Update on American Travel in the Period of Coronavirus—Week of November 9th

Americans are feeling somewhat more hopeful about the pandemic and travel, but the recent surge has diminished some potential trip volume that may have occurred. An approved vaccine continues to be very promising in bringing a segment of travelers back and increasing travel overall. In the meanwhile, most still want to see people masked in travel ads.

 

 

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 6th-November 8th.

Key Findings to Know:

  • While Americans overwhelmingly remain in an elevated state of anxiety, fewer feel the coronavirus situation is going to get worse in the next month, the perceptions of travel activities as safe rebounded, and excitement for a potential getaway, openness to travel inspiration and the ability of discounts to motivate travel all improved.
  • Nearly 6-in-10 Americans have returned to a readiness state of mind around travel.
  • A pandemic-high 36.5% of American travelers say they would be happy—or very happy—to see an ad promoting tourism to the place where they live. However, the desire to see people wearing masks in all travel ads has remained strong.
  • The current surge is not without its impact: 60.2% say that the recent increases in COVID-19 cases around the country have made them less likely to travel in the next three months and 41.8% report that they have cancelled or postponed an upcoming leisure trip because of the worsening of the pandemic in the U.S.
  • Nevertheless, eight months into the pandemic, Americans do exhibit signs of adapting towards regaining normalcy, needing fewer circumstances to feel comfortable returning to their pre-COVID lifestyle.
  • Since September, there has been a 5% decrease in the percent that affirm they would take a COVID-19 vaccine that is developed this year or in early 2021 (39.2%), but the length of time Americans say they prefer to wait to take an approved vaccine has lessened.
  • If a COVID-19 vaccine was required before traveling, nearly 60% of American travelers said this would make air travel feel safer and nearly 50% said they this would make cruise travel feel safer. In addition, 36.7% of American travelers say the availability of an official document confirming COVID-19 inoculation would make them more—or much more—likely to travel in the next 12 months.
  • When asked about the COVID-related protocols they feel are absolutely necessary to feel comfortable attending special events and festivals, desires are similar to retail businesses, in that they want masking, frequent cleaning and limited crowd sizes to ensure social distancing is possible.
  • Don’t forget to register to attend a full update of these findings on Tuesday, November 10th at 11:00am ET.

Americans spent much of the last week awaiting election results and watching COVID-19 continue to set new records in our country–hitting the highest daily number of new cases since the pandemic began. While Americans overwhelmingly remain in an elevated state of anxiety, they may be feeling slightly more hopeful. This week, somewhat fewer feel the coronavirus situation is going to get worse in the next month (58.7% down from 60.9%). After worsening for two weeks, the perceptions of travel activities as safe rebounded back to pandemic-period low levels. Excitement for a potential getaway and openness to travel inspiration improved, as did the ability of discounts and price cuts to motivate travel. Less Americans agree that they wouldn’t be able to fully enjoy it if they traveled right now, dropping 5% in the last two weeks (60.1% to 55.1%). Thus nearly 6-in-10 Americans have returned to a readiness state of mind around travel.

 

 

With their desire for travel inspiration returning and their comfort going out for leisure in their own communities growing, now 36.5% of American travelers say they would be happy—or very happy—to see an ad promoting tourism to the place where they live. This exceeds the percent that would be unhappy by over 8% and represents a pandemic-period record high. However, given the vast majority of Americans who have high degrees of concern about personally or friends/family contracting coronavirus, their desire to see people wearing masks in travel ads has remained strong. When asked how they would advise advertising agencies about the use of masks in travel advertisements, nearly half said everyone in the ad should wear a mask. Another quarter says it depends, but people should be wearing them when appropriate. Just 14.5% advised that no one should wear masks in travel ads.

 

 

Given the pandemic’s heavy influence on travel sentiment and behavior, the current surge is not without its impact. The percent with high degrees of concern about the virus’ impact on their personal finances and the greater economy increased this week. And the surge looks like it has diminished the potential volume of travel that could have occurred. Looking at the percent of Americans who have traveled since the onset of the pandemic in March, it appears that still only around half are traveling. Now 60.2% say that the recent increases in COVID-19 cases around the country have made them less likely to travel in the next three months. Unfortunately, 41.8% report that they have cancelled or postponed an upcoming leisure trip because of the worsening of the pandemic in the U.S.

 

 

Nevertheless, eight months into the pandemic, Americans do exhibit signs of adapting towards regaining normalcy. When asked what they need to feel comfortable going back to their normal (or near-normal) lifestyle, notably fewer need a number of circumstances to be in place compared to than in the first phase of the pandemic in April.

