The prospects for a swift tourism recovery have been dealt a blow in recent months as the Delta variant has spread rapidly across many parts of the world. While vaccination rates have continued growing in most developed countries, rising COVID-19 cases have forced some governments to reimpose restrictions or, at the very least, slow plans for reopening their economies.
With summer holiday season now upon us, there are growing calls for proof of vaccination and continued uncertainties around travel guidance and requirements in many parts of the world.
With this in mind, STR set out to examine current attitudes among global travelers. An online survey was conducted in July 2021 using STR’s Traveler Panel – an engaged audience of leisure and business travelers. This latest Tourism After Lockdown blog series follows similar research conducted in February 2021 and August 2020.
Although much of the industry was still under restrictions, there was much excitement and optimism regarding travel earlier this year. Indeed, our recovery scenario research showed that consumers were much more likely to travel in the future than before COVID-19—once the pandemic became a thing of the past.
Now, six month or so later, let’s take another temperature check on travel. How has the ongoing pandemic shifted views on travel?
The future is bright…but less bright than before
Compared with February 2021, there was a softer yet still overwhelmingly positive reaction when consumers were asked about their intent to travel when the pandemic is over.
Many international borders have remained closed through much of 2021. This has spawned growth in domestic tourism, which has provided a much-welcomed outlet for pent-up demand. As a result, some consumers have already satiated their travel needs following a period of significant travel restrictions.
Influenced by ongoing uncertainty and ever-changing requirements regarding international travel, consumers were again – consistent with our previous research – more circumspect when it came to international travel. Around one in six (16%) said they’d be less likely to travel internationally for leisure when the pandemic is completely over. This resulted in a more negative view than the roughly one in 10 that provided the same answer in our previous survey in February 2021. Meanwhile, fewer people are planning less domestic travel after the pandemic (7% and 5%, respectively in the last two surveys).
All-in-all, the outlook looks good for travel firms as COVID-19 restrictions and challenges have fostered stronger desire to travel in the future. That view was succinctly conveyed by one respondent:
“I just can’t wait until we’re allowed to travel internationally again – without all the extra hassle, cost, restrictions. I miss traveling.”
Travel now: should I stay or should I go?
In the U.K., the pingdemic – a trend which has seen rising numbers of people asked via an app to voluntarily self-isolate if they have been in contact with someone known to have COVID-19 – is one unintended consequence of relaxing travel restrictions alongside high COVID-19 case rates. Complications like this along with growing case rates in some parts of the world, complex and uncertain travel requirements, and lingering concerns regarding infection are giving rise to increased caution regarding travel right now.
Again, intention toward international travel is the hardest hit as consumers are significantly less likely overall to travel internationally for leisure, when compared with pre-pandemic behavior.
Interestingly, domestic tourism, which in recent months has seen a boost, is less appealing now than before COVID-19. Nearly 40% stated that they were less likely to travel in their own country now than compared to before COVID-19.
Rebuilding tourism starts with vaccinations and social distancing
There is a sense that the coming weeks and months are a transition period for travel. This means that issues and considerations linked to COVID-19 will continue to be important as barriers to travel are eased.
Building confidence and providing reassurance for consumers has been a key theme for brands during the pandemic and this is still relevant. This is evidenced as social distancing and proof of vaccination continue to be largely favored by travelers.
Some 70% agreed that a vaccination document for travel should be required and a similar percentage have concerns about other travelers when it comes to social distancing. Combined, these findings reiterate the need for brands to continue with their COVID-safe protocols despite vaccination progress.
Increasing COVID-19 cases, largely due to the Delta variant, are another twist of the pandemic which has dented recovery for many tourism operators. Continued pandemic-related barriers to travel, such as quarantine risks and testing, coupled with enduring concerns about infection are hampering a return to pre-pandemic travel behavior. However, like the adage, “absence makes the heart grow fonder”, these continued challenges seem destined to fuel more wanderlust in the future.
If you would like to find out more about how STR can help you get closer to your customers during these volatile and uncertain times, see what we are doing with consumer research.