Update on American Travel Trends & Sentiment—Week of May 10th

Despite the excitement driving the return to normalcy, travel marketers would be wise to factor in the more lasting effects of the pandemic on travelers’ attitudes, and thus consequent behaviors. Many travelers report that the pandemic has changed them, leaving them more budget and safety conscious, and generally more on their guard. Even with the growing selection of cities as trip destinations, travelers report they are more into the outdoors than ever.

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 15, 2020, Destination Analysts has surveyed 1,200+ American travelers about their thoughts, feelings, perceptions and behaviors surrounding travel—specifically in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic—and explored a variety of topics. The key findings presented below represent data collected May 6th-8th.

Key Findings to Know:

  • Vaccination continues: 57% of American travelers are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and a record 72.1% say they have or intend to be vaccinated. With the approval of vaccines for ages 12-15 announced last week, over half will have their children take a vaccine (53.5%, up 4 percentage points from last week).
  • Coronavirus anxiety—both from the health and financial perspectives—remains lower than any other period during the pandemic. In fact, the proportion of Americans now unconcerned reached record-highs. Meanwhile, pessimism about the pandemic’s course in the U.S. reached a record-low (10.9%).
  • The returning belief in travel’s safety remains strong. Three-quarters of American travelers have confidence they can travel safely right now, and a record-high 40.5% say they will NOT be avoiding any travel until the pandemic is over. Half of American travelers say they won’t feel guilty traveling right now, either.
  • Over 70% of American travelers are highly excited by the prospect of near-term travel and highly open to travel inspiration. More than three-quarters of American travelers say their state-of-mind around travel is “READY.” Nearly 35% of American travelers researched travel ideas online in the last week, a pandemic-record.
  • Over 90% of American travelers have trip plans right now, and plan to take 3.0 leisure trips this year, on average. More than 75% will take a trip within the next 3 months.
  • Consumer expectations about travel prices may have started to catch up with the reality of the demand. The proportion who believe travel prices will be low this summer declined, and is now outweighed by the proportion who feel this will not be the case.
  • Despite excitement for a return to normalcy, travel marketers would be wise to factor in the more lasting effects of the pandemic on travelers’ attitudes, and thus consequent behaviors. Many travelers report that the pandemic has changed them, leaving them more budget and safety conscious, and generally more on their guard. Compared to their pre-pandemic selves, three-quarters say they are now more safety conscious, 45 percent feel they are now more budget conscious, and fully 58% say they have an elevated concern that “something could go wrong” on their upcoming trips.
  • Travelers say the pandemic has changed them in other ways, including being much more interested now in outdoor activities and being close to nature. Careful trip planning will likely be more important to travelers in the post-pandemic world, with nearly 40% now more into this behavior. As was realized early on, the pandemic has most challenged growing customer bases for cruises, as well as amusement parks and cities. Of the activities we tested, traveler interest in cruising has taken a significant overall decline (33.9%). The results are less dramatic for amusement parks and cities, but overall about as many travelers say they have lost interest in these experiences as have gained interest in them as a result of the pandemic.
  • The pandemic has also disrupted trust in travel information, although fortunately American travelers are more likely to say the pandemic has left them more trusting in information sources available to them (38.1%) than less trusting (23.8%).
  • In good news for the meetings and convention industry, avoidance of these events reached a record-low (53.2%).
  • Local support of tourism keeps growing, as well. The proportion who don’t want travelers in their community remains under 40%. Anticipated happiness of seeing a travel ad about their community rose again, this time to 56.8%, the highest level recorded in the pandemic.
  • Follow us on social for infographics of these and other key findings. Need assets for a presentation or something else? Find all the presentation decks from our ongoing traveler research here—new decks posted each Tuesday afternoon. And please join us every Tuesday at 11:00am EST for a live presentation of the latest insights into traveler perceptions and behaviors.

    We appreciate your support of this research from our small but mighty team of devoted tourism researchers.

    To make sure you receive notifications of our latest findings, you can sign up here.

    Have a question idea or topic you would like to suggest we study? Let us know!

    We can help you with the insights your tourism strategy needs, from audience analysis to brand health to economic impact. Please check out our services here.

    Update on American Travel Trends & Sentiment—Week of May 3rd

    It was yet another record week for consumer sentiment in travel’s recovery. However, despite acknowledgement of the strong travel demand this summer, many are likely to find that travel prices don’t match their discount-oriented expectations.