 

 

However, the one area nearly 47% of Americans have remained steadfast in needing to return to their normal lifestyle is a COVID-19 vaccine–although the percent agreeing they need a vaccine to do any travel has been on the decline for the last four weeks (38.2%). Since September, there has been a 5% decrease in the percent that affirm they would take a vaccine that is developed this year or in early 2021 (39.2%), but the length of time Americans say they prefer to wait to take an approved vaccine has lessened, so that 30% feel they now need less than three months. When vaccines become available, they continue to be very promising in bringing a segment of travelers back and increasing travel overall. If a COVID-19 vaccine was required before traveling, nearly 60% of American travelers said this would make air travel feel safer and nearly 50% said they this would make cruise travel feel safer. In addition, 36.7% of American travelers say the availability of an official document confirming COVID-19 inoculation would make them more—or much more—likely to travel in the next 12 months.

 

 

Prior to the pandemic, nearly one-third of American travelers took trips specifically to attend a special event or festival, and these travelers are likely hoping for the return/recovery of these live events. When asked about the COVID-related protocols they feel are absolutely necessary to feel comfortable attending such events, desires are similar to retail businesses, in that they want masking, frequent cleaning and limited crowd sizes to ensure social distancing is possible.

 

 

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.

Coping with Pandemic Stress & Anxiety


 

The ongoing COVID-19 rollercoaster can present new challenges to our mental well-being and overall health. Of the negative impacts the pandemic continues to have on our lives are the disruption of social relationships and the travel we were used to using to maintain these. Dr. Jonathan Horowitz, clinical psychologist and founder of the San Francisco Stress and Anxiety Center, joined us last week as part of our weekly webinar update on the latest findings from our Coronavirus Travel Sentiment Index Study to share tips on how we can better deal with stress and anxiety while maintaining our sanity in these unprecedented times.

You can watch the video here or continue reading for 3 key takeaways that emerged from the discussion led by Destination Analysts’ President & CEO, Erin Francis-Cummings.

There are multiple ways to manage stress and emotions, especially in difficult times. Dr. Horowitz notes that it is imperative to have a good routine in place to keep us staying active. Exercise, yoga, meditation, or whatever it is that helps us de-stress. He advises not to “have our mind play tricks on us when we are in the trenches and we feel embattled, because we feel that we have to put every second into fighting the fight. That’s how people get burned out and that’s how people wind up making bad decisions.” Dr. Horowitz also stressed the importance of social connections. Seeing friends—taking time to be with people we care about and who care about us—is restorative and “really powerful.” Vacations and trips to see friends and relatives are, obviously, a great way to make these connections. However, he emphasizes that other ways to de-stress include simply taking breaks over the course of the day, such as going for a walk at lunchtime. In his words, we’re not meant to “work, work, work, and not do anything else.”

Get creative around travel. Travel, in particular, is an outlet to recover from ongoing stress and recharge our mind and soul. But with the current coronavirus situation, there are multiple factors that limit the ability to take vacations, which can actually be a big source of distress. According to Dr. Horowitz, “Vacations are really restorative and they’re good for your productivity too. You step away from work and you come back at it and you’re fresh and you have new ideas. You’re looking at things differently.” So what can we do to build resilience, stay productive and avoid fatigue? Dr. Horowitz encourages his patients to consider their risk tolerance, discover their comfort level and get creative. As he shared, “Maybe you can’t do the trip that you ideally want to do. You can’t get on a plane and go to Paris. But you could get in a car and you could drive somewhere. You could stay in an Airbnb. There are all sorts of ways that you could make trips happen, you just need to be creative about it.”

“Workcations” are great opportunities to support mental health. While many are forced to work from home during the pandemic, why not combine work with pleasure and re-locate the virtual workspace to a tropical beach or a panoramic alpine retreat? “Workcations” are a promising new development and creative destinations are coming up with programs and ways to make it possible. Dr. Horowitz points out that it is a great opportunity from a mental health perspective, “There’s something really good about getting out and getting away from your regular environment. I think it offers really good relief, while also allowing you to be productive.” However, Dr. Horowitz advises to set boundaries when it comes to time management, “Don’t go there and then just work the entire time. Be really mindful and intentional about ‘this is the vacation period of the day and this is the work period of the day,’ so you don’t find yourself out on a [hiking] trail and checking work email or a work call. That’s not necessarily healthy. You’re not going to reap the benefits emotionally nor from a resilience perspective because you’re still engaged. You need to make sure you have your time for fun and your time for work.”

