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.”

Update on American Travel in the Period of Coronavirus—Week of November 30th

Nearly 14% of Americans report they took a trip for Thanksgiving 2020. Although government-imposed restrictions and virus anxieties are acting as a depressant on travel sentiment right now, 44% of American travelers agree they are taking a major vacation after a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, and Americans’ Destination Hot List is looking nearly identical to pre-pandemic times.

 

 

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 November 27th-29th.

Key Findings to Know:

  • Nearly 14% of American travelers report that they took a Thanksgiving trip. Nearly one-in-five Americans say they plan to take a Christmas holiday trip.
  • In terms of how Americans are feeling about the virus, many emotions remain largely unchanged, with anxieties about personally or loved ones’ contracting the virus and the pandemic’s impact on personal and national economics in an elevated but stable period that have not reached the peak levels seen during the two prior surges in March and July.
  • Such concerns are still impacting Americans’ current travel marketability. Americans’ openness to travel inspiration has been on a steady decline since October 18th and fully half of American travelers say they have lost their interest in traveling for the time being.
  • The focus of some recent news stories on pandemic behaviors in specific travel destinations is also acting as a sentiment depressant. In the past month, 35.8% of Americans report they have seen one or more COVID-19 related reports in the media about travel destinations where people were behaving in a manner that would make them feel uncomfortable visiting.
  • While a majority agree with new/reinstituted travel and other COVID related restrictions and agree it’s important people follow them, these restrictions are achieving their intention to deter travel right now.
  • Still, the worst of this latest surge’s impact on travel behavior may be passing or at least be in a temporary reprieve. The percent of American travelers who report they have cancelled or postponed any upcoming leisure trips because of the recent increases in COVID-19 cases in the U.S. has dropped to 38.1% from 47.4% two weeks ago, and now 56.3% say recent increases in COVID-19 cases around the country have made them less likely to travel in the next three months–down from 62.8% in the same period.
  • Reports of vaccine developments also continue to provide Americans hope about their travel future. Over 44.2% agree that their “first trip after a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available will be a vacation, likely to a place far from my home.”
  • This week 80% of American travelers have at least tentative trip plans for the future. The pandemic clearly still weighs heavy, with confidence travel can be done safely, easy cancellation policies and relaxation the top motivational attributes for taking a trip.
  • However, when asked where they most want to travel to in the next 12 months, the Hot List looks nearly identical to pre-pandemic, with Florida, New York, California, Hawaii and Las Vegas coming out on top.
  • COVID-19 testing will likely remain part of American travel behaviors for the near future.
  • Don’t forget to register to attend a full update of these findings on Tuesday, December 1st at 11:00am ET.

With the fourth major travel holiday of the pandemic passing amongst a litany of restrictions and warnings, the burning question is: did Americans take trips for Thanksgiving 2020? Nearly 14% said they did—a rate similar to Labor Day weekend. About half of these Thanksgiving travelers plan to quarantine for some period after their trip while the other half will resume their normal activities. As we look ahead to December, nearly one-in-five Americans say they plan to take a Christmas holiday trip.

 

 

In terms of how Americans are feeling about the virus, many emotions remain largely unchanged. Anxieties about personally or loved ones’ contracting the virus and the pandemic’s impact on personal and national economics are in an elevated but stable period that have not reached the peak levels seen during the two prior surges in March and July. Over 60% of Americans continue to believe the pandemic is going to get worse in the next month.

 

 

Such concerns are still impacting Americans’ current travel marketability. Americans’ openness to travel inspiration has been on a steady decline since October 18th, when it hit a pandemic peak, but is now at 4.9 on a 0-11 scale. This week, fully half of American travelers say they have lost their interest in traveling for the time being, and 62.0% say if they were to travel right now, they wouldn’t be able to fully enjoy it.

 

 

The focus of some recent news stories on pandemic behaviors in specific travel destinations is also acting as a sentiment depressant. In the past month, 35.8% of Americans report they have seen one or more COVID-19 related reports in the media about travel destinations where people were behaving in a manner that would make them feel uncomfortable visiting. Unsurprisingly, 79.8% of those who have seen reports of such behaviors say that this news makes them less interested in visiting these destinations.

