-thirds agree it’s important for people to follow government restrictions and recommendations related to controlling COVID-19 (68.3%).

 

 

Although the majority of American travelers are in support of new restrictions and consider it important for people to follow them, how does this affect their travel future? These restrictions are achieving their intention to deter some travel right now in order to prevent further virus spread. Amongst those who live in states that have recently imposed new restrictions, over 30% reported that the new restrictions make them less likely to travel even within their own home states in the next two months.

 

 

Nevertheless, Americans appear appreciative of these rules. When it comes to how they feel about some U.S. states requiring a negative COVID-19 test or self-quarantining for a period of time, 57.5% approve or strongly approve of these state safety standards.

 

 

And when asked their opinion if a state they want to visit put into place such restrictions, about one-third indicated that this would make them more or much more comfortable in visiting the state (32.1%)—nearly identical to their comfort level traveling within their home state should their home state implement such restrictions (33.5%).

 

 

Complying with pandemic-induced rules, regulations and restrictions is imperative to controlling COVID-19 and American travelers are largely understanding and in support of this. Such restrictions and rules even have an added benefit of making some feel more comfortable with travel. And with a COVID vaccine distribution to the public on the horizon, hopefully the necessity of these rules will soon begin to fade.

 

Update on American Travel in the Period of Coronavirus—Week of December 14th

Americans’ anxiety about the coronavirus came on strong again this week, hammering travel sentiment for the near-term. However, news of imminent vaccines are once again having a profound impact on Americans’ outlook for 2021.

 

 

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 December 11th-13th.

Key Findings to Know:

  • After dipping last week, Americans’ anxiety about the coronavirus came on strong again this week—both from a personal health and financial standpoint.
  • These anxieties are hammering sentiment about travel right now. Rather than skewing towards readiness, Americans’ travel mindset is now evenly split between readiness and hesitation. Travel guilt, loss of interest in traveling for the time being, and agreement travel should be limited to essential needs only have all increased, while likelihood to travel over the next three months has decreased. Nearing two-thirds of Americans say the current pandemic situation makes them less likely to travel over the next three months. Such sentiments have led to inevitable behaviors–48.4% report they cancelled or postponed a trip specifically because of this current surge.
  • Positive vaccine news is appearing to have a profound effect. 58.9% of Americans are back to feeling that the vaccine developments make them more optimistic about life returning to normal in the next six months, while 51.0% say the vaccines makes them more optimistic they can travel safely by then.
  • The pandemic has, unsurprisingly, most weakened Americans’ sense of physical safety, as well as, sadly, their excitement about the future. However, an important percentage of Americans feels the pandemic has strengthened their feeling of being loved by others, and made them feel proud of themselves.
  • Americans continue to exhibit receptivity to travel marketing for future trips. 50.1% continued to show higher degrees of excitement about taking a getaway soon, and 45.7% continue to have higher levels of openness to travel inspiration. The percent of Americans who recalls seeing a travel advertisement recently has risen steadily since May.
  • Looking at the preferred channels for travel inspiration among those Americans most ready to travel, Facebook and Instagram, search engines and email campaigns is where these travelers will be most receptive.
  • The percent of American travelers who have at least tentative plans to attend a convention or conference in the next year has risen to 23.5% from 15.7% two months ago. Comfort attending these events starts to grow in June 2021 and continues throughout the subsequent months.
  • In our many recent interviews of meeting planners, it looks like hybrid events will be a norm in 2021. Fortunately, among those who have traveled for conventions in the last two years, 51.7% say they prefer in-person events. Yet, greater than one in five of these travelers (22.0%) say they prefer hybrid meetings. However, the destination in which a meeting is held could still sway a preference for in-person.
  • Don’t forget to register to attend a full update of these findings on Tuesday, December 15th at 11:00am ET.

After dipping last week, Americans’ anxiety about the coronavirus came on strong again this week. The percent of Americans with high degrees of concern about personally contracting the virus jumped up to 73.3% from 66.7%, and the intensity of the concern to 6.9 on an 11-point scale, up from 6.5 last week. In similar fashion, those highly concerned about their friends and family contracting the virus rose to 77.8%, and the average level of concern grew to 7.4 from 7.1. This is the first time during this current surge that these anxieties have reached levels hit during the spring and summer virus surges. With a relief bill still not yet passed in Congress, financial worries also grew, with concern about the virus’ impact on personal finances now at 6.0 and concerns for the national economy at 7.7. While down somewhat from last week, still 60.7% of Americans feels the severity of the coronavirus situation in the U.S. will worsen in the next month.

 

 

These anxieties are hammering sentiment about travel right now. Rather than skewing towards readiness, Americans’ travel mindset is now evenly split between readiness and hesitation—the last time this occurred was more than three months ago. This week, 54.6% of Americans said they would feel guilty traveling right now and loss of interest in traveling for the time being returned to 49.5% after falling to 43.1% last week. Over 58% feel travel should be limited to essential needs only and 54.8% agree they don’t want travelers coming to their own communities right now. Nearing two-thirds of Americans say the current pandemic situation makes them less likely to travel over the next three months. Such sentiments have led to inevitable behaviors– 48.4% report they cancelled or postponed a trip specifically because of this current surge.

 

 

Americans did receive a good “dose” of positive news in the last week, however, which is appearing to have a profound effect on their outlook for 2021. Last week the first person outside of trials was vaccinated for COVID-19 and shipments for an FDA approved COVID-19 vaccine began rolling out of a Pfizer plant in Michigan over the weekend. With vaccines imminent, the percent of Americans who say they are not traveling without one leapt up to 49.5% from 40.8% just last week. The percent of Americans who feel the recently developed COVID-19 vaccines are safe jumped to 62.4% from 53.3% last week. Now a study high of 49.6% affirm they will take the recently developed vaccine–up more than 10 percentage points in 5-weeks. 45.2% of parents with children under age 18 say they will vaccinate their children for COVID-19, up from 37.9% last week. Importantly, 58.9% of Americans are back to feeling that the vaccine developments make them more optimistic about life returning to normal in the next six months, while 51.0% say the vaccines makes them more optimistic they can travel safely by then.

 

 

As Americans look at what the coronavirus has taken away from us, they also see areas of their lives which the pandemic situation has strengthened. The pandemic has, unsurprisingly, most weakened Americans sense of physical safety, as well as, sadly, their excitement about the future. However, an important percentage of Americans feels the pandemic has strengthened their feeling of being loved by others, and made them feel proud of themselves and what they have been able to accomplish. When asked what emotions are priorities for them, two of the top four are happiness and relaxation–things travel still is called to provide when they are comfortable.

 

 

Americans continue to exhibit receptivity to travel marketing for future trips. 50.1% continued to show higher degrees of excitement about taking a getaway soon, a metric continuing to recover from a low point hit the week of November 16th. And 45.7% continue to have higher levels of openness to travel inspiration. In fact, the percent of Americans who recalls seeing a travel advertisement recently has risen steadily since May—up to 31.1% from 17.8%. When asked how the most recent travel ad they saw made them feel, 56.7% report this ad made them feel happy or very happy. Looking at the preferred channels for travel inspiration among those Americans most ready to travel, Facebook and Instagram, search engines and email campaigns is where these travelers will be most receptive.

 

 

Looking at the recovery of the meetings industry, the percent of American travelers who have at least tentative plans to attend a convention or conference in the next year has risen to 23.5% from 15.7% two months ago. Just 26.3% said they would be happy if they were asked by their employer to attend a conference within the next six months, while 42.0% would be unhappy. You can see this sentiment when looking at comfort levels in attending such events in each of the next several months. As shown in the chart below, comfort grows in June 2021 and continues throughout the subsequent months. Right now 54.3% of American travelers say they at least somewhat trust other conference attendees to behave in a way that keeps others safe from COVID-19, while 60.7% say they trust the event producers to look out for their health.