An Outlook on the 2020 Holiday Shopping Season and Beyond


 

 

Deck the Halls! The 2020 holiday shopping season is upon us. How will the retail sector fare in these unprecedented times? We researched American retail behavior as well as feelings regarding shopping during the pandemic. The latest findings from Destination Analysts’ Coronavirus Travel Sentiment Index Study indicate that in-person shopping is perceived as a relatively safe activity, with nearly half of Americans who consider it either “safe” or “very safe” (47.5%). Nevertheless, 8.4% state that they will shop for holiday gifts exclusively in-person, while 31.6% say they will only shop online for holiday gifts this year. When it comes to the absolutely necessary safety measures Americans require to feel comfortable shopping in a retail store, the top two are face masks required for all customers (68.8%) and staff (63.6%). Highlighting an opportunity for retailers, 46.8 percent of online-only holiday shoppers reported that they could potentially be convinced to go gift shopping in a brick-and-mortar store if stores improve their COVID-19 safety protocols.

As part of our weekly webinar presenting insights from our Coronavirus Travel Sentiment Index Study, Destination Analysts’ Senior Research Director, Myha Gallagher, interviewed a panel of retail professionals who shared their understanding of consumer behaviors and what they foresee for the short and long term.

You can watch the video of the discussion here, or continue reading for 5 takeaways that emerged from this insightful panel discussion.
 
The current situation of retailers varies by sector. Customer confidence and merchandise sales are slowly improving for most retailers thanks to their local followers and loyal customers. Nevertheless, the situation remains largely challenging for most retailers due to inventory expenses and quickly pivoting investments. The leisure and outdoor sector, however, has been experiencing an exponential increase in sales. As Keri Hanson of Theisen Supply Inc. explains, “These types of retailers have really benefited from that movement for a more outdoors lifestyle – sporting goods, home and garden. There is this whole trend, about getting a new smoker, getting a new grill, getting some patio heaters and hanging out with people in your backyard instead of a traditional tailgate. This sector has really seen a big growth.” For some sectors, the recovery will not be fast enough, especially for airport vendors and retail operators. As Rob Wigington, Executive Director of the Airport Restaurant & Retail Association, notes, “They are scrambling, trying to figure out how to serve the very few travelers that are coming through.” He elaborated by sharing that waiting out the pandemic and adjusting to new consumer needs appear to be the only options if Congress fails to pass a relief legislation for the aviation sector.

Brick-and-mortar stores are primarily seeing local business, however there are indications that out-of-towners are returning to shop. With road-trips currently the most common type of travel, many retailers are welcoming visitors. According to Taylor Safford, President & CEO of PIER 39, “There are a lot of road trippers out there and we’re actually seeing a lot of people coming from the Central Valley, Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego in-state.” Similarly, Keri adds that the pandemic has contributed to a rise in consumers in the Midwest, “Traditionally about 10 to 15% are out-of-market, so out of our regional trade area. And we’ve definitely seen an uptick in that percentage, so closer to about 22%.”

The upcoming holiday shopping season looks promising. As some restrictions were lifted, consumers are increasingly going to stores to shop. In addition to observing the desire to interact with people and have human contact, Lorenzo Perez of Everlane commented that “It’s about giving little gifts for the holiday season and something that’s affordable and our prices are very transparent. There’s a higher conversion rate these days, especially because shoppers are much more purposeful when they come in and they are purchasing more.” These purposeful shoppers also consolidate their trips during the pandemic, focusing on conducting all their purchases in a single trip this holiday season. When it comes to safety, especially on Black Friday, clear safety guidelines around mask-wearing and social distancing should be established to ensure consumer safety and confidence.

Safety is key in attracting in-person holiday shoppers. Corresponding with our findings indicating that improved in-store safety protocols can sway 46.8 percent of online shoppers to shop in-person, Taylor recommends, “It is safety first when it comes to retail. People have to feel like they’re going to be able to have a safe encounter with the retailer. But they also clearly – and our numbers show this very strongly – people want to have fun. They are tired of being at home, they want to normalize their lives again to the degree that it’s safe to do so and so if you can create a space in your store, or in the appearance of your store location, so that it is enticing and skews to the safety factors, I think people will make a special trip to go and patronize your store.”

Change is inevitable. Having a profound impact on every aspect of commerce as well as our personal happiness, COVID-19 poses a challenge when it comes to remaining positive and optimistic about the future. Rob says, “I think folks have learned a lot of lessons and are still adjusting and adapting. Everybody who operates any kind of retail or export business has had to make some major adjustments, trying to preserve cash and trying to cut costs. They’ve got to really focus on what you can sell the people. It’s a good opportunity.” Lorenzo believes that, “People do want to get out! I want to get out! I do think it will change and will evolve next year and it’ll be interesting to see how that happens and what other changes companies will have in store for the retail employees and customers.”