 

 

The significant increase in cases has resulted in new or returning consumer restrictions around the United States. Over half of Americans reports that their local community has instituted more restrictive COVID-19 rules in the past month and over half feel more restrictions are coming. Just under one-third say new travel restrictions have been imposed where they reside, and just over one-third say they would be more comfortable traveling within their home states under such restrictions. And while a majority agree with new/reinstituted restrictions and agree it’s important people follow government restrictions and recommendations related to controlling COVID-19, these restrictions are achieving their intention to deter travel right now. 29.4% of those with trip plans cancelled or postponed by the pandemic say this was due to government travel restrictions and over 30% said new travel restrictions make them less likely to travel even within their own states in the next two months.

 

 

Still, the worst of this latest surge’s impact on travel behavior may be passing or at least be in a temporary reprieve. The percent of American travelers who report they have cancelled or postponed any upcoming leisure trips because of the recent increases in COVID-19 cases in the U.S. has dropped to 38.1% from 47.4% two weeks ago, and now 56.3% say recent increases in COVID-19 cases around the country have made them less likely to travel in the next three months–down from 62.8% in the same period. This week 55.5% have returned to a readiness (versus hesitation) state-of-mind about travel.

 

 

Reports of vaccine developments also continue to provide Americans hope about their travel future. A majority of Americans still feel the latest vaccine news makes them more optimistic they can travel safely in the next six months. Over 44.2% agree that their “first trip after a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available will be a vacation, likely to a place far from my home.”

 

 

This week 80% of American travelers have at least tentative trip plans for the future. In trying to understand what will motivate Americans to take trips, we requested those we surveyed to imagine that a friend or family member came to them with an idea to travel together in the next six months, and then asked what possible attributes of their friend’s travel idea would be most persuasive to get them to go. The pandemic clearly still weighs heavy, with confidence travel can be done safely, easy cancellation policies and relaxation the top motivational attributes. However, when asked where they most want to travel to in the next 12 months, the Hot List looks nearly identical to pre-pandemic, with Florida, New York, California, Hawaii and Las Vegas coming out on top.

 

 

COVID-19 testing will likely remain part of American travel behaviors for the near future. 28.7% of those who have traveled by air during the pandemic said they tested themselves after their most recent commercial airline trip. Nearly 40% of Americans say they plan on taking a COVID-19 test prior to taking their next trip.

 

 

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.

Moving the Travel Industry Forward on “Destinations. Passport to Travel & Hospitality”

Listen in on the recent episode of radio show Destinations. Passport to Travel & Hospitality, featuring Dave Bratton, Destination Analysts’ Founder and Managing Director.

With a mission to serve as the broadcast voice of tourism, talk radio show Destinations. Passport to Travel & Hospitality features thought leaders and industry professionals who discuss current and emerging trends and technologies that influence transactional decisions. During the November 15 episode of Destinations. Passport to Travel & Hospitality, our Founder & Managing Director Dave Bratton spoke with radio show host Kurt Burkhart, Founder and Managing Consultant of Destination Strategies Group, to discuss how current knowledge and recent findings from Destination Analysts’ Coronavirus Travel Sentiment Index Study can be utilized to move the industry forward in a positive and a sustainable way. The episode also features Ryan George, CEO of Simpleview, Robert Rauch of hospitality insights website Hotel Guru and CEO of RAR Hospitality, and Steve Paganelli, Head of Destination Marketing, Americas at TripAdvisor, who shared their perspective on the current state of the travel and hospitality industry.

Click below to tune in to the November 15 episode of Destinations. Passport to Travel & Hospitality.


Update on American Travel in the Period of Coronavirus—Week of November 23rd

As Americans head into Thanksgiving week—the fourth major travel holiday during this pandemic—record COVID-19 cases across the country continues to devastate sentiment about near-term travel and the industry’s ability to inspire new, incremental trips. However, there are indicators that the impact on travel may not be as deep or long-lasting as previous surges.

 

 

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 November 20th-22nd.

Key Findings to Know:

  • Anxiety about contracting the virus continues to rise. 62.9% feel things are going to get worse in the next month and only 13.5% feel it will get better.
  • This continues to devastate sentiment about near-term travel and the industry’s ability to inspire new, incremental trips. 61.9% of American travelers continue to agree that the current surge in cases has made them less likely to travel in the next three months. The percent of Americans who agree they have lost their interest in travel for the time being is now approaching half.
  • The poor course of the pandemic also appears to be affecting sentiment towards ski/snowboard travel this season. Fewer ski/snowboard travelers feel that a ski/snowboard trip is safe this 2020/2021 season than did in October. However, over two-thirds of these travelers say that the institution of pandemic protocols would make them more interested in taking a ski/snowboard trip this season.
  • Nevertheless, there are indicators that the impacts of this current virus surge on travel may not be as deep or long-lasting as previous surges. The perception of travel activities as unsafe, engagement in travel avoidance overall, avoidance of international travel specifically and avoidance of conventions are still not near peaks hit in July and April.
  • Looking locally, over 40% of Americans feel comfortable going out for leisure activities in their own communities. While 56.1% do not want tourists coming to their community right now, this sentiment is also not at July and April levels. Perhaps in a nod to lessons learned in previous stages of the pandemic, 61.5% agree they support more restrictive COVID-19 rules being implemented in their home community.
  • Americans continue to report having trips planned over the next year (82%).
  • As they look to where they want to travel to over the next year, Americans are most commonly reporting that relaxing, fun, memorable, affordable and comforting are important attributes in the destinations they consider.
  • The latest vaccine news has made 58.1% of American travelers more optimistic about life returning to normal (or near normal) in the next six months.
  • We wish you and yours a happy and safe Thanksgiving!

As Americans head into Thanksgiving week—the fourth major travel holiday during this pandemic—average daily coronavirus cases have spiked to more than two times what they were in July (during the previous summer surge in cases), and American deaths from COVID-19 cases surpassed a quarter of a million. Anxiety continues to rise, as 74.4% of Americans have a high degree of concern about their friends/family contracting the virus and 69.4% are highly concerned about contracting it themselves. Americans’ pessimism about the virus’ course in our country is now back at the level it was when we headed into the July Fourth weekend, with 62.9% feeling things are going to get worse in the next month and only 13.5% feeling it will get better.

 

 

This continues to devastate sentiment about near-term travel and the industry’s ability to inspire new, incremental trips. This week, 61.9% of American travelers continued to agree that the current surge in cases has made them less likely to travel in the next three months. The percent of Americans who agree they have lost their interest in travel for the time being is now approaching half—up 6 percentage points in the past month and at a level last seen in July. Six-in-ten American travelers continue to feel they would not be able to fully enjoy travel right now, and nearly 52% say they would feel guilty traveling, up 5 percentage points in a week. Americans’ state of mind around travel also took a dip after holding constant for the last two weeks, with those in a readiness mindset falling to 53.9%.

 

 

The poor course of the pandemic also appears to be affecting sentiment towards ski/snowboard travel this season. Fewer ski/snowboard travelers feel that a ski/snowboard trip is safe this 2020/2021 season than did in October (56.9% vs 62.5%). However, over two-thirds of these travelers say that pandemic protocols such as requiring guests to book their ski dates in advance and limiting the number of people allowed on the mountain make them more interested in taking a ski/snowboard trip this season.

 

 

Nevertheless, there are indicators that the impacts of this current virus surge on travel may not be as deep or long-lasting as previous surges. While the perception of travel activities as unsafe has crept up in the last two weeks (54.3%), it is still not near peaks hit in July (60.6%) and April (69.4%). Similarly, engaging in travel avoidance until the coronavirus situation is more resolved at 56.3%, not hitting prior surge peaks of 62.1% (July) and 82.8% (March). The avoidance of international travel specifically is at 75.2%, still a ways from how Americans were feeling in July (80.2%) and April (82.1%). Avoiding conventions and conferences is at one of the lowest points it’s been in the pandemic—falling below 70% for the first time since June 7th. Looking locally, over 40% of Americans feel comfortable going out for leisure activities in their own communities—more than twice the number than in the early stage of the pandemic. While 56.1% do not want tourists coming to their community right now, this sentiment is also not at July and April levels. Perhaps in a nod to lessons learned in previous stages of the pandemic, 61.5% agree they support more restrictive COVID-19 rules being implemented in their home community.

 

 

Americans continue to report having trips planned over the next year. In fact, over 82% have at least tentative plans for travel, with fully 17% saying they plan to take a trip at the start of summer 2021, in June.

 

 

As they look to where they want to travel to over the next year, Americans are most commonly reporting that relaxing, fun, memorable, affordable and comforting are important attributes in the destinations they consider.

 

 

The recent news about COVID-19 vaccines also has Americans feeling some optimism. While just 28.9% felt it was likely we would have a vaccine developed by the end of 2020 on November 8th, now 57.1% do. This week, 58.6% believe a vaccine that is developed will be safe (up from 50.3% at the beginning of the month) and 46.2% say they definitively would take a vaccine. The latest vaccine news has made 58.1% of American travelers more optimistic about life returning to normal (or near normal) in the next six months. Interestingly, with a COVID-19 vaccine looking more realistic for the near future, more Americans are saying they won’t travel without a vaccine–46.6%, up from 38.2% at the start of November.

 

 

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.

How US Border Destinations are Faring with COVID-19’s Impact

Until the COVID-19 pandemic upended the world we knew, cross-border travel along our Canadian and Mexican borders had been a way of everyday modern life. In addition to the important cultural contributions, this travel was quite a significant contributor to the US economy. In 2019, of the 79.3 million international visitors to the United States, 20.7 million were from Canada and 18.1 million were from Mexico, representing $20.6 and $17.6 billion in spending in the U.S. As coronavirus cases surged in April however, the United States, Mexican and Canadian governments agreed to limit all non-essential travel across borders. As of this week, this order has been extended until December 21st.

To more deeply understand the impact of the border restrictions and what we can learn about the resumption of international travel, Destination Analysts’ Senior Research Director, Myha Gallagher, led a discussion with four DMO professionals from border destinations on what they’re currently seeing in their destinations and what they expect for the future.

Read below for our key takeaways and watch the full discussion here:

 

 

What We Learned

Our Integrated Economy is at Risk

The four DMO panelists refer to the border regions between the US and Canada and Mexican borders as a binational economy. As Ed Healy, Vice President of Marketing for Visit Buffalo Niagara, described: “traditionally there has been a great back and forth. We have been particularly dependent on the Canadian consumer for many, many years.”

By the numbers, these DMO professionals are seeing great loss from these border travelers:

– Buffalo (Northeast continental US) and Bellingham Whatcom County (Northwest continental US) are seeing similarities in that Canadians not only come to spend time in their destinations on a leisure trip but they also cross the border to take advantage of the good exchange rate. Ed shared, “[In Buffalo] our largest shopping mall estimates that 35-40% of their customers are Canadian.” Additionally, Ed communicated that the “Buffalo-Niagara Airport relies tremendously on Ontario-based consumers who use our airport.”

– Sandy Ward, President & CEO of Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism, reported similar figures for her destination that “Canadian shopping such as gas, food and clothing comprises 41% – 44% of our retail sales and 60-73% of fuel tax revenue from border towns in the county rely on Canadians purchasing gas.” Ultimately, retail sales in these communities are down considerably. Sandy said “Retail sales [in Whatcom County] have fell between $54-65 million in Q1 and Q2 2020 due to COVID restrictions—a 6% decline in retail sales.”

– Impact along the Mexican border has been similarly devastating. Prior to the pandemic, Tucson (60 miles north of Mexico and considered to be a border zone) welcomed millions of Mexican visitors annually. Felipe Garcia, Executive Vice President of Visit Tucson, explained, “75% of Mexican visitors primarily come to Tucson to shop and spend $1 billion every year in my community.” The impact goes far beyond shopping. Felipe noted, “They are coming here to see the doctor, because they have businesses and buying second homes.” Looking specifically at communities closer to the border, Felipe shared their dire state in that “It is like a ghost town. We are starting to see boarded up windows because they can’t continue their business operations. We need those tax dollars.”

– San Diego also benefited greatly pre-COVID. Susan Bruinzeel, Senior Director of Planning & Research at San Diego Tourism Authority, shared, “We have the busiest border crossing in the world with 55 to 60 million annual northbound crossings along the San Diego and Tijuana border.” Additionally, San Diego’s airport has a land bridge at the Tijuana border which allowed these visitors to fly to other destinations in the US with ease. Susan indicated, “This was a large marketing opportunity for us. 4 million day-visitors for shopping, visiting attractions and family and half a million staying overnight in private home and hotel stays pre-COVID.”
 

 

Travelers Are Adapting, Maybe Permanently:

Travelers are developing other travel habits. Sandy explained, “The closure is going to have long-term impact on shopping travel behavior because they have formed some new habits. We think Canada is enjoying keeping Canadian dollars in Canada.”

