Amidst the hubbub around the midterm elections and continued whispers around recession fears, American travelers quietly passed a milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic in the most recent The State of the American Traveler study, fielded from October 15-22, 2022.

For the first time since the start of the pandemic over two and a half years ago, the proportion of American travelers who are unconcerned about contracting COVID has surpassed those who are concerned. The percentage of travelers who say they are highly concerned about contracting the virus has dropped to just 38.4% of American travelers this month (see Fig. 1). This follows the trend we have been seeing since the omicron variant wave in winter 2021, with this month marking the lowest percentage since Destination Analysts started tracking this metric in March 2020.

American travelers’ confidence in their ability to travel safely in the current environment is also at an all-time high, with 60.4% saying they feel confident or very confident. In a similar vein, the share of travelers who say they are not very confident or not at all confident that they can travel safely right now is at its lowest point (9.3%).

Similarly, when asked what factors have kept them from traveling more in the past 6 months than they would otherwise have preferred, we continue to see a steady decline in the number of Americans who reported that safety concerns around the risks of COVID-19 are a travel deterrent (see Fig. 2).

These optimistic trends around COVID-19 safety concerns align with the continued upward trajectory in perceptions that we are returning to “normal” in the U.S. At another all-time high since the start of the pandemic, in this most recent wave nearly two-thirds (65.3%) of American travelers said we are more than halfway back to normal in terms of the resumption of typical leisure activities such as dining out and travel.

While these indicators have maintained their positive trends in recent months, Destination Analysts will continue to monitor American travelers’ sentiment and perceptions around COVID-19 and other health-related travel concerns on a quarterly basis in 2023.

To stay up-to-date on traveler trends, sign-up to receive monthly updates and Key Things to Know from our State of the American Traveler Study here.

Economic anxiety is increasing, and a period of more cautious travel spending appears imminent. Fortunately, holiday season trips and the near-term outlook for travel remain healthy.

IMPORTANT: These findings are brought to you from our independent research, which is not sponsored, conducted or influenced by any advertising or marketing agency. The key findings presented below represent data from over 4,000 American travelers collected in October 2022.

Economic Anxiety—and the Desire to Tighten the Purse Strings—are Increasing
American travelers expect that the U.S. will enter a recession soon, with two-thirds now believing this economic outcome to be imminent (interestingly, this belief spans generations, geographic regions and income levels). As such, 68% of American travelers say they are being careful with their money as a result of recessionary fears. Of this group tightening their wallets, 79% said this includes reducing expenditures on travel. In fact, the percent of Americans saying travel is a priority in their budget right now has hit a 10-month low (at 54%) and the percent saying the present is a good time to spend on travel is the lowest it has ever been since we began asking the question back in July 2021 (at 25%). The top deterrents to travel Americans report continue to center around financial and cost issues, with gas being too expensive, travel in general being too expensive, personal financial reasons and airfare being too expensive topping the list as reasons that have kept Americans from traveling more than they would have preferred.

Near-Term, Holidays + International Travel Expectations Still Healthy
Despite the growing concerns around travel spending, the near-term outlook for travel still appears healthy. Over 82% of American travelers say they already have existing trip plans. More specifically, in the next three months, 58% have a leisure trip planned, 51% have a trip to visit friends and family, 15% have business travel, and 9% have convention/conference travel. More than 28% report having plans to travel for leisure in the month of November (which is up 4-points compared to one month ago) and over 30% plan to travel in December (up 2-points from last month). Looking at travel for the upcoming holidays, 26% of American travelers report presently having plans to travel for Thanksgiving (up from 20% in 2021), 30% report Christmas travel plans (up from 27% in 2021) and 14% plan to travel for New Year’s (up from 12% in 2021).

Also in spite of economic anxiety, international travel interest has also grown to a year-to-date high. Currently, 31% of Americans saying they are more interested in traveling outside the U.S. than domestically (a 6-point increase compared to February 2022). Additionally, 34% say they are likely to travel outside the U.S. in the next 12 months (a 7-point increase compared to April 2022). The top international regions Americans are most likely to visit in the near future are Europe, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean Islands.

Among the most optimism-inspiring findings about the current sentiment towards travel is that Americans’ excitement about their future travel is back up to February 2022 levels (measuring 7.7 on a scale from 0-10, and among the highest levels recorded in the last 3 years). Nearly 80% of American travelers report doing some trip dreaming or planning in the last week, and 42% even agree that they daydream or fantasize about their future travel frequently.

Positive Sentiment Towards Air Travel Grows, But So Does Concern about Safety
Although Summer 2022 was a challenging period for air travel, in this latest wave of our The State of the American Traveler survey, air travel as a transportation preference has gained share from road trips. One-third report that they prefer air travel over road, cruise and train travel—up 4-points in the last month. Meanwhile, 40% prefer road trips, down 4-points since September.

Unfortunately, concerns about personal safety while traveling domestically are on the upswing. When asked how concerned they are about their personal safety when traveling within the U.S., 46% now say they have more than moderate concerns, which represents a 6-point increase in the last month. Over 7% of American travelers report that concerns about their personal safety even deterred them from traveling in the past six months.

Podcasts are Playing in Travelers’ Ears
Nearly 30% of American travelers report that they listen to podcasts on a regular basis. While true crime, comedy, news and entertainment themed content tops their playlists, 16% say they regularly listen to travel podcasts.

Greater Consideration for the Environment Being Exhibited
More than half of American travelers now say they usually make an effort to limit their personal impact on the environment when traveling, and 38% report that they planned carefully to reduce the environmental impact of their travel on their most recent overnight trip. Further findings about traveling consumer sentiment towards sustainability, climate change the environment will be explored and presented in our upcoming webinar on the Destination Management Edition of The State of the American Traveler on November 15th. You can register here.

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