Update on American Travel in the Period of Coronavirus—Week of November 2

Americans largely see the immediate future as a difficult one in regard to the pandemic, making a significant proportion to associate guilt and irresponsibility with travel right now. As they look to their travel future, the pandemic has shifted their priorities to focus more on exploring the United States and spending time with their families.

 

 

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 October 30th-November 1st.

Key Findings to Know:

  • American travelers have been increasingly prioritizing relaxation as a lifestyle priority. Perhaps in part to this, the average level of daily stress Americans have been feeling has been on the decline since the summer.
  • Virus anxiety is uneven across the country—now highest in the Northeast and Southern regions, among Gen X, urban residents and those feeling not yet ready to travel.
  • American travelers are somewhat split on maintaining their optimism; however, they largely see the immediate future as difficult. This week 60.9% expect the pandemic situation to get worse in the United States in the next month, up over 5% in one week.
  • The worsening feelings about the pandemic continue to negatively impact sentiment towards travel in the near-term. Excitement levels about taking a getaway in the next month, openness to travel inspiration, and confidence they can travel safely decreased, while perceptions of travel activities as unsafe again increased.
  • These feelings extend into greater emotional depth. Fully half agree that traveling right now feels irresponsible. Over 40% feel, or would feel, guilty traveling right now.
  • The declining sentiment towards travel has affected behavior, as well, including for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. While 13.6% definitively say they will travel for Thanksgiving this year–down slightly from 15.8% the week of August 17th, those that felt uncertain in August have largely moved to “no” for Thanksgiving trips.
  • Of those traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday, nearly 80% describe this as trips taken primarily to spend time with friends and family in their homes. The mean distance traveled will be 533 miles, and the average reported trip length will be 4.3 days.
  • However, given travel’s importance to Americans, it continues. This week, fewer agree that they have lost their interest in/taste for traveling for the time being. Americans travel readiness state-of-mind remained stable (54.6%), as did the proportion that say they will engage in travel avoidance until the coronavirus situation is more resolved (54.7%). There is also a declining need for a vaccine to travel (39.5%).
  • As to how the pandemic has shifted priorities and the way this will potentially impact travel in the longer term, the most agreement was shared that they would be traveling more domestically/seeing the United States and traveling more with family in the next 2 years.
  • Don’t forget to register to attend a full update of these findings on Tuesday, November 3rd at 11:00am ET.

Although Tuesday’s election and rising COVID-19 cases certainly serve as sources of potential tension, since April, American travelers have been increasingly prioritizing relaxation as a lifestyle priority. Perhaps in part to this, the average level of daily stress Americans have been feeling has been on the decline since the summer.

 

 

Overall, the percent of Americans who feel high degrees of concern about personally contracting COVID-19 trended down this week to 69.3% from 72.0%. Virus anxiety is uneven across the country—now highest in the Northeast and Southern regions, among Gen X, urban residents and those feeling not yet ready to travel.

 

 

American travelers are somewhat split on maintaining their optimism, with 32.9% believing things will get better soon and 38.2% not. However, they largely see the immediate future as difficult. This week 60.9% expect the pandemic situation to get worse in the United States in the next month, up over 5% in one week. In addition, 62.6% expect this Coronavirus will thrive in the upcoming cold weather.

 

 

The worsening feelings about the pandemic continue to negatively impact sentiment towards travel in the near-term. Excitement levels about taking a getaway in the next month and openness to travel inspiration decreased again this week, while perceptions of travel activities as unsafe again increased. Confidence that they can travel safely in the current environment eroded 5 percentage points in the past 3 weeks (26.5% from 32.0%). Even comfort going out for leisure activities in their own communities has similarly declined (41.7% from 47.4% October 18th).

 

 

These feelings extend into greater emotional depth. Fully half agree that traveling right now feels irresponsible. Over 40% feel, or would feel, guilty traveling right now.

 

 

The declining sentiment towards travel has affected behavior, as well, including for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. The percent with any trip plans declined to 72% from 75%. While 13.6% definitively say they will travel for Thanksgiving this year–down slightly from 15.8% the week of August 17th, those that felt uncertain in August have largely moved to “no” for Thanksgiving trips. Of those traveling for the holiday nearly 80% describe this as trips taken primarily to spend time with friends and family in their homes. The mean distance traveled will be 533 miles, although two-thirds will travel less than 500 miles. The average reported trip length will be 4.3 days. While half will stay in the home of a friend or relative, about 18% say they will stay in a luxury hotel property and another 18% plan to stay in a 3 or 4-star hotel. These travelers report they will gather with an average of 5.7 people for their Thanksgiving celebration.

