Tired Of Travel Bans, Quarantines & Experts’ Warnings, More People Are Judging For Themselves When To Travel

Presumed president-elect Joe Biden may already be preparing a new executive order mandating the use of masks in public, but new research suggests that more and more people in the United States – and around the world – are ignoring the edicts and/or advice from governments and their health experts in order to do things they highly value – like travel.

Travel industry consulting firm Oliver Wyman this week issued a report based on recent surveys of travelers in the U.S. and eight other nations showing that a growing percentage of people believe it’s now okay to travel despite what various governments and big-name health agencies like the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control are saying

Additionally, popular travel website TripAdvisor
.com this week reported that more than half – 56% – of Americans plan to travel over the upcoming Thanksgiving holidays. That’s still down 14 percentage points from a year ago, that’s an obvious result of concerns related to the pandemic. But it’s still a dramatically high percentage in light of the widespread advice of government, political, health and cultural leaders telling Americans to seriously tone down their Thanksgiving celebrations by eschewing the traditional big dinner with lots of family and friends, and by staying home.

Taken together, the results of those two surveys would seem to indicate that more and more travelers are willing to accept somewhat higher health risks in order to do those things they really want to do (or, put another way, to not do as they’re told).

Bruce Spear, an Oliver Wyman partner who lead the analysis of his company’s October survey of mostly business travelers from the U.S., Canada, Australia, China, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom also suggested that news this week of significant success in final stage trials of a Covid-19 vaccine by Phizer and BioNTech will encourage even more people to take a individualistic and less submissive position on determining when it’s safe to travel.

“Personal judgment is now the leading factor for deciding to travel, ahead of government restrictions, advice from the World Health Organization or even having a vaccine,” Spear said.

Of course, none of this new data and analysis means that the travel industry is about to explode out of its worst ever – by far – demand slump.

Oliver Wyman’s survey showed that 18% of its respondents believe that its safe for them to travel now. And 22% ranked that answer in their top three responses to the survey question “When do you think it will okay to start your first trip after the Covid-19 outbreak? Still, 18% response is way up from just 4% who said the same thing when surveyed in May. Among American respondents, 25% said they believe it’s safe to travel now. Thirty percent of respondents from both France and Italy said it’s safe to travel now.

Those responses are a strong indicator of a significant “mood swing,” or, more accurately, a change in consumers’ thinking about, and behavior in light of Covid-19.  Just 19% said they’ll think it’s okay to travel only after government lifts travel restrictions, and only 12% said they’ll wait until the WHO declares an end to the Covid-19 threat. Both results are down significantly from the percentage who answered the same way (29% and 23%, respectively) in Oliver Wyman’s May survey.

Meanwhile, a 14 percentage point drop in the TripAdvisor survey asking who plans to travel on the Thanksgiving holidays clearly points to continued high level of concerns about health and safety; just not as high as those levels of concern were earlier in the pandemic’s run.

Of those who are planning to travel, 76% said they will be driving vs. 11% who plan to fly. While the total is lower than the historical norm, that driving vs. flying split is pretty much normal. Historically most Thanksgiving travelers have ventured only 50 to 300 miles away from home to celebrate with family and friends, making very much a “driving holiday” rather than a flying one.

But, interestingly, while only four U.S. cities are targeted by more people this year as Thanksgiving destinations than in previous years, all four of them are up-scale and increasingly popular sunbelt vacation destinations: Key Largo and Key West, Fla., and Sedona and Scottsdale, Ariz.

Conversely, many of the nation’s biggest cities will see a sharp decline in the number of Thanksgiving visitors. TripAdvisor calculates that New York City’s visitor traffic over Thanksgiving will be down 80%, more than any other destination.

It’s tempting to make much – and maybe too much – of the surprising results of both of these travel-related surveys. But a more sober analysis of those results probably is that both surveys point to three clear trends:

  • Travel demand continues to be down by between 60% and 75% depending on the region of the world, and is not likely to bounce back much until a significant percentage of the world’s 7.8 million people have been vaccinated. Even if one or more vaccines is approved before year’s end, as expected, manufacturing and distributing even 100 million doses to Americans is likely to take at least another six months. Global distribution will be a much bigger and longer process. Therefore recovery of global travel, and especially of global business travel will take considerably longer. Business travel, which normally is the biggest driver of airline revenue and profits, is off 80% or more.
  • There already is significant pent-up demand for leisure travel, and that the longer that formal or informal lock downs and travel restrictions remain in place the more pent-up leisure travel demand there will be. That implies that gradually more and more consumers over time will become willing to book a leisure trip or two regardless of what governments and health agencies say.
  • Consumers around the globe are growing more skeptical of, frustrated with, and/or defiant toward government-imposed restrictions on, or advice against travel. As average people learn more about the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 – how to treat it effectively, how to reduce chances of contracting it, who is and isn’t especially vulnerable to it, and what the negative economic and health impacts of the lockdowns and travel restrictions in response to it are – more people are becoming willing to push back against those measures. Furthermore, in some cases pushing back against government-imposed restrictions and disease experts’ advice has become something of a political cause among those already inclined to believe that ruling political leaders, supported by medical experts on government payrolls, exert too much control on the lives of average folk.

The growing willingness by some consumers to travel by air and to stay in hotels, as highlighted in the Oliver Wyman research, may also be the result, in part, of the travel industry’s efforts to promote their new cleaning and disinfection processes and their new “no touch” customer service procedures. Both groups of businesses are starving for customers and revenue and have launched both brand-specific and industry-wide information and advertising campaigns aimed at getting at least some travelers back into the market. But whether those campaigns are having some limited success or consumers are just now more willing to accept a perceived increase in risk by traveling remains unclear.

Source Article