As COVID-19 spreads, so does its devastation on how Americans feel about travel. In the latest wave of Destination Analysts’ Coronavirus Travel Sentiment tracking study (collected March 20-22), nearly two-thirds (64.3%) of the 1,200+ American leisure and business travelers surveyed said their travel had been upended by the virus. This is up 20 percentage points from just one week prior and nearly six times what it was on February 22nd.
Unfortunately, this impact appears to have resulted in more cancelled—rather than postponed—trips. As shown in the graphic below, 63.0% of American travelers who had travel affected by coronavirus have cancelled a trip (up from 55.1% on week prior), while the percent reporting they have postponed a trip has declined from 51.0% to 46.7%. Other reported impacts on travel—such as changing destinations–have not yet been significant.
One of the most challenging findings from this week’s survey is that the percent of American travelers optimistic the coronavirus situation will be resolved by the summer travel season has declined to 37.5%, down from 52.5% last week. What was seemingly a glimmer of hope just a week ago has been diminished.
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 about purchasing here.
NOTE: An enormous “THANK YOU” to our friends at the Virginia Tourism Corporation for allowing us to share this data from an ongoing American Travel Sentiment study Destination Analysts conducts on the organization’s behalf.
Between February 19th and 21st, Destination Analysts fielded a survey to a random sample of American travelers which, among other topics related to their travel, inquired about the impact of the coronavirus on their current and future travel plans. During this (now relatively blissful) period, the virus had not yet had such an extensive global reach. There were only a few cases of coronavirus in the United States and no related deaths. With a few exceptions, most international and domestic flight service was near normal levels. Italy was amongst the top foreign countries Americans wished to visit.
Although there has been a rapid change in circumstances (as pandemics tend to do), looking at American travelers’ response to coronavirus at that time gives us some view into the scale of its ultimate impact.
During those few days in late February, 11.4 percent of American travelers said that the coronavirus had affected their travel in some way. Another 8.2 percent felt unsure. Being younger and having children appeared to be key factors in whether one was impacted: 20.1 percent of Gen Z travelers said their travel was affected, compared to just 8.0 percent of Boomers. Those with children under the age of 18 in their household were more than twice as likely to say their travel was affected compared to those without kids (18.4% vs. 7.9%)
For those who said their travel was in some way impacted by coronavirus, we asked a follow up question as to how. As shown in the accompanying chart, most commonly a trip that was planned for the subsequent few months had been cancelled, and concerns about traveling had increased. Also note that at the time, one-in-five of these travelers who were affected said a trip that had been planned in the previous month had already been cancelled.
Interestingly, how an American traveler was impacted varied greatly by age. Millennial and Gen Z travelers were much likelier to say a trip in the coming months had been cancelled compared to Baby Boomer travelers ( 42.4% vs. 15.5%). Older travelers were likelier to express increased concern about traveling (55.6% of impacted Boomers compared to 12.1% of impacted GenZ and Millennial travelers). Well over half of Baby Boomer travelers who felt that their travel had been impacted by coronavirus said they were avoiding certain destinations; comparatively, less than 10 percent of impacted younger travelers felt that way. Millennial travelers also appear largely unwilling to give up travel—just 6.8 percent of those travelers whose plans were affected by coronavirus said they “will not take as many trips as I normally would have.”
The study of the changing extent and impact of the coronavirus on travel and the travel industry is, of course, ongoing. To our clients and industry partners, please be assured we will update you as much and as often as we can.
One of the theories the travel industry is hopeful about is that amidst the current reality of flight cancellations, travel advisories and quarantines, a deep well of wanderlust will be building amongst travelers—and like prisoners in a jailbreak, will rush to express itself once opportune to.
This would be an ideal outcome, given the thousands of tragic deaths and devastation the virus has caused the global economy. Adding salt to this deep wound, prior to the coronavirus unleashing its havoc, the travel industry looked poised to have a good year. Domestically, in our January The State of the American Traveler study, Americans reported a greater number of leisure trips, and their optimism for increased leisure travel in 2020 had inched up from 12-months prior. Findings from our 2020 The State of the Global International Traveler study showed similar enthusiasm amongst travelers across much of the world–and, sadly, demand for Japan and Italy—countries now facing major travel restrictions—were amongst the highest globally.
What might we expect after the pandemic hopefully ceases? Let’s look more deeply at China as a case study on what we might hope for.