 

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However, given travel’s importance to Americans, it continues. This week, fewer agree that they have lost their interest in/taste for traveling for the time being (down to 42.4% from 46.6%). Americans travel readiness state-of-mind remained stable (54.6%), as did the proportion that say they will engage in travel avoidance until the coronavirus situation is more resolved (54.7%). There is also a declining need for a vaccine to travel (39.5%). As to how the pandemic has shifted priorities and the way this will potentially impact travel in the longer term, this week we asked Americans “as you look out over the next two years, in which ways (if at all) do you expect your travel priorities will change compared to BEFORE the Coronavirus situation?” The most agreement was shared that they would be traveling more domestically/seeing the United States and traveling more with family. Nearly a quarter say they will be visiting more destinations on their bucket list and saying yes to new travel ideas and experiences.

 

 

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.

Can More be Done to Get Americans Back to Traveling the Friendly Skies?

 

Believe it or not, Americans are now trudging into the eighth month of this pandemic. At times it feels impossible that we’ve been in this crisis for this long and yet simultaneously it also feels as if lifetimes (plural) have passed. However, as our new pandemic lives stretch on, some of us have felt more confident that we can safely navigate this new reality, and slowly Americans have started venturing outside the bubbles they call home. A large part of this is due to the shared human experience of COVID fatigue, but much more important driving forces are the new safety practices and procedures businesses have had to implement to make their customers feel safe.

One of the key industries that still has headway to make in convincing Americans it is safe enough to travel again is the airline industry. Although they have adopted new safety procedures such as allowing for social distancing at boarding gates, electrostatic cleaning of air cabins, HEPA air filtration and strict mask policies, only 1-in-5 American travelers have traveled by commercial airline since the start of the pandemic in March. Another safety practice airlines have implemented is limiting the number of passengers onboard by leaving middle seats empty. But come December 1st, Alaska, Delta, and Hawaiian will be the only airlines to continue this policy.

As one might expect, Americans are largely disapproving of this change. In fact, half of American travelers who expect to take a trip on a commercial plane sometime between now and 2022 disagree with airlines’ decision to no longer limit the number of passengers onboard (50.0%). In contrast, just over a quarter agree with this policy change (28.5%). Interestingly, Millennials were divided on this issue (38.4% agree, 38.8% disagree), while Boomers were overwhelmingly against it (16.2% agree, and 62.4% disagree).

 

 

The prospect of having a stranger sitting in the seat next to you while traveling on an airplane largely makes us uncomfortable. In fact, two-fifths expressed discomfort with this scenario (39.4%), and another one-fifth said it would be an absolute deal breaker (20.7%). Although it’s tough to say definitely how this will impact Americans’ likelihood to book air travel in the future, it does appear that at least some may hold out on booking those tickets until other changes (in either safety procedures or the prevalence of the virus) take place.

 

 

We can’t fault airlines for reversing their empty middle seat policies. Like the rest of us, their business has been severely impacted by the pandemic and they are doing what they can to keep their heads above water. So are there other means to get travelers to feel safe enough to fly again? In our Coronavirus Travel Sentiment Index Study fielded October 24th-26th, we asked if a commercial airline required all passengers to take and pass a COVID-19 test prior to boarding, how comfortable would that make travelers to take a flight? Half (50.7%) said it would make them comfortable or very comfortable.

 

 

So it does appear that a required COVID test could significantly increase travelers’ comfortability with flying, which in turn could translate into increased passenger loads. Increasing travelers’ safety perceptions around all elements of the travel journey, especially ones where they have to be in confined spaces with strangers, will be paramount to the industry’s recovery and with such a complex and long-lasting issue like COVID, we can not rest on our laurels. Our industry will no doubt rise to the challenge and one day (hopefully in the near future) this will all be a distant memory and an important lesson we all toast to on a full flight to our long awaited paradise vacation.

 

The 2020 Holiday Travel Season

Family & Friends – Joy & Laughter – Jingles All The Way — the holiday season is a time of celebration and it is fast approaching. But it can be an especially challenging time with the coronavirus pandemic tossed into the mix. So, just how are American travelers planning to share their holiday cheer and close out this unprecedented year? As part of our weekly Coronavirus Traveler Sentiment Index Study, Destination Analysts asked American travelers about their potential travel plans for this year’s holiday season.