 

 

In our many recent interviews of meeting planners, it looks like hybrid events will be a norm in 2021. It is also important to track the level of threat virtual events pose to the recovery of the convention industry. Fortunately, among those who have traveled for conventions in the last two years, 51.7% say they prefer in-person events. Yet, greater than one in five of these travelers (22.0%) say they prefer hybrid meetings. However, the destination in which a meeting is held could still sway a preference for in-person. 56.7% of convention travelers say that where a convention is held would affect their preference for an in-person versus hybrid meeting.

 

 

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.

Explore! Eat! Engage! and Other Plans for 2021 Travel

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has crippled travel for ten long months and counting, many Americans are feeling hopeful about the trips they will be able to take in 2021. As part of our industry update webinar on December 8th, Dave Bratton, Destination Analysts’ Founder & Managing Director, interviewed four travelers to shed light on what they are looking for in destinations, the travel messaging that most appeals to them and how they feel about travel in the new year.

Read on for a summary of what they shared and watch the full panel discussion here:

 

 

We have not lost our taste for travel. The travelers we interviewed exhibited excitement and optimism about going on trips in 2021. Motivated by fond memories of past vacations, they already have budgets set aside for their next adventure. While some do not have an exact answer on when or where that next trip will take them, these travelers feel confident in their ability to manage the new reality of safety protocols and actually feel comfortable with the change. Lisa from Loganville, GA explains that educating herself and staying on top of science news help her make informed and safe decisions when planning a trip, while she still “tries to remain adventurous.” These travelers even expressed a willingness to book now for trips in the latter part of 2021—this is how enthusiastic they are for travel to return to normal again.

Travelers want to be wooed. Gently. Travelers are open to hearing about new destinations and receiving inspiration for future trips. While there is no simple answer to the question on how destinations should court potential visitors, advertising that acknowledges the anxiety-ridden situation people are in resonates. This panel of travelers agreed that messages such as, “We know what you are going through! When you are ready, we are here!” or “Please come see us, maybe not right now, but when you are ready. We are waiting for you!” best demonstrate that destinations are not strictly about profit but are considerate and are simply “offering an experience once people are ready.” And what is the best visual way to deliver advertising messaging to travelers? Lisa suggests, “We try to escape. Put up splashy ad campaigns with lots of pretty pictures. Mountains, beaches, etc. Things that catch our attention.” Akiko from Los Angeles, CA suggests to smartly package marketing campaigns with, “Check out deals now and book a package for 2021 or 2022. The deals are great!”

New experiences are high on the priority list. Describing himself as a traveler, Sam, who lives in Dun Loring, VA, does not hesitate, “Explore! Eat! Engage!” He continues, “I like to meet new people, talk to people, and learn about new cultures and experiences.” Akiko’s feelings are similar, “I’m a gourmet food, fun and excitement hunter when it comes to travel.” Underdog destinations, perhaps previously overlooked, are now enjoying new popularity with people like Charles of Minneapolis, MN, who wants the chance to disconnect completely, as they promise low crowds and off-the-grid experiences. As Charles elaborates, such destinations “have a bigger platform than before and it is a good time for them. That would definitely catch my attention and [if I saw an advertisement] I would definitely do some research.”

Rule following is critical to the ability to travel until a vaccine is available. These travelers expressed that the majority of Americans now recognize the necessity to comply with safety protocols in order for travel experiences to be available to them. And as a vaccine becomes an option, Lisa believes it will further erase fear and open many doors. “In general, I am very positive about 2021. I think travel-wise there will be an upswing and I am looking forward to it.” When it comes down to it, American travelers have been stuck at home but are ready to spend money on their next adventure.

We would like to thank Akiko, Sam, Lisa and Charles for sharing their views and the candid conversation.

As they expressed palpable excitement and enthusiasm for leisure travel, the outlook for 2021 is clearly positive. Both travelers and destinations alike should have much to look forward to in the upcoming year.

The 2021 U.S. Destination Hot List

From sunny Florida to cool Alaska, what U.S. destinations are American travelers looking to visit in the next 12 months?

 

 

COVID-19 continues to impact the way Americans experience travel and has muted their desire for travel inspiration. The chart below illustrates American travelers’ interest in learning about new, exciting travel experiences and destinations since the onset of the pandemic from our Coronavirus Travel Sentiment Index Study. On an 11-point scale, Americans’ level of openness to travel inspiration has not exceeded 5.6 on an 11-point scale, and even then has only reached this level at three points during the nine-months of the pandemic thus far.
 

 

While interest in learning about new travel experiences and destinations may still be depressed right now, Americans are expressing signs of optimism regarding their future travel. Due to recent vaccine developments, over half of Americans are more optimistic that they can travel safely in the next six months and 44.2% agree that their “first trip after a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available will be a vacation, likely to a place far from home.” With vaccine distribution likely to begin shortly, American travelers are hoping 2021 will provide a turning point to escape the boredom, misery and fear that defined 2020.

And it looks like many would love nothing more than to experience their favorite destinations once again. In the August 10th edition of our Coronavirus Travel Sentiment Index Study, American travelers surveyed were asked to list the three U.S. destinations that they most want to visit in the next twelve months. The following are the 11 most commonly named:

 

 

The most desired destinations represent a diverse range—from beach and urban destinations, to desert and mountain locations across the entire United States.

Florida, Las Vegas, California and New York are the top destinations American travelers most want to visit in the next year, with one-in-ten or more who wrote in these destinations. Hawaii and Texas follow closely behind as destinations these travelers would most want to experience, while Los Angeles, Colorado, Orlando, Alaska and Arizona round out the U.S. destinations travelers most want to visit in the next twelve months. Perhaps in the greatest testament to a movement towards “normal,” this most recent Destination Hot List looks nearly identical to pre-pandemic times.

But how has the Destination Hot List changed over the course of the pandemic? This same open-ended question was asked in the November 30th edition of the Coronavirus Travel Sentiment Index Study.

 

 

The top four destinations of Florida, Las Vegas, California and New York were largely always the top four, however they have seen the most fluctuation since August. For example, a quarter of American travelers surveyed November 20-22 reported Florida as a place they most wanted to visit in the next year; however, this dropped to 18.9% the week following.

There has also been a noted consumer shift towards cities again, after beaches and outdoor destinations dominated the first phase of the pandemic. As shown in the chart below, over a third of American travelers said the destination they most wanted to visit in the upcoming year was a city or metropolitan area.

 

 

While travel is still suppressed due to the lingering coronavirus, American travelers show signs of hope about their travel future and are keen to visit “hot” destinations in the next 12 months.

Update on American Travel in the Period of Coronavirus—Week of December 7th

While gloominess about the near-term still weighs heavy, American travelers look to a 2021 with 3 leisure trips, going to new places, enjoying nature and even work and school-cations for some.

 

 

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 December 4th-6th.

Key Findings to Know:

  • While 73.4% of Americans continue to have a high degree of concern about their friends or family contracting the virus, those with similar concerns about personally contracting the virus declined to 66.7%.
  • Nevertheless, Americans largely see the last month of 2020 as one in which the pandemic situation is going to worsen. In fact, Americans’ comfort going out for leisure activities even within their own community has declined for the last 3 weeks.
  • The current state of the pandemic has eroded Americans’ confidence that travel can be done safely.
  • The gloominess combined with more clarity on timelines for production and distribution appear to have muted some of the strong hope initially felt about a COVID vaccine. The percent who say the recent vaccine developments have made them more optimistic that they can travel safely in the next six months has declined to 46.0% from 52.5% three weeks ago.
  • Americans’ current sentiment has some impact on marketability for travel. Those in a travel readiness state of mind dropped to 52.5% from 55.5% in the last week, and those that can be motivated by discounts and price cuts to travel in the near-term dropped to 36.0% after hitting 40.3% two weeks ago.
  • However, Americans also still demonstrate openness to travel messaging. Those that agree that they have lost their interest in travel for the time being dropped to 43.1% from a high of 50.0% last week. And after consistently declining for a month, the proportion excited to learn about new, exciting travel experiences or destinations to visit improved to 44.2%.
  • About 80% of American travelers took at least one trip in 2020, with an average of 2.9 leisure trips reported.
  • Over 47% say they will prioritize leisure travel in their personal budget in 2021.
  • Americans plan on taking about 3 leisure trips on average in 2021—primarily to cities, small towns and beaches. One-in-five of these travelers anticipate at least one of these trips will be international. In terms of the actual experiences they will prioritize, spending time with loved ones, getting away from crowds, enjoying nature, going to new places they haven’t been before, excitement and energy, as well as budget travel will be top.
  • Well over a third of Americans whose job allows them to telecommute say they are likely to take a “workcation” in 2021. Meanwhile, 29.4% of Americans who travel with school-aged children say they are likely to take a “schoolcation.”
  • As to the most popular destinations Americans plan to visit in 2021, Florida, New York, Las Vegas and California look to remain tourism powerhouses.
  • Don’t forget to register to attend a full update of these findings on Tuesday, December 8th at 11:00am ET.

Over the weekend, COVID-19 surpassed heart disease as the top killer in the U.S. and 1 million more cases were recorded in just 5 days. Yet while 73.4% of Americans continue to have a high degree of concern about their friends or family contracting the virus, those with similar concerns about personally contracting the virus declined to 66.7%. Nevertheless, Americans largely see the last month of 2020 as one in which the pandemic situation is going to worsen. In fact, Americans’ comfort going out for leisure activities even within their own community has declined for the last 3 weeks.

 

 

Although there has not been a return to strong feelings that travel activities are generally unsafe, the current state of the pandemic has eroded Americans’ confidence that travel can be done safely. Half feel not very or not at all confident that they can travel safely in the current environment, while just 23.9% are confident or very confident—down from nearly one third six weeks ago.

 

 

The gloominess combined with more clarity on timelines for production and distribution appear to have muted some of the strong hope initially felt about a COVID vaccine. After Pfizer’s announcement ahead of the week of November 23rd, 58.1% said vaccine developments made them more optimistic about life returning to normal (or near normal) in the next six months. This week the percent that still feels this way dropped to 49.1%. Similarly, the percent who say the recent vaccine developments have made them more optimistic that they can travel safely in the next six months has declined to 46.0% from 52.5% three weeks ago.

 

 

Americans’ current sentiment has some impact on marketability for travel. Those in a travel readiness state of mind dropped to 52.5% from 55.5% in the last week, and those that can be motivated by discounts and price cuts to travel in the near-term dropped to 36.0% after hitting 40.3% two weeks ago. However, Americans also still demonstrate openness to travel messaging. Those that agree that they have lost their interest in travel for the time being dropped to 43.1% from a high of 50.0% last week. And after consistently declining for a month, the proportion excited to learn about new, exciting travel experiences or destinations to visit improved to 44.2%.

 

 

As we look to the quickly approaching new year and what travel may look like, it’s helpful to start with a look back on the travel that occurred throughout 2020, when less was known about, and Americans were less experienced with, the virus. About 80% of American travelers took at least one trip in 2020, with an average of 2.9 leisure trips reported. Looking at the months Americans report taking trips in, the months with the highest rates of travel post onset of the coronavirus—and after the initial shutdowns—were June and July. Lesser but relatively consistent numbers of Americans traveled in the Fall months. Fully one-in-five American travelers (20.4%) took a trip by air since the pandemic began. But Americans’ response to surges in cases is a reminder about what the travel industry will contend with until a vaccine is widely available. Nearly 47% of American travelers said they cancelled an upcoming trip specifically because of this recent surge we are in.

 

 

As so many feel their 2021 will be an improvement over their 2020, this week we asked American travelers what they anticipate about their travel in the new year. As detailed in the infographic below, Americans plan on taking about 3 leisure trips on average (approximately 1 trip less than pre-pandemic)—primarily to cities, small towns and beaches. One-in-five of these travelers anticipate at least one of these trips will be international. Well over a third of Americans whose job allows them to telecommute say they are likely to take a “workcation” in 2021. Meanwhile, 29.4% of Americans who travel with school-aged children say they are likely to take a “schoolcation.” Over 47% say they will prioritize leisure travel in their personal budget. In terms of the actual experiences they will prioritize, spending time with loved ones, getting away from crowds, enjoying nature, going to new places they haven’t been before, excitement and energy, as well as budget travel will be top. Hotels will still be the most common lodging type.

 

 

As to the most popular destinations Americans plan to visit in 2021, Florida, New York, Las Vegas and California look to remain tourism powerhouses. Of course, those in different generations and regions of the country have various travel tastes, with attraction to destinations like Hawaii, Colorado and Yellowstone National Park rising depending on age and residence.

 

 

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.
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Someone Thinks the Governor of Vermont is an Alien and Other Things We Learned From the Ski Industry

The above headline represents a real comment the General Manager of Jay Peak Resort in Vermont received from a guest who was protesting the resort’s requirement that he wear a face-covering in areas with other guests around. We note it here, as this type of griping unfortunately represents what many travel and hospitality professionals frequently deal with when trying to simply enforce basic pandemic safety protocols. Ski resorts and destinations, many of whom received record numbers of visitors on their mountains this summer and are now in the midst of a busy beginning of their snow season, are some of the most versed in operations and visitor communications in the pandemic. During our webinar on December 1st, our President and CEO, Erin Francis-Cummings, interviewed a panel of ski industry professionals and ski destination marketers about their outlook for the current ski season and what the greater travel industry can learn from their experiences. Read on for the great insights they shared and watch the full panel discussion here:

 

 

While some ski resorts are already packed, visitation to snow destinations will be uneven across the country this season due to differing local mandates and travel restrictions. As Kelly Pawlak, the President and CEO of the National Ski Areas Association noted, skiers “are looking for the path of least resistance” and so destinations with more restrictive policies may be more significantly impacted this season.

While some ski areas may struggle with attracting visitors, all are working hard to enforce COVID-19 safety protocols to keep their workers and skiers safe. As Steve Wright, the President and General Manager at Jay Peak Resort, mentioned, he established and trained a special team on how to firmly, but respectfully enforce the COVID-19 safety protocols with guests by promoting the message of “making sure the ski season stays open for everybody.” It is a matter of establishing a culture of safety that everyone can buy into and help reinforce. Kelly compares the current struggle to enforce COVID-19 safety rules to the past struggle of enforcing a no smoking rule on the mountain. When smoking was banned at ski resorts, although it met its fair share of opposition initially, it eventually became an expectation and non-issue for guests.

In addition to ensuring the safety of local residents and tourists alike, ski and snowboard destinations must make diligent efforts to teach new visitors how to respect the outdoor space and be conscientious of the environment. As John Urdi, Executive Director of Mammoth Lakes Tourism, shared, there was a massive increase in visitors to Mammoth Lakes this past summer who came to camp, yet these visitors weren’t attuned to the culture of keeping the outdoor space clean.

Big Sky capitalized on a tremendous public-private partnership to fund and implement an on-site testing program, marking a monumental achievement in coordination, planning and cooperation in the name of keeping visitors safe. Candace Carr Strauss, the CEO of Visit Big Sky, shared that “[their] focus has been safety first and adventure second.” A priority shift many destination marketers have had to make as the health crisis wears on.

While potential workforce shortages and finding housing solutions for seasonal staff continue to be challenges, another pandemic-related issue snow destinations and ski resorts are now facing is employee health and wellness. “This is something everybody is going to have to focus more on this year” according to Kelly. Workers are under an immense amount of stress in the COVID-era and extra resources are needed to help mitigate stresses, such as daily employee wellness checks and extra testing availability.

One cardinal lesson for other destinations, and all of us, is the importance of respect and collaboration. From empowering employees to enforce health and safety mandates, to positive reinforcement by thanking visitors for wearing masks, respect and collaboration are key to outlasting COVID-19. In the words of Candace, “Collaboration is king is what we’ve learned from COVID…we come together and work together to support the visitor industry.”