Recent developments and the imminent progress towards a COVID vaccine are promising, but most consumers surveyed are not waiting for a vaccine to travel—and an increasing number of travelers say it OK to travel now, according to new research from management consulting firm Oliver Wyman.
“Vaccines are important but personal judgement is still the leading factor for deciding to travel, ahead of government restrictions and advice from the World Health Organization,” said Bruce Spear, a partner with Oliver Wyman, in a news release. “This means the travel industry must focus on measures that increase individual customer safety such as mandatory masks, cleaning and rapid testing and not wait for governments to issue directives.”
The firm’s newly released report, Anticipating the Travel Recovery, found several other changes in traveler behavior since the first survey was originally conducted in late April/early May.
Interest in leisure travel remains strong and has grown since May, with 63 percent of respondents expecting to travel the same amount or more post-pandemic. While most travelers in the U.S., Spain, Italy, China, and Australia are planning domestic trips, travelers in Canada, UK, France, and Germany are planning international locations mostly in their home region for their next leisure trip post-COVID. The number one driver for these leisure trips globally is to visit friends and family. More than 55 percent of U.S. respondents are more likely to visit friends and family compared to before COVID, showing pent up demand for Thanksgiving and holiday travel.
Forty-three percent of all respondents who travel for business plan to travel less in the future, a 16-point increase from May. Business travelers have gotten more comfortable with teleconferencing, but only 53 percent agree that they can develop new relationships via teleconferencing. This drops to 47 percent for business travelers under 30. While half of business travelers expect no change in trip duration, 30 percent expect to shorten their trips when possible, which will impact hotel stays.
Modes of transport
Overall respondents are more comfortable with various transportation options than they were in May. Half are now comfortable taking a flight and almost 60 percent are comfortable staying at a hotel. However, less than a third are comfortable using public transportation or ride sharing. In the U.S., over 40 percent of respondents are still uncomfortable using public transportation or rideshare.
Back in May, the cruise industry was still reeling from news of passengers quarantined at sea. Since then, the gap between cruises and other experiences involving significant interaction with others has closed. Respondents now feel as comfortable taking a cruise as attending a convention or going to a concert or sporting event. Past cruisers are more comfortable than first timers.
The survey also asked people about actual travel they have done during the pandemic. Overall, 31 percent have traveled by air and 24 percent by train (more than 2 hours) since March. Sixty percent of these trips were primarily for leisure.
Half of travelers (51 percent) were excