Americans exhibit competing and complicated emotions around safety and travel—increasingly confident, dreaming and planning travel at pandemic record levels, as well as opening back up to urban destinations—but still largely leaning into pandemic measures and protocols. Meanwhile, the COVID crisis’ alteration of business travel may be with us longer than we may have thought.
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 March 5th-7th.
Key Findings to Know:
With Texas and Mississippi announcing the lifting of COVID restrictions in their states this past week, interestingly there was a very small bump in the percent of Americans who feel the pandemic will get worse in the U.S., inching up to 16.3% from 13.7%. Nevertheless, half of Americans remain optimistic about the coming month. They also continue to feel safer—the average rating of the more than two dozen travel and leisure activities we track as “unsafe” has fallen another 3% this week to 40.0%. This a remarkable decline from a record-high 69.4% recorded the week of April 13th, 2020 and 57.8% at the start of 2021. Firm travel confidence is at a pandemic record 37.0%. However, we see the Americans’ competing and complicated emotions around safety and travel in their response to the question “All else equal, if a state fully lifted its coronavirus restrictions now, would this make that state a more or less appealing destination to visit?” About 45% of Americans say this would makes the state a LESS appealing destination. Yet over one-third say this would make the state MORE appealing; these travelers skewing Millennial males with children who reside in urban areas. For those responsible for tourism in their destinations, it’s important to note that those who find lifted COVID restrictions unappealing from a tourism standpoint skew towards tourism naysayers right now—largely agreeing they currently don’t want visitors in their own communities.
The COVID-19 vaccines continue to serve as a travel stimulator, with 37.8% who have begun planning or booking future travel in anticipation of the COVID-19 vaccine being widely available—up nearly 10% since the beginning of the year. However, there is also declining agreement that they will wait to travel until they get a vaccine. With the clear importance of COVID-19 vaccines to travel recovery—and the announcement out of Europe this week about vaccine “passports”—we aimed to further understand those American travelers who said they definitely will not receive a COVID vaccine (24.1%) or remain unsure (19.5%). While those who have received or plan to definitely receive a COVID vaccine express relief and excitement about it, when those who will not or are unsure about inoculation were asked their primary reasons for this, concerns about the vaccines’ side effects and that the vaccines were not adequately tested are most common.
American travelers are aligned on increased travel interest and activity. Openness to travel inspiration grew another 5% and reached another pandemic record high—now at 60.6%. In the past week, a pandemic-record 71.1% travel dreamt and/or planned. 15.0% said they actually made a booking, largely hotels and airline tickets. About 84% of American travelers have trips at least tentatively planned, and there is a growing percentage reporting planned trips for May (20.3%).
As more Americans travel through and post this pandemic, will they be open to visiting physical Visitor Information Centers? In total, 45.3% of American travelers say they have used a Visitor Information Center on a trip in the last 5 years. Well over half—54.4%—say they would be interested in using a Visitor Information Center on their domestic trips this year. In fact, relatively few express being uninterested (11.1%). In terms of their expectations for these centers, they largely want the traditional—recommendations from staff and physical brochures—with the pandemic principles of masking and distancing.
After suffering from the cancellation of convention and business travel in combination with travelers’ pandemic-induced leaning towards outdoor, rural environments, urban destinations continue on their paths of tourism recovery. This week, 38.8% of travelers taking leisure trips in the next 3 months report they will visit an urban destination, outpacing rural and beach. In addition, several iconic U.S. cities are back on the Hot List of the domestic destinations Americans name as one of the destinations they most want to visit in 2021.
As urban recovery is linked to business travel, this week our study once again examined business travel behaviors and perspectives on if and how it will be different going forward. Almost half of those employed by companies with business travel as part of their operations report that business travel has now resumed—nearly twice what it was six months ago. Of those who traveled for business prior to the pandemic, 49.5% feel the pandemic has or will change the way their employer does business travel. The most common way? Fewer trips overall, at 59.8%, up from 51.4% the week of December 7th. Also up is the percent who feel there will be a reduction in travel group size and budgets. Perhaps most alarmingly, 53% of business travelers currently agree they hope to not travel as much for work as they did prior to the pandemic. Hopefully, for this aspect of the industry, these attitudes shift as pre-pandemic/normal patterns resume.