While over half of Americans traveled during the 2019 holiday season (52.8%), this year only 28.2% say they plan on traveling for holiday festivities, with trips predominantly planned over Thanksgiving (9.2%) and Christmas (14.2%). When it comes to how they will travel to their holiday destination, the majority of those who have holiday travel plans will reach their destination by car (80.1%), while over a third are taking to the skies (35.4%).

 

Suggesting optimism around travel, those who have tentative holiday travel plans intend to take an average of 2.4 trips this year specifically to celebrate holiday season events, with 13.1 percent who say they will take 5 or more trips.

 

 

Although staying safe from COVID-19 is high on the priority list, over half of potential holiday travelers reported that they would not undergo testing prior to their 2020 holiday season travels (51.3%). Meanwhile, a third confirmed that they will undergo testing prior to their planned travel (34.8%).

In addition to less travel this holiday season, there are also signs of less spending. When asked if they expect to spend more, less or the same for holiday travel this year, 43.0% of American travelers plan to spend less on holiday travel than they did in 2019, while 14.9% plan to spend more. However, when it comes to holiday gifts, over half of American travelers expect to spend as much as they did the last year (56.5%). 15.6% say they will, in fact, increase their spending on holiday gifts, while 27.8% foresee spending less on gifts during this holiday season.

 

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Indicating a potential opportunity for the travel industry, nearly half of American travelers reported that they would feel either happy or very happy to receive a travel-related gift this holiday season (47.0%).

 

 

As we move into the 2020 holiday season, the fear of contracting coronavirus, preserving the health and safety of loved ones and the unwillingness to venture out during a pandemic are the top reasons keeping travelers at home during the upcoming months. And although there was an uptick in the percent of Americans who are not ready to travel (from 42.2% the weekend of October 9-11 to 44.5% the weekend of October 16-18), there was also an increase in the percent of Americans who are confident that they can travel safely in the current environment (from 29.3% the weekend of October 9-11 to 32.0% the weekend of October 16-18).

Hopes are high that by the 2021 holiday season we can once again hold our loved ones tight, celebrate what we hold dear and together enjoy the spirit of the season.

Update on American Travel in the Period of Coronavirus—Week of October 26th

As we have seen at other points in the pandemic, the current increase in cases has heightened Americans’ concerns for their health and financial safety and adversely impacted feelings about travel—although there are signs that travel sentiment and behavior may not be as significantly impacted as during previous surges. Testing and social distancing look most promising for bringing air travel back faster, while strict masking policies are likeliest to bring resistant shoppers back to retail stores.

 

 

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 October 23rd-25th.

Key Findings to Know:

  • High concerns among American travelers about contracting the coronavirus and its impact on personal finances and the national economy rose this week, as numbers of cases soared across the U.S.
  • As new infection records continued to be set in the U.S., Americans’ strong concerns about virus contraction and the pandemic’s impact on personal finances and the greater economy marched upwards again this week. Pessimism about the virus’ course in the U.S. is firmly back in a heightened period.
  • The increased anxiety about the virus coincides with decreasing excitement levels about taking a getaway in the next month and openness to travel inspiration.
  • Perceptions of travel activities as unsafe and the percent of Americans who agree they have lost their taste for travel for the time being ticked up this week.
  • However, there are signs that travel may not be as significantly impacted as it was in previous surges during the pandemic. 35.1% of American travelers feel they have gained confidence in how to navigate the pandemic in the last three months. Americans are now actually exhibiting less agreement that they will avoid travel until the coronavirus situation is more resolved and their state of mind about travel readiness remained constant from last week.
  • Three-quarters still have trips at least tentatively planned, and the joy travel brings remains ingrained. Nearly 60% of Americans agree that having a vacation scheduled in the next six months would make them feel there is something happy to look forward to.
  • Air travel also looks to continue a measured recovery. Over 35% plan to travel by air in the next 6 months.
  • Examining policies that may bring more Americans back to air travel sooner, comfort with airlines requiring a COVID-19 test prior to boarding increased to 50.7% from 43.2% just two weeks ago. However, social distancing continues to be important to a significant share of Americans when it comes to air travel.
  • Well over 80% of American travelers plan to shop at a retail store at some point in the remainder of the year, although currently, relatively few plan to take a leisure trip specifically to shop for the holidays (6.7%).
  • The health and safety protocols Americans most desire for the in-person retail experience include social distancing guidelines enforced and strict masking requirements, although required masking for patrons and staff is seen as absolutely required by those Americans who still perceive shopping as unsafe.
  • Don’t forget to register to attend a full update of these findings, including a panel discussion with retail professionals about what to expect this season, on Tuesday, October 27th at 11:00am ET.

