Benchmarking Travel Sentiment for the Travel Industry’s Recovery from the Coronavirus Pandemic

Destination Analysts’ The State of the American Traveler Study—begun in 2006—tracks traveler sentiment quarterly, most recently in January 2020. In the May 25th edition of our Coronavirus Travel Sentiment Index Study, we asked several identical questions to our The State of the American Traveler Study in order to benchmark how travelers feel now compared to in the past, in order to better understand the situation the travel industry is in. These are presented following.

If you would like these findings in presentation format, please download the report here.

As you might have imagined, the coronavirus pandemic has put the industry in its greatest modern crisis—one that will take much coordinated work in ensuring travelers’ safety in order to resolve.

The proportion of leisure travelers who report that they will decrease the number of trips they will take, compared to the past 12 months, has skyrocketed in the past 4 months. Now, approaching half (44.7%) say they will travel less this year. In January this figure stood at 6.8 percent.

Prior to this week, the highest recorded percentage of American travelers to say they would be taking LESS leisure trips in the coming year compared to the previous year was in July 2008, as the Great Recession loomed.

The percent of leisure travelers who reports that they will decrease their travel spending this year compared to the past 12 months has also grown sharply. Now, 46.6 percent say they will reduce their travel spending. In January this figure stood at 9.4 percent.

Prior to this week, the highest recorded percentage of American travelers to say they would be spending LESS on leisure trips in the coming year compared to the previous year was 28.8%, during the Great Recession.

Now, just 26.9 percent of American travelers say that leisure travel will be at least somewhat of a budget priority for them over the next 12 months. 

For perspective, just four months ago, a record 70.6 percent of American travelers said that leisure travel would be a priority in their budget.

Right now, the typical American traveler expects to spend $2,361 in the next 12 months on leisure travel, down 40 percent compared to January when the result was $3,882. In total, 44.3 percent say they are going to spend less than $500 on leisure travel this year—a 5-year high—and just 14.6 percent say they will spend more than $4,000—a 5-year low.

The total number of trips Americans expect to take to cities, beaches and theme/amusement parks has fallen. One silver lining for nature-based destinations like parks, mountains and deserts: the average number of trips Americans say they plan to take to these destinations is greater compared to four months ago.

The coronavirus pandemic appears to be draining much of the joy around travel aspiration. Survey respondents were asked to name the destination they most wanted to visit in the next year (one that they reasonably expected to visit), and then asked to select from a list of reasons which represented why they aspired to visit that particular destination. Just two reasons saw increases—beaches/water sports and friends or family in the destination. American travelers are now less likely to say any other reasons were driving their travel aspirations.

Similarly, in January and this past week, American travelers were asked about their general interests in various travel experiences. Sadly, all travel experiences are of less interest now than just four months ago.