Destination Analysts fielded its annual The State of the Global International Traveler survey to a random sample of Chinese international travelers between January 19th and 27th. During these nine days, the first dozen deaths from coronavirus were recorded, Wuhan and 12 other cities were placed on lock down, Lunar New Year celebrations were cancelled and travel restrictions were imposed. The full extent—and consequent impact—of the virus on the Chinese and world’s health systems, travel systems and economies was still yet unknown.
However, at that time, Chinese international travelers expressed increased optimism for their international travel in 2020 (65.5% said they would take more international trips this year than they did the year prior, and 62.5% said they would spend more on their international travel this year than previously), returning to levels in 2016 and 2017—when Chinese arrivals to the United States were in a period of strong growth. One-in-five Chinese international travelers said that their global travels would be an “extremely high priority” in terms of what they choose to spend their financial resources on this year. Another 28.2% said it would be a “high priority.” This sentiment, along with their anticipation to travel and spend more internationally (in fact, the average Chinese international traveler said they would be spending US $3,542 on international travel this year), puts them as among the most aspirational international travelers in the world.
When Chinese international travelers feel a semblance of normalcy again, the United States looks to be a beneficiary. When asked to name—in an unaided format—the top three foreign countries they most wanted to visit in the next year, the United States was written in by 41.1 percent of Chinese international travelers—it was second only to Japan (50.5%) and nearly double the third most written in destination, France (22.3%).
So as we send gratitude and support to healthcare communities across the globe, and wish for healing and recovery soon, as we look to the future, we as the travel industry may have some reasons to feel hopeful.
What do meeting planners love about CVBs? What services do meeting planners wish to see more of from CVBs in order to make their destination top-of-mind? And, with a constantly changing industry, what are the predominant trends?
Destinations International invited us to speak at their 2019 Annual Convention on the future of the meetings industry. CEO Erin Cummings and Director of Research Myha Gallagher, along with a live online panel of meeting planners, discussed trends impacting the meetings industry, the most valuable assets of CVBs according to meeting planners, and what meeting planners hope to see more of from CVBs in the future. The 500 meeting planners who completed the survey represent a variety of meeting types—corporate, association, smerf, third party—meeting sizes, and industries.
Trends in the Meetings Industry
Trends in travel shift every year as motivational factors for selecting destinations change. It is vital that CVBs understand these trends in order to market accordingly. “We asked meeting planners in an open-ended format to expound on the trends they feel will have the biggest impact in the future,” Gallagher explained. Here’s what we found out.
“Technology – you’d better keep up or you will be obsolete.”
Time and time again, technology was mentioned among surveyed meeting planners as an omnipresent force in the industry.
“I think that social media culture will continue to mean driving meeting attendance by promising a unique and different event experience with memorable photo ops.”
Another sentiment commonly shared among respondents was that the growing popularity of mobile apps and/or social media allows for virtual sharing of meetings content. There was also
the notion that social media culture demands for a type of “social proof” to document the event experience.
“Live streaming & on-demand will become much more prevalent due to decreasing costs & more competition & improving technologies”
In a similar regard, technology not only provides access to social media sharing but allows for sharing through a live stream meeting, extending the reach.
“More attendees reserving short-term housing rentals (Airbnb) vs. hotel rooms.”
Cummings pointed out that planners noticed an increase in AirBnB access and preferences for lodging outside hotels among attendees. There was ambiguity about whether this will help or hurt meeting attendees.
What Meeting Planners Love About CVBs
We asked the surveyed meeting planners what are CVB best practices. They responded that they love when CVBs provide personalized hotel selection assistance, incentive packages, and RFP distribution.
Gallagher acknowledged that “I have long heard grumbling that hotel salespeople often don’t bring in the CVB.” We addressed this in our study: there is a growing agreement among meeting planners that if national hotel sales offices worked closely with the local CVBs, meeting planners would benefit (81.5 percent of respondents “Agreed” or “Strongly Agreed” with this notion, which is up from 77.1 percent the previous year). We hope to bring the hotel community into the discussion next year.
Keys for Marketing to Meeting Planners
“Given that meeting planners are such important customers to CVBs,” Cummings noted, “it is important that CVBs know how to attract more engagement from them.” We asked the meeting
planners which CVB behaviors would have the greatest impact on them using their services more.
“Based on our findings,” Cummings recapped, “the greatest impact a CVB can have on a meeting planner is to guarantee a sit-down meeting to truly understand their event and act as a partner, rather than a salesperson.”