As new infection records continued to be set in the U.S., Americans’ strong concerns about virus contraction and the pandemic’s impact on personal finances and the greater economy marched upwards again this week. Pessimism about the virus’ course in the U.S. is firmly back in a heightened period, returning to levels last seen in July, during the virus’ summer surge.

 

 

As we have seen at other points in the pandemic, the increase in cases and thus concerns has adversely impacted feelings about travel, particularly in the near-term. The increased anxiety about the virus coincides with decreasing excitement levels about taking a getaway in the next month and openness to travel inspiration.

 

 

Although slightly, perceptions of travel activities as unsafe ticked up this week after a sustained period of decline. Similarly, the percent of Americans who agree they have lost their taste for travel for the time being also somewhat increased after holding stable for the last two months.

 

 

However, there are signs that travel may not be as significantly impacted as it was in previous surges during the pandemic. While half feel unchanged, 35.1% of American travelers feel they have gained confidence in how to navigate the pandemic in the last three months. Americans are now actually exhibiting less agreement that they will avoid travel until the coronavirus situation is more resolved (54.7%). Americans’ state of mind about travel readiness remained constant from last week (55.3%).

 

.

Trips also continued to be anticipated and planned. Three-quarters still have trips at least tentatively planned. And the joy travel brings remains ingrained. Nearly 60% of Americans agree that having a vacation scheduled in the next six months would make them feel there is something happy to look forward to.

 

 

Air travel also looks to continue a measured recovery. Last week, the TSA screened 1 million daily passengers for the first time since March. Fully 20% of American travelers we surveyed this week reported traveling by air during the pandemic to date. Over 35% plan to travel by air in the next 6 months. Another 31.9% are pushing out to May or later in 2021 (although 18.0% say they won’t return to air travel until 2022). Examining policies that may bring more Americans back to air travel sooner, comfort with airlines requiring a COVID-19 test prior to boarding increased to 50.7% from 43.2% just two weeks ago. However, social distancing continues to be important to a significant share of Americans when it comes to air travel. Half are not in agreement with the major airlines returning to full passenger capacity and nearly 40% report they would be uncomfortable flying if the seat next to them was occupied by a stranger.

 

With shopping such a commonly planned trip activity and the holiday season upon us, our research this week also looked specifically at Americans’ retail behaviors and feelings about the in-person experience amidst the pandemic. Nearly all surveyed have shopped in-person at some kind of store (most commonly supermarkets) during the pandemic. The relatively strongest perceptions of safety were felt at specialty stores and the relatively least felt at big box stores. Well over 80% plan to shop at a retail store at some point in the remainder of the year, although currently, relatively few plan to take a leisure trip specifically to shop for the holidays (6.7%). Those who currently plan to only shop online for the holidays are evenly split on whether they could be convinced to shop in-person. The health and safety protocols Americans most desire for the in-person retail experience include social distancing guidelines enforced and strict masking requirements, although required masking for patrons and staff is seen as absolutely required by those Americans who still perceive shopping as unsafe.

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The Return to Convention Travel


 

 

Here in San Francisco, where Destination Analysts’ is headquartered, we miss all the conventions we were fortunate to host pre-pandemic—and the visitors from around the world they brought. However, a recovery in this segment is happening. As of October 19th, our Coronavirus Travel Sentiment Index Study shows that 15.7% of American travelers overall—and nearly 40% of convention travelers—say they have plans to attend one or more of these events in the next year, up from 11.1% in May. The percent of convention travelers who report they would be happy if asked to attend such a meeting in the next six months has grown to 49.7% from 40.8% in June. To gain further insight on the convention travel market—including changing travel policies, the trends that look here to stay and the shifting business landscape—Destination Analysts’ President & CEO Erin Francis-Cummings interviewed a panel of meeting planners during our October 20th industry update webinar.

Here are 5 key takeaways that meeting planners shared about the recovery of meetings and convention travel:

 
When it comes to the return of in-person meetings, there are still many unknown factors. However, there are signs of hope around small meetings. While large in-person meetings are being planned far into the future, smaller business meetings are currently taking place. According to Adam Tillotson, Director of Regional Sales for Global Meeting Sources, “There are still meetings happening right now. I had a client meeting last week and one 2-3 weeks ago and these were both in person. They were national, but these were small meetings with 15-20 people at a time.” Several factors ensured a safe environment that allowed for the smooth and successful execution of these meetings. In addition to the small group size, these meetings were set outdoors under warm weather conditions. Adam planned meetings that were nearly exclusively held outdoors. As Adam shared, destinations that are “warm, outdoors and open” are ideal for small meetings, as he was able to plan a program that ensured attendees felt both safe and comfortable.