With shopping being a huge reason why Mexicans and Canadians have historically visited the United States, new habits could potentially negatively impact the infrastructure currently in place. But these challenges are also seen as an opportunity. Felipe said, “Mexicans were behind in their online shopping and had a huge leap. In Tucson, we’re offering a service where people can buy online and sales tax is generated in Tucson.”

Even with the pandemic keeping the borders closed, these DMOs are actively staying in communication with nearby border communities. Felipe’s approach is to “host a 3-4 segment on two different new outlets based on the needs for communication,” while Ed is staying active by “connecting with social media followers and through newsletters. We plan to start ramping up next year.” And Sandy shared they “would like to mount a major campaign once border restrictions have been lifted.”

Culturally, there is an expectation that this will remain in tack as Susan indicated, “the binational piece, the maquiladora industry is not likely to change.”
 

 

We Have a Long Way to Go Before Travel is Back to Pre-Pandemic Levels

With the way the pandemic is going right now, these DMO professionals remain unsure when borders will reopen. Noting the dependence on policies outside their control, as Felipe said, “We don’t have CDC guidelines on how to reopen the border.”

Ed indicated that opening the border is “highly dependent on the effectiveness of the vaccine and consumer confidence.” Sandy expressed concerns that she has heard that even if the border was open, we may not see increased visitation because “the US must get the virus under control.”

However, given these challenges, the DMOs remain optimistic. “Right now we have the wait and see approach,” Sandy shared.

We are extremely thankful for the insights shared by our panelists Ed, Felipe, Sandy and Susan. We are looking forward to when cross-border travel can resume!

Update on American Travel in the Period of Coronavirus—Week of November 16th

The alarming trajectory of the pandemic in the U.S. has hit travel sentiment and trip plans hard for the near-term, but American optimism about the safety of 2021 travel soared on Pfizer’s vaccine announcement.

 

 

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 November 13th-15th.

Key Findings to Know:

  • As daily cases exceeded 180,000 in the last few days, Americans’ concerns about contracting COVID-19 rose right alongside. 60.7% believes the pandemic will be getting worse in the next month; just 14.3% feels it will get better.
  • The trajectory of the pandemic continues to depress how Americans feel about travel for the near-term, with excitement levels for taking a potential getaway in the next month and openness to travel inspiration declining, while loss of interest in travel for the time being and guilt traveling increase.
  • This latest surge in COVID-19 cases has resulted in actual trip cancellations and postponements (47.4%), as well as the loss of trips that may have come to fruition if the pandemic was on a better course. Now 62.8% express that what’s happening with the pandemic has made them less likely to travel in the next 3 months.
  • While feelings about travel in the short-term may be depressed, there continue to be positive indicators for travel’s future. The perception of travel and leisure activities as unsafe has not gone back up to peak levels recorded in July and April. Americans’ travel state-of-mind remained steadfast.
  • In total, 23.1% of American travelers have taken a trip by air during the pandemic and 58.1% have taken a road trip. Nearly three-in-ten say they plan to take a holiday season-related trip. In addition, nearly 80% have at least tentative trip plans for some time in the next year.
  • Over 60% of American travelers said Pfizer’s announcement that their experimental vaccine is likely more than 90 percent effective at preventing the Coronavirus disease made them more or much more optimistic that they can travel safely in 2021. For the nearly half of American travelers who say they would feel guilty traveling right now, two-thirds of this group says an effective vaccine would assuage this guilt.
  • When American travelers were asked to name a celebrity or public figure that they think would be best to market a national coronavirus vaccine program, Dr. Anthony Fauci, came out on top.
  • We are reminded this week about the positivity of travel on human culture. Nearly half of American travelers say they are likely to support minority-owned businesses on their next trip, and over half are likely to support businesses that they believe make a positive societal impact wherever their travels take them next.
  • Don’t forget to register to attend a full update of these findings on Tuesday, November 17th at 11:00am ET.

As daily cases exceeded 180,000 in the last few days, Americans’ concerns about contracting COVID-19 rose right alongside. Americans are especially concerned about their family and friends getting the virus. Those in the Northeastern region of the country continue to express the strongest concerns about this, now followed by those in the Midwest. Americans are back to where they were in July in their pessimism—60.7% believes the pandemic will be getting worse in the next month; just 14.3% feels it will get better.