    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 15, 2020, Destination Analysts has surveyed 1,200+ American travelers about their thoughts, feelings, perceptions and behaviors surrounding travel—specifically in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic—and explored a variety of topics. The key findings presented below represent data collected April 30th – May 2nd.

    Key Findings to Know:

  • It was yet another record week for consumer sentiment in travel’s recovery.
  • Record vaccinations: Now nearly 7-in-10 American travelers have or plan to get vaccinated from COVID-19. Just over half (51.5%) of American travelers report now being fully vaccinated—and nearly 90% of these vaccinated travelers are now comfortable with the idea of traveling, another pandemic record.
  • Strong optimism: Near-term expectations for the pandemic situation improving in the U.S. grew dramatically this week. The percent of American travelers feeing the next month would see improvements grew to 59.4%, up from 44.35% last week.
  • Record feelings of safety in the pandemic era: The trend in feeling safer about travel accelerated this week. The rating of over two dozen travel & leisure activities as “unsafe” fell to a record-low 30.4%. Confidence in travel’s safety hit a pandemic-record 45.8%.
  • Record support for local tourism in the pandemic era: Travelers are also feeling safer in their own communities, with 65.6% saying they’re comfortable going out in their home communities, another pandemic record. When asked how they would feel seeing a travel advertisement for their home community, 54.6% said they would be happy or very happy. A record-high 26.9% say they “disagree” that they don’t want tourists coming to town, and those agreeing with this sentiment dropped to a low of 39.8%.
  • Enthusiasm for travel at 1-Year High: Travel readiness hit a pandemic-record 77.0% this week. Now 73.5% of American travelers say they have high levels of excitement about travel this year, up from 65.0% last week. Meanwhile, rejection of travel guilt hit a record-high 47.6%.
  • More Boomers join in on the travel excitement: Despite being among the first groups to be vaccinated, for the last few months, our research had shown a majority of Boomers being more modest in their sentiments around travel. But this week, Boomers had the greatest growth in their travel marketability index score, relative to any other segment we track.
  • Record travel dreaming, planning and booking this year: In the last week, a record 80.2% of American travelers dreamt or planned travel, including 21.6% who made reservations or bookings—another record. Among the bookers, 52.1% reserved a hotel room and 43.1% bought airfare. Now an incredible 76.5% expect to travel in the next 3 months, and anticipated travel spending in this time frame reached a record $1,768.
  • The outlook for summer travel grew even stronger: About 87% of American travelers expect to be taking trips this summer, be it a vacation, visiting friends or relatives, business trip or meeting at a conference.
  • Travelers expect this summer travel season to be a busy one: With the exception of small towns/villages and rural destinations, more than half of traveling consumers expect destinations to be (very) busy or crowded this summer. In fact, nearly 75% expect beach/resorts destinations to be crowded. A majority of Americans also expect it to be busy at a number of venues and places, from museums to concerts to sporting events. Interestingly, after airports and flights, Americans expect the most crowding at bars and nightclubs in Summer 2021.
  • Consumer price expectations haven’t caught up to demand expectations: Despite anticipating that it will be busy pretty much everywhere this summer, a notable proportion of travelers are expecting travel costs to be moderate. About half (49.6%) agree that travel companies will keep prices “reasonable” this summer, and 40.4% even feel it will be a “buyer’s market” this summer. Despite over two-thirds of travelers expecting it to be busy for air travel and in hotels, over 40% expect prices for airfare and lodging to be lower than normal. And discounts and deals as a travel motivator hit a pandemic-record 55.5%.
  • Cities keep on the recovery trajectory: Now 41.2% of those traveling for leisure in the next 3 months say they will be visiting cities, up from 35.9% last week.
  • The top 3 most common desires for travel this year (notably different from 2020): Chill-out/Decompress, Experience Beautiful Places, Do New things/Visit New Places.
  • Wanting more inspiration and more from influencers: This week, American travelers also report being more open to travel inspiration, with 71.2% saying they were excited to learn about new destinations and travel experiences (up from 62.7% last week). Nearly a quarter of all travelers—and well over a third of Millennial and younger travelers—report using digital influencers as part of their travel process, primarily those who are honest, provide new ideas and specialize. The most common trip decisions influencer-users were motivated by these personalities to make were for destinations to visit, restaurants and hotels.
  • Follow us on social for infographics of these and other key findings. Need assets for a presentation or something else? Find all the presentation decks from our ongoing traveler research here—new decks posted each Tuesday afternoon. And please join us every Tuesday at 11:00am EST for a live presentation of the latest insights into traveler perceptions and behaviors.