Virtual meetings don’t come close to the level of engagement of in-person meetings. Simply put, virtual meetings cannot replace the personal aspects of meeting in-person. As Katina Lancaster, Meetings Manager for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, stated, “Even given how much we have done virtually in the last 8 months, people want to meet in person. I know I do.” Brenda Glass, Director of Sales at Site Search, further emphasized, “I just think there is nothing like personal meetings where you are able to interact with everybody on a human level. I would like hugs and handshakes to come back.”

Hybrid meetings are here to stay. With business primarily conducted virtually over the past 8 months, it’s inevitable that the meetings industry has evolved and will evolve. Meeting planners see these past months as “a forced period of trial into virtual meetings” and the lessons learned from virtual meetings can be adapted into in-person meetings when they return, though it’s unlikely that virtual meetings will be obsolete once in-person meetings do return. According to Katina, “Hybrid [virtual and in-person] meetings are here to stay. I think it allows organizations to reach a larger audience than they normally would with in-person meetings.”

Destination marketing organizations and their partners can leverage specials and deals to book future meetings. Despite the fact that small in-person meetings are successfully being planned, bigger in-person meetings are not forgotten. None of Brenda’s 2020 meetings were cancelled, but rather rebooked for 2021. And she’s taking full advantage of the specials and discounts offered by destinations to book larger in-person meetings. The CVBs Brenda works with “have been wonderful throughout this whole process. I get emails from them all the time with the specials their hotels might be running and the incentives they may have. And I’m able to pass that on to the groups that are booking for next year and into 2023, letting them know that we should do this now and that great deals are on the table.”

To help bring meetings back, DMOs should communicate safety protocols and keep small groups in mind. When asked what could be done to bring in-person meetings back, Katina stated that “CVBs can continue to develop ways to make their destination safe and inviting for meetings to return.” Communicating safety protocols to meeting planners can ultimately help attendees feel safe and comfortable. DMOs should also keep in mind that small meetings are happening and should take advantage of the opportunities available. Destinations that are open, spacious and warm can certainly accommodate outdoor meetings and this message should be delivered to meeting planners. As shared by Adam, “Don’t sleep on these small groups. Look for these board meetings, look for these risk-tolerant industries and folks that are willing to travel and are happy to travel. And if you are a sun and fun destination, now is the time to spend money and get in front of people because people are willing to travel to come to your destination.”

The HR Perspective on the Return to Business Travel



During Destination Analysts’ industry update webinar on October 20th, Destination Analysts’ President & CEO Erin Francis-Cummings interviewed a panel of HR and meeting planner professionals, including Elaine Cameron, Global Senior Director of Human Resources at Munchkin, Inc.

Here are three insights that emerged about how HR views the return to business travel:

Employee health and safety must be top priority. As a global brand with offices located all over the world, travel was essential to normal business operations at Munchkin prior to the pandemic. However, employee travel is currently restricted to “business critical travel only.” One of the primary factors that HR is seeking for business travel to resume to normal levels is when employees feel safe to do so, which is gauged through employee surveys. Elaine predicts this sentiment will more fully return after a vaccine is available.
 

HR is currently responsible for business travel approval, and these trips must meet several criteria in order to be approved.
These are:

– The business meeting must be proven to meet corporate safety standards
– Travel can only be to or within destinations that do not have travel restrictions in place
– The business meeting must be deemed critical to business operations or goals (e.g. tactile client presentations)
 

While it may take time to fully return, business travel is still perceived as integral to success. With the upcoming cold season and tighter travel restrictions in Europe and beyond, Elaine predicted that the earliest business travel would regularly resume at Munchkin is April, although a readily available vaccine would accelerate the timeline. Yet business travel is seen as fundamental to company operations—especially when it comes to hiring new high-level executives and interacting with key clients—so HR and other executive management will be happy when employees can more easily get back on the road again.

The Evolution of Traveler Needs and Destination Marketing


 

It is critical that destination marketing be customer-first, led by traveling consumer desires. Using the McKinsey and Company’s framework for “The evolution of traveler needs being accelerated by major pre-COVID-19 trends,” Destination Analysts demonstrates how destination marketing can meet and succeed at each trend to make travel not just safer post pandemic, but better.