Ever true, tried and trusty, Longwoods International continues to monitor the changes in demand for travel with its latest survey, COVID-19 Travel Sentiment Study – Wave 46, published last week. The snapshot, taken a year and a half into a grisly pandemic, indicated that consumers have now settled into a “new normal” in regard to travel.
The study was conducted Sept.15. Longwoods surveyed a national sample randomly drawn from a consumer panel of 1,000 adults, ages 18 and over. The sample was tailored to match Census targets for age, gender, and region to make the survey representative of the US population.
About the best thing you could say about the results is that “it could have been worse.” And it certainly could have been. Just recall how it was before the vaccines came on the scene.
But with the recovery we saw gaining strength at the beginning of summer stalled by a resurgence in deaths from the emergence of the Delta variant and widespread defiance against public health measures, it’s as good as we could hope for.
Although the virus stubbornly refuses to respect boundaries, misinformation campaigns about the vaccines have now effectively segregated the country into two parts: one vaccinated and relatively safe from Covid, and the other unvaccinated and therefore sitting ducks for the virus.
Earlier in the year, when the vaccines were spreading through the country, there was a wave of hope that life could opening up again. Mobility, that vital component of the American way of life, would be ours again. But, when the effort to vaccinate the population was stymied with 80 million Americans still unvaccinated (in most cases, by choice) it was a blow to the morale of those who thought we were coming out of the whole mess.
Now we’ve settled into a trough. The glorious recovery that could have been ours by now is not here. And that’s as demoralizing as it is frustrating. For those who are vaccinated, it is now possible to resume movement. Travel will require a new level of alertness to safely navigate the ever-changing terrain of Covid infection. But it is possible to travel safely again for those who are vaccinated and willing to observe health and safety protocols.
Covid Losing Its Clout
The Longwoods survey did bring some of what could be called—well, if not good news, at least useful market intelligence for intrepid businesspeople who are determined to make the most of whatever situation they face.
The data did show signs of a better, though delayed, future. The number of those who indicated that Covid would greatly influence their plans to travel in the next six months continues on a steady decline.
The number of people who are planning to change their travel plans because of Covid is also on a rocky path of decline. In April 2020, soon after Covid’s initial knockout punch, 85 percent indicated that they were changing their travel plans because of Covid.
Then that number went into a path of decline, briefly interrupted with upticks in July and November 2020. By June 2021 that number had declined to 43 percent. Then in late summer, the Delta variant and a new wave of cases pushed cases back to regions they had not seen for many months.
Following the trend of increase in Covid-19 cases, the number of those changing travel plans climbed back to 59 percent this last August. It has, thankfully, now begun to trend downward again, reaching 54 percent in this last survey on Sept. 15. Where that trend goes from here remains to be seen. The winter cold/flu/Covid season is coming, so we should be prepared to see another increase in cases. But if the number of people vaccinated continues to climb, that could lead to another decline in that figure.
The survey presented a multiple choice question about the ways Covid-19 might affect the kind of travel people do for the next six months. It offered a choice of six possible answers.
Thirty-two (32) percent said they are choosing drive destinations, as opposed to fly destinations. Another third, (30) percent, said they are traveling within the US instead of internationally. Twenty-nine (29) percent said they are reducing the number of trips they’ll be taking. And seventeen (17) percent are choosing rural destinations over city destinations. Only ten (10) percent are choosing not to travel at all, and eight (8) percent are canceling trips.
Then the survey zeroed in specifically on the Delta variant and asked how its emergence is impacting travel intentions for the rest of the year.
Thirty seven (37) percent said they are still planning to travel in the period between October through December 2021. Twenty percent (20) said Delta had caused them to postpone their travel to later in the year. Sixteen percent (16) said they had postponed travel to sometime in 2022. Seven (7) percent said they are still planning to travel before the end of September, and ten (10) percent answered that they did not know.
Unfortunately, the number of those who indicated that financial concerns would impact their travel plans is not declining. Fortunately, it’s only in the low 20 percentile range. Surely some of that bottom 20 percent represents people who were not major consumers of travel even before the pandemic.
One of the most encouraging pieces of data was that the number of people who have plans to travel in the next six months has held strong at high levels through the period of the Delta variant. The long-term trend from the beginning of the entire pandemic period is also encouraging.
Back at the beginning of the pandemic, between March 11 and March 26, 2020, the number who said they planned to travel in the next six months plunged from 87 percent to 72 percent.
As time passed, the number dropped further, into the 60s and below through the rest of 2020 till the Jan. 20 survey, taken on the day of the new presidential administration.
In the Feb. 3, 2021 survey the number jumped up to 81 percent and stayed in the 80s through April. It reached 90 percent on May 26, then dropped again and hovered in the high 80s for the next few months. The good news is that it didn’t drop substantially when the Delta variant came on the scene and the number of cases, and deaths, mushroomed again. So, the aspiration to travel has not been significantly dimmed by the Delta variant. That’s good news for the travel industry.
The percentage of people who planned to travel in the next six months reached 90 again in the Sept. 1 survey. That is an excellent indicator of a high level of aspiration to travel. That brings us back to the subject of pent-up demand. After a temporary feeling that we were nearing the close of the pandemic, we have been backsliding. Just as that pent-up demand was beginning to be released, it got pent up again.
However, it is undeniable that the impulse to travel is one of the strongest urges of homo sapiens. It is insuppressible. So, the pent-up demand will continue to simmer. Once we get on top of this pandemic, things can go back into full operation and we will probably see an explosion of travel.
And that will be a good new normal.
David Cogswell is a freelance writer working remotely, from wherever he is at the moment. Born at the dead center of the United States during the last century, he has been incessantly moving and exploring for decades. His articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Fortune, Fox News, Luxury Travel magazine, Travel Weekly, Travel Market Report, Travel Agent Magazine, TravelPulse.com, Quirkycruise.com and other publications. He is the author of four books and a contributor to several others. He was last seen somewhere in the Northeast U.S.