    We appreciate your support of this research from our small but mighty team of devoted tourism researchers.

    To make sure you receive notifications of our latest findings, you can sign up here.

    We can help you with the insights your tourism strategy needs, from audience analysis to brand health to economic impact. Please check out our services here.

    The Hotel Industry’s Road to Recovery

     

     

    It is no secret that the coronavirus pandemic has crushed the hospitality industry. Hotels especially suffered a devastating blow, with many of them struggling for survival. According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association, hotels were one of the first industries affected by the pandemic after travel was forced to a halt in early 2020, and it will be one of the last to recover. However, American consumers are resilient and increasingly ready to travel.

    As part of our industry update webinar on April 20th, we were fortunate to be joined by hotel executives, Nikki Keenan, Senior Vice President at Fertitta Entertainment, Azim Saju, President & CEO at HDG Hotels and Ed Mace, President & CEO at Silverwest. Destination Analysts’ Founder & Managing Director, Dave Bratton, led an enlightening discussion with the panel of accomplished hotel executives, who offered a glimpse into their unique world. You can watch the panel discussion in this video and read our key takeaways below.
     

     

    Key Takeaways:

     

    The demand for leisure travel is back and is expected to last throughout the summer. With many hotels running significantly behind budget, the beginning of March looked bleak. However, that soon changed. According to Azim, who owns hotels across Florida, “In the last four to five weeks, it seems like someone turned the lights on in Orlando. There have been huge pickups in demand.” That trend appears to be continuing as many hotels have surpassed their April forecasts. Similar experiences are seen in the Western region of the U.S., where outdoor destinations have done well throughout the winter and are well-positioned for the summer. Ed, who runs properties in Colorado and Hawaii shared that, “Hawaii has come roaring back. Reservations skyrocketed. Every week in Hawaii has been an increase over the prior week in terms of reservation pick-up. Summer looks really, really good!” While heightened leisure demand continues increasing into the summer months, consumers should be cognizant of the fact that “we are going to see some serious headways on rates.”

    While there are signs that group business is returning, the demand is gradual and booking windows are shorter. For Nikki and her company, who manage hotels in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and Texas, their Houston properties appear to have a healthy 3rd and 4th quarter for group business. While Ed is relatively confident that group business will return and has groups on the books in 2022, he does feel that it’s a little too early to call it a victory. Azim, who acknowledged that booking windows for both leisure and group business are much shorter now compared to pre-pandemic, has yet to book any groups. Furthermore, in markets like Orlando, where group business has been severely affected, there is a struggle to offer competitive group rates while also “having the confidence to raise rates when you’re seeing demand even if the booking window is short because you’re worried that you’re going to lose business.”

     

     

    Staffing is clearly a major challenge for hoteliers, however they also face challenges around setting guest expectations. After having to lay off a large percentage of their workforce, “Labor is probably the number one challenge. The whole industry is really struggling to get jobs filled.” Azim urged others in similar positions to reach out to local congressional officials about their staffing and employment concerns so that “they can understand the consequences of their legislative actions and how it is impacting our economy and our businesses.” Nevertheless, hoteliers are offering compelling incentives to recruit and keep staff, such as sign on and retention bonuses, paid time off, benefits and scheduling flexibility. Alongside limited staff, hoteliers are also met with the challenge of setting visitor expectations both within the hotel and in the destination. Hotels have had to be the bearers of news that clearly impact the visitor experience and guests are conceivably confronted with limited capacity, amenities and services, lack of restaurant and rental car availability and currently closed businesses.

    In addition to communicating that travel can be done safely, Destination Marketing Organizations can support hotels by celebrating the hospitality industry. The panel of distinguished hotel executives requested DMOs to generate the message that hotels, airlines, attractions and all tourism-related businesses have carefully developed protocols and guidance to keep visitors and staff safe. Highlighting outdoor experiences that naturally allow for social distancing is another way DMOs can help the hotel industry. And last, but certainly not least, DMOs can celebrate the hospitality industry and show what an amazing industry it is to work in. The support of DMOs in celebrating the industry is extremely helpful, and will surely go a long way, in attracting and rebuilding a workforce.

    As the hotel industry continues to embark on the road to recovery, hoteliers are keen to deliver relevant visitor experiences and will continue to enforce with confidence that it is fun and safe to travel. We would like to thank Nikki, Azim and Ed for sharing their time and outlook on the hospitality industry.