 

 

The trajectory of the pandemic continues to depress how Americans feel about travel for the near-term. Those with high excitement levels for taking a potential getaway in the next month plummeted over 7 percentage points since last week, and openness to travel inspiration also declined to the lowest level it has been since August 9th. The percent that agree they have lost their interest in travel for the time being increased to 46.2% from 43.1% in the last week. About 60% of American travelers say they wouldn’t be able to fully enjoy travel, and nearly 47% say they would feel guilty traveling right now.

 

 

This latest surge in COVID-19 cases has resulted in actual trip cancellations, as well as the loss of trips that may have come to fruition if the pandemic was on a better course. The proportion of American travelers that said they cancelled or postponed a trip because of the increasing cases has jumped to 47.4% from 41.8% in a week. Now 62.8% (up from 60.2%) express that what’s happening with the pandemic has made them less likely to travel in the next 3 months.

 

 

While feelings about travel in the short-term may be depressed, there continue to be positive indicators for travel’s future. American travelers’ concerns about the pandemic’s impact on their personal finances is at one of the lowest levels it has been during the pandemic (54.8% have elevated concerns). The perception of travel and leisure activities as unsafe has not gone back up to peak levels recorded in July and April. Travel also continues to happen. In total, 23.1% of American travelers have taken a trip by air during the pandemic and 58.1% have taken a road trip. Nearly three-in-ten say they plan to take a holiday season-related trip. In addition, nearly 80% have at least tentative trip plans for some time in the next year, although over a third are eyeing May 2021 or later. Americans’ travel state-of-mind remained steadfast, with 57.1% expressing readiness versus hesitation.

 

 

Perhaps the best news the travel industry has received in a long while was pharmaceutical company, Pfizer’s announcement that their experimental vaccine is likely more than 90 percent effective at preventing the Coronavirus disease. Indeed, over 75% of American travelers took this as good or great news, with 60.9% saying the announcement made them more or much more optimistic that they can travel safely in 2021. Now 42.0% of American travelers say if a COVID-19 vaccine is developed later this year (or early next year) and approved for use they would take it, up from 39.2% last week. For the nearly half of American travelers who say they would feel guilty traveling right now, two-thirds of this group says an effective vaccine would assuage this guilt.

 

 

Inspired by NPR’s recent story on how Elvis Presley was used to help market the polio vaccine, we asked American travelers we surveyed to name a celebrity or public figure they feel would be best to market participation in a national vaccine program. The responses were as interesting and varied as America itself, but with our National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director, Dr. Anthony Fauci, coming out on top.

 

 

Finally, we are reminded this week about the positivity of travel on human culture. Nearly half of American travelers say they are likely to support minority-owned businesses on their next trip, and over half are likely to support businesses that they believe make a positive societal impact wherever their travels take them next.

 

 

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.
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The Present & Future of Live Events

They are exhilarating. They raise our spirits. They bring us together. But the future of in-person concerts, festivals and live events is currently uncertain. Although 75 percent of those Americans who actually attended a live event since the onset of the pandemic in March felt “safe” or “very safe” at said event, nearly nine-in-ten American travelers report they have not purchased any tickets for an upcoming live event. Moving forward, how can the event production world deliver the thrill and the magic, while keeping us socially distant and safe? Destination Analysts Senior Research Director, Myha Gallagher, interviewed three major event producers who shared what they foresee to be the future of live events for the short and long term. Read below for our key takeaways and watch the full discussion here:

 

 

Our Key Takeaways:

 

Promoters avoid pushing the envelope, especially as cases rise in some states where a live event was held. Notes Chad, “Because cases keep going up in those states, it’s more of a dire warning on why it is important to be smart and safe about opening.” For those determined or obligated to hold an event during the pandemic, their large network of promoters reinforces the idea to do so under the strictest guidelines possible.

There are challenges filling venues even when going above and beyond safety requirements. As Becca explains, “It is difficult to get artists who feel comfortable coming onto the forum and it is difficult to find consumers who are interested in putting themselves at risk. Even when going every extra mile to make sure that it is incredibly safe.”

Enforcing mandates & protocols requires a hearty amount of vigilance and effort. Not wearing a face mask at all times, not wanting to stay seated and dancing too close at a concert is now an offense which prompts immediate removal. Promoters and venues have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to endangering lives, thus making these new and extra monitors on attendees behaviors a lot of work. Make their job easier by following the rules required of you.

