Traveler Sentiment in a Pandemic - 1 of 2

It's too early to measure the full effect of COVID19 on travel decisions, but these surveys are tracking how plans and attitudes have shifted over the past month.

There are still so many unknowns and developments related to the COVID19 pandemic that no one in travel can control or easily predict: how long cities around the world are in crisis mode, which destinations are banning arrivals from which origins, what quarantine-on-arrival requirements exist… The list goes on. But as we wait for those things to play out, several research companies and industry players have turned to taking the pulse of travelers themselves via surveys.

I’ve gone through a few that are publicly available online. In this post, I am sharing thoughts on two general surveys, and in another post later today I will look at a business travel survey.

A survey is always a snapshot in time, but typically an annual survey suffices to gauge trends in desire and behavior. In this case, the crises in public health, the economy, and travel are in constant flux so much more frequent snapshots are needd. I have chosen to focus on surveys being fielded repeatedly, measuring how sentiment shifts as this dynamic situation evolves.

Longwoods International COVID-19 and Travel Sentiment Survey

Research firm Longwoods International has published three editions of a US traveler survey, conducted March 11, 19 and 26. They surveyed a representative sample (matching Census data by age, gender, region) of 1,000 US adults. It is not clear how they define traveler. Are these people who had travel plans in the next six months, or who had traveled in the past year, or something else altogether? It also is not clear if travelers were asked specifically about their leisure trips.

Not surprisingly, the share of travelers who have changed plans for trips over the next six months climbed from the first to third iteration of the survey, from 58% to 75% to 84%.

Some trends have been consistent across the three iterations: Cancelling is more common than rescheduling, and some flights are being swapped out in favor of drive trips.

Longwoods calls this “Highlights,” so perhaps there is a more detailed version for purchase or available to their clients. It would be really helpful to know some of the characteristics of these trips. They asked about travel over the next six months. So, when are those 16% of unchanged trips happening? Are they “essential” trips in the short term, or vacations in August that travelers are hoping will still be possible? How many of these trips were booked and paid for vs planned or just hoped for?

The measure I found most interesting in the Longwoods survey is this one looking at factors influencing decisions to travel. Below are the results for their first and third waves:

Longwoods International COVID-19 and Travel Sentiment Survey, Wave 1
(March 11)

Longwoods International COVID-19 and Travel Sentiment Survey, Wave 3
(March 26)

Over a two-week period, the share of travelers who said that COVID-19 was impacting their decision to travel climbed from 57% to 83%. Meanwhile, the number of people citing concerns about cost and the economy held fairly steady. I expect the economic concerns to grow as the crisis continues, as layoffs and furloughs hit, and as un- or under-employed travelers erode their savings  (here’s a live tracker of hiring freezes and layoffs from Candor.co). It would be interesting to see the above data for smaller increments of time (1 month, 3 month, 6 months), especially when we start to move beyond the acute public health crisis.     

Destination Analysts Coronavirus Travel Sentiment

Research firm Destination Analysts has also been conducting a series of surveys. Three iterations of its Destination Analysts’ Coronavirus Travel Sentiment series have polled more than 1,200 leisure and business travelers. Destination Analysts reveals similar trends to the Longwoods research – a rapid increase in the number of trips affected, and more cancellations than adjustments to trips.

Destination Analysts’ full reports are available for purchase, with further insights and segmentation. One interesting trend they note is a big shift in Boomers’ plans in the third week of March. When surveyed March 13-15, just 39% of Boomers said their trips had been affected by coronavirus; by March 20-22, that nearly doubled to 73%.

 As I say above about the Longwoods International research, these surveys are snapshots in time, and will be more helpful as more iterations are fielded, and we can see where intent to travel bottoms out, which travelers and trips are most affected, and what factors will influence desire and ability to travel again.

#surveys #travelersentiment #covid19 #coronavirus