The meetings industry is an integral part of tourism profit. Ensuring that CVBs have an up-to-date, accurate understanding of the attitudes and needs of their most significant customers is paramount to their success.
By Eva Tirion
Climate change is on the minds of many American leisure travelers. In fact, fully half (50%) say that they expect it to impact their travels in one way or another at some point in the next five years.
Climate change has emerged as an impactor of travel decisions among half of American travelers. A recent edition of our The State of the American Traveler survey asked travelers if they expect that climate change will impact their travel plans at some point in the next five years. We found out that its on the minds of many, and not only because of volatile temperature changes. Travelers are thinking about long-term consequences too.
15.2% of Americans report that climate change will change how they travel. One in every five Americans believe climate change will alter the destinations they chose to visit (20.9%). The largest percent of respondents (28.5%) believe it will change the timing of their trips.
“If sea levels rise, I’d assume some shore destinations and islands would be affected. Already I was unable to go to a destination of choice as it was decimated by a very strong hurricane a couple of years ago.”
Many American travelers responded that natural disasters would completely deter them from planning a trip to that destination. Not only would a natural disaster force them to cancel their plans, but if the area has prior history of hurricanes, typhoons, or earthquakes, it makes the traveler significantly less inclined to plan a trip. Travelers are already experiencing the effects of natural disasters on their travel decisions: one traveler reported that the recent mudslides and wildfires in California makes them significantly less inclined to plan a trip, even though they have frequented the state in past years.
Destruction of coastal destinations is also a major concern among travelers. Fear of sea level rise make travelers feel a sense of urgency to plan a trip before cities are submerged. Others expressed sadness that once thriving national and state parks, their preferred destination, are being destroyed. One traveler expressed anger that their once beloved snowy destinations are “being robbed of their beauty.”
“I need to make sure my family and I are safe when we travel.”
Some travelers had specific examples of how climate change is pervading their personal lives and travel decisions. A common sentiment among travelers is an awareness that they are already changing the time of year they plan to travel based on weather patterns. One respondent explained that their family lives in a place they feel will be severely affected by glacier melting, and therefore they might have to stop traveling there soon. Another respondent reported that although they used to travel to Los Angeles frequently, the air quality has gotten so poor they can no longer. A third wrote that as temperatures increase in their home in Texas, they will soon be searching for cooler destinations and traveling more frequently during peak summer months. Plenty of people responded that the safety of themselves and their family while travelling is an increasing concern as global warming becomes more threatening.
“Climate change will make me more aware of my impact on my surroundings while traveling and try to minimize my effect on these destinations by showing respect for the environment to preserve it for future generations.”
Climate change isn’t just affecting where Americans travel, but how they travel. Many respondents acknowledge that the cost to travel will increase as certain destinations are more highly demanded. There is desire among respondents to be more thoughtful about their own environmental footprint by, for example, changing their mode of transportation to a train or boat. Others reported that they would be more attracted to sustainable regions in the coming years.
American travelers evidently think that climate change is a substantial factor to consider when planning a trip. In five years, will climate change be the number one influencer of travel decisions?
By Eva Tirion
Travel-planning apps promise endless information to help us execute the perfect trip. Yet, our research shows us that these apps haven’t yet reached their fullest potential. How can destinations make the most out of their apps? The answer might be as simple as developing trust and personalization.
Every year brings new, cutting-edge technological advancements. As many of us know by now, smartphones are reliable and capable tools to assist with day-to-day tasks and provide a plethora of knowledge. It feels like technology is always one step ahead of us, keeping us connected and organized.
But according to our recent The State of the American Traveler survey, technology isn’t always the preferred source of knowledge used when it concerns travel planning. The report, published every quarter, asks a representative sample of 2,000 American leisure travelers about their travel plans for the upcoming year. The Spring 2019 findings show a notable decrease in American traveler’s use of apps to plan their trips compared to Spring 2018.
The most drastic difference compared to Spring 2018 is the decrease in use of company-specific hotel apps. There was a 13 percent drop in usage among travelers between Spring 2018 and 2019. Additionally, while a solid 60.0 percent of American leisure travelers used an online travel agency last year, this year the corresponding figure has sharply dropped to 52.0 percent. Similarly, only 44.0 percent of travelers report using online recommendations such as TripAdvisor, Yelp, or Trippy compared to 47.1 percent one year earlier. Airline and last-minute travel detail hotel apps both decreased somewhat as well.