Drive-in shows offer communities a safe and enjoyable experience. They also provide a great opportunity for artists to perform on stage, showcase their music/art and interact with the audience. However, revenue is derived from sponsorship instead of ticket sales and profit margins are thin. Nevertheless, Dawson feels that,
“It’s great to be able to offer the community something to do.”

On-site testing is currently too costly to be a real solution. When asked about the potential impact of rapid on-site testing for entry as a solution for getting live events back sooner, these three shared that the cost per test is still far too high for consumers’ tolerance.

There may be a limit to demand for pre-recorded/ virtual events. The entertainment industry is considering various ways to provide the consumer with a variety of virtual entertainment experiences. However, Dawson thinks that, “There’s so much effort being put into creating the illusion of connection, which is what people go to events for. And I think that all the gimmicks of virtual events are going to start to wane as people realize ‘I really just want to be around another human.'”

Lingering concerns about event-goers and artists contracting the virus, as well as collective pressure not to promote in-person events has coordinators pushing back in regards to holding live events. While promoters were initially expecting events to pick up in the spring of 2021, they are now realizing that in-person live events, especially large-scale events, might not resume until 2022.

The love for live events is enduring. Despite 2022 looking more like their reality on the return, Dawson is optimistic pointing out that, “We are getting creative. There are a lot of interesting ideas that are sort of percolating in the live event production world.” Chad adds that they plan on holding the events that have been getting pushed along by the pandemic, “Company-wide we have seen that 86 percent of ticket buyers are not seeking refunds. They want to hold on to their tickets to go to these future events. That is something we feel really hopeful about.” Sharing their optimism for a 2022 revival is Becca, “Once everybody starts to do it again, it’ll be a snowball effect and then the industry will be booming.”

Many thanks to Dawson, Becca and Chad for the great conversation. We hope to be dancing and singing along at one of their events soon.

The Rough Road for Millennials During the Coronavirus Pandemic

 

It is no secret that the coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on our lives, our priorities and our emotions. In the 34th wave of our Coronavirus Travel Sentiment Index Study, we asked American travelers about their lifestyle priorities over the next six months and how they’ve been recently feeling.

When asked how they will prioritize each of several aspects in the next six months—similar to when we have asked this question in the past—staying safe from infection is what American travelers will most prioritize, with 78.6% who currently say that it is a high or essential priority. And this is followed by emotional well-being, finding joy, relaxation and escape from stress—all of which are aspects that travel can certainly deliver.

In looking at this recent data by generation, Baby Boomers are the likeliest to prioritize staying safe from infection in the next six months, while Millennials are least likely to do so. Meanwhile, when it comes to escaping stress and making money, these are much higher priorities for Millennials than for Boomers. This perhaps is not so surprising, as Millennials appear to be the most stressed out generation. On a 10-point scale from “1=No stress” to “10=Severe, frequent stress,” Millennials reported an average daily stress level of 6.2 in the last month, while Baby Boomers reported a lower average stress level of 4.7. Millennials are more stressed, and escaping stress in the next six months is a high priority.

 

 

During the last month, American travelers have more commonly experienced positive emotions. They reported feeling happy, calm or relaxed, grounded and content or satisfied “most of the time” or “often.” Meanwhile, negative leaning emotions, such as staying up at night worrying and persistent loneliness, are less prevalent.

There are certainly generational differences when it comes to these recent feelings and emotions. Baby Boomers were more likely to feel positive emotions—including happy, calm, grounded and content—while Millennials, who experience higher levels of stress, were more likely to report recently feeling negative emotions. In addition to their higher propensity to feel worry and loneliness, Millennials were also likelier than their older counterparts to feel tired or worn out, bored, like they want to get away from where they are, sad, agitated, easily upset and like they want to get as far away from home as possible.

 

 

While the coronavirus has presented many challenges, it appears that Millennials have been experiencing an especially tough time. In addition to their propensity to feel negative emotions in the past month, Millennials have also experienced sleep disturbances or changes in their sleep pattern since the emergence of the coronavirus. Over half of Millennials “sometimes” or “frequently” experienced sleep disturbances since the onset of the pandemic, compared to one-third of Baby Boomers (51.3% vs 32.3%).

However, despite the rough road for Millennials, there is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Millennials are more optimistic about the coronavirus situation, with a higher likelihood than Baby Boomers to agree that “things are going to get better soon” (38.4% vs. 30.0%) and that the situation will be resolved before the end of the year (22.2% vs. 9.5%).