Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Americans Gearing Up To Travel As COVID Vaccines Roll Out Ahead Of Schedule

The return of travel is coming. What are the concerns and trends as we pack our suitcases?

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Hang On, Help Is On The Way

The announcement by President Joe Biden’s that the United States will have enough coronavirus vaccines for all adults by the end of May – two months earlier than previously thought – is encouraging news for travelers. Precautions will still need to be taken, but domestic travel is likely to be popular again by summertime.

Travel’s economic footprint in the United States shrank a staggering 42% last year, from $2.6 trillion to $1.5 trillion, according to new end-of-year totals prepared for the U.S. Travel Association by the research firm Tourism Economics.

The employment devastation was similarly massive: travel-supported jobs fell by 5.6 million in 2020 (16.7 million to 11.1 million)—a whopping 65% of all American jobs lost to the economic fallout of the pandemic. Travel and tourism had supported employment for 11% of the U.S. workforce prior to the onset of COVID.

More Than 80% Have Travel Plans In Next Six Months

Certainly the revival of travel, be it domestic or international, can’t come soon enough for the industry and also for those who have endured more than a year of a health crisis. According to the latest Longwoods International tracking study of American travelers, 84% have travel plans in the next six months, the highest level since the early days of the pandemic a year ago.  This is the third consecutive wave showing over 80% for this key metric. And the percentage of travelers who say that the coronavirus will greatly impact their travel plans has dropped to a third, down from a pandemic peak of two-thirds last April and matching the March 2020 low.

travel passport“Travel planning continues to accelerate as improving pandemic and vaccine data is released,” said Amir Eylon, President and CEO of Longwoods International.  “Barring another surge in infections, the beginning of the travel industry recovery appears on target during 2021.”

Even with the increasing optimism about the future, only 44% of travelers currently support opening their communities to visitors and about half feel safe traveling outside their communities or dining in local restaurants or shopping at local stores.  Moreover, 61% continue to modify their travel plans because of COVID-19.

A Shift To Familiar and Predictable Travel

David Zietsma, SVP Strategy and Performance at Jackman, a firm specializing in customer engagement insights notes that traveler preferences have shifted toward the familiar, predictable, and trusted (i.e. domestic destinations, more detailed planning). In a survey by Airbnb, 56% of consumers surveyed prefer a domestic or local destination, versus just 21% who want to visit someplace international and farther away. One in five Americans say they want their destination to be within driving distance of home

Road trips will boom, as they are cheaper and safer than flying and 59% of families say they’re more likely to drive than fly on their next trip. The ability to work-from-anywhere will further fuel this trend.

Zietsma says there is a shift from mass travel to meaningful travel: people are prioritizing more personal, more meaningful trips centered on family, friends and staying close, while avoiding more adventurous journeys and packaged tours. Travelers are also taking on the role of “concerned citizens” demanding responsible travel policies: thinking more mindfully about the way they travel, why they travel, and where they go

Air Travel Now And Beyond

Looking ahead, an IPX 1031 survey found that 45% believe travel will return to pre-pandemic levels of normalcy this year. However, 55% say they are uncertain if travel will ever return to normal without restrictions. There certainly is a pent-up demand as 57% of respondents say it's been a year or more since they've taken a vacation.

In terms of air travel, 48% say they will feel safe flying in 2021. That number jumps to 80% in 2022. Only 25% of Americans flew in 2020. For those not traveling in 2021, top reasons according to the IPX 1030 study include: 1. Safety 2. Budget 3. Dining/entertainment restrictions 4. Travel/flying restrictions 5. Can't take the time off work.

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