Three apps did, however, appear to be on the rise. Weather apps increased in Spring 2019 from 25.5 percent in 2018 to 29.7 percent. Travel logistics and management apps increased from 8.4 percent in 2018 to 12.3 percent. Lastly, language translation apps increased to 7.6 percent, which is up from 5.5 percent one year ago.
So, why is this? Naturally, travelers want to feel a certain level of trust familiarity when receiving recommendations to plan their trips. As seen in the graph below, face-to-face interactions with relatives and friends score high in frequent use and assert the highest level of trust. But when travelers observe friends and family over social media to glean travel advice, both use and trustworthiness decrease.
Word of mouth is clearly the dominant travel-planning source, because leisure travelers value face-to-face interactions when receiving travel advice and use it to plan their trips more frequently. It makes sense: why would you take advice from a stranger through a screen when you could take that of a family member’s, who is more likely to know your idea of a perfect vacation?
Travel apps have the potential to provide greater variety and quantity of information compared to the knowledge and experience of a fellow traveler, there is no doubt about that. Recommendation Apps such as TripAdvisor and Yelp offer a plethora of honest opinions from real-life travelers. Travelers clearly appreciate the quantity of information travel apps provide, but maybe these applications haven’t yet reached their potential to include what travelers would consider a “quality” recommendation.
So, how can travel marketers generate the same level of trust as word of mouth? Providing user-generated content on the app or website, such as photos and videos of the traveler’s experience, could increase trust beyond a recommendation they write. Another idea is having filter options that allow the user to “customize” their ideal vacation experience and then receive recommendations based on their results. If destination marketing organizations and travel brands could incorporate the relatability and personalization of word of mouth, while maintaining the quick, accessible plethora of information that is appealing about travel-planning apps, it could have a significant impact on the future of travel planning.
Search engine optimization for websites is now commonplace among companies, but image SEO isn’t as widely practiced and holds potential for unique user engagement. Whether images of your destination are used by travelers for in-market planning or merely travel inspiration, ensuring that these images are optimized across search engines is vital to destination exposure and capturing interest of the traveler.
When I was young, my family and I would sit around the dinner table contemplating where our next family vacation spot would be if money weren’t a factor. These conversations launched my sister’s year-long campaign to plan a trip to Bora Bora. At least once a week, she would whip out her smartphone and scroll through photos of tropical, Bora Bora beaches on her Instagram feed, stream videos of Bora Bora snorkeling adventures, and search photos of Bora Bora sunsets on Google. It was relentless, but quite effective and did spark some interest from my parents thanks to the quantity and variety of photos my sister found online.
Fast forward to now, and my sister’s travel planning methods are not far off from the average American leisure traveler, according to our The State of The American Traveler study. The study (a report on which is published every quarter—go here to subscribe), asks a representative sample of 2,000 American leisure travelers about their travel plans for the upcoming year. In the most recent survey, we asked travelers if they use their mobile phones to find inspiration and ideas for where to travel for leisure, and unsurprisingly, 61% of travelers reported using their mobile devices to, at the very least, find travel inspiration.
Mobile phones provide access to many types of information, such as DMO, hotel, and airfare booking websites. This information was clearly valued by travelers in our study, as the most common approach to find travel inspiration was a search engine for a general web search (69.8%). But the second largest percentage was a search engine for images or photos (39.4%). I found this interesting and it got me thinking: can image SEO help DMOs influence travelers beyond the reach of website SEO?
Image SEO is becoming more popular as companies realize the power of a photo. An article published in November 2018 by RedJavelin Communications gives tips on how to optimize image SEO. These tips include making the image certain dimensions so it is device-friendly and giving the image a thoughtful name so that it will appear in a search with relevant keywords. The article cites a study (see below for data) done by Jumpshot in September 2018, identifying the top SEOs used in the United States. Google Images emerged as a significant SEO (21.03%), supporting the data above from The State of The American Traveler.
It isn’t new news that when users see an image and text together, it is stored in memory for longer. Images not only broaden the type of user engagement but strengthen the chance that your destination will be remembered for the next potential vacation spot. And the exploration of the destination doesn’t end once the traveler sees the photo: Google Images provides a “visit” button on the righthand side of the photo, creating a new channel into your website.
Additionally, as seen on the chart above, using social media intentionally to create more photo exposure is another SEO method to consider. Travelers can like, share, and send images they find on Facebook or Twitter, for example, of your destination with a simple click of a button. The likelihood that your images will appear on these platforms increases with the frequency that you post. And as professionals in marketing know, including a photo with the information you post increases the likelihood of user engagement.
Image SEO is clearly an emerging tool to consider when trying to reach more travelers. Ensuring that images of your destination are easily accessible on the web not only offers a new channel to your website, but these images can then circulate through social media and increase visibility. When I finally land on a beach in Bora Bora, it’ll be image SEO that I thank.
Complete results from our January The State of the American Traveler survey will be released in February. As an early sneak peak, this post looks at domestic traveler sentiment and what may be early signs of a softening leisure market.
The new year has started with undertones of considerable uncertainty. While economic indicators had remained strong for much of the past year, talk of a slowdown now is in the wind. Sluggish growth, trade wars, higher interest rates, inverted yield curves, political gridlock and government shutdowns are all part of the conversation. We are currently experiencing what may be early signs of a pessimistic shift in the collective traveler psyche, as our latest sentiment tracking survey point toward a potential weakening of the domestic leisure travel market.
Every quarter, Destination Analysts ask a representative sample of 2,000 American leisure travelers about their travel plans for the upcoming year. In the most recent survey wave, the percent of travelers who said they expect to travel more in the next 12 months decreased. Only 33.4 percent said they would be taking more trips, compared to 37.0 percent one year earlier. As this data typically has a seasonal pattern, comparing past January waves is likely to be the best point of reference. The chart below shows how travel expectations have dipped significantly below performance levels seen in the past two years.
This moderate degree of pessimism seen in trip expectations also extends to future travel spending. When asked if they expect to spend more in the upcoming year on leisure travel, only 32.2 percent of American leisure travelers said that they would be beefing up their expenditures. This is down from 36.5 percent one year ago.
Travel volume and spending expectations have indeed softened, but potentially more unsettling is a drop in the general sentiment of how important leisure travel is as a budgetary item. Once a year, we ask how much priority travelers intend to place on leisure travel as they allocate their family budgets. At this time last year, nearly two-thirds of American leisure travelers (65.3%) said that leisure travel would be at least a “somewhat high priority.” This year, the corresponding figure has sharply dropped to 59.6 percent. The chart below shows the results from this year.
So, what’s the bottom line? It may be too early to tell. As we move further into 2019, we expect that the domestic leisure market will likely remain robust, however a significant downside potential exists. With uncertainty on so many fronts, we’ll hold our breath and hope for a positive outcome.
Earlier this year, our blog examined a variety of natural disasters through which our clients had unfortunately been suffering. (Read more here) Of course, we hoped that was the end of it. Our friends in the industry would see no more trouble; or as the great Willie Nelson said, “nothing but blues skies from now on.” Alas, those dreams were shattered this summer when a severe and unusually persistent Red Tide ravaged the south Florida tourism industry.
If you’re not familiar with what a Red Tide is, it’s a real mess. Red Tide is a dangerous accumulation of naturally-occurring microscopic alga that has been documented along Florida’s Gulf Coast since the 1840’s and occurs nearly every year. It can harm sea life as well as cause respiratory inflammation and unpleasant burning skin reactions in humans. A combination that is not good for tourism. This year, an unusually persistent Red Tide — the longest in the area since 2006 — happened along the Florida Gulf Coast. In coastal tourism communities, the impact to the local tourism economy was severe.
If there is any good news in the situation, it’s that only half (49.1%) of American leisure travelers had actually heard of the Red Tide situation prior to taking our most recent The State of the American Traveler survey. (This may be one of the few cases where a destination marketer wants its customers to be in the dark, unfamiliar with its product.) Still, amongst American leisure travelers, the event has had a significant impact on desires to visit.
When asked how the Red Tide would impact their travels in the next 12 months, 40.3 percent said it would make them less likely to visit the Florida Gulf Coast. While a certain percentage seem interested in experiencing this unusual event, they are outnumbered 5 to 1 by those who say they are less likely to visit.
Impact of the 2018 Red Tide
(Effect on Likelihood to Visit the Florida Gulf Coast in the Next Year)
The impression left by this disaster with travelers isn’t good. While it is unclear how this will actually impact travel behavior, let’s hope that people have short memories and that the upcoming year will be a banner one for Florida tourism. As a matter of fact, as we move into the New Year, let’s hope for a 2019 free of the disasters that have recently destroyed the great work being done by our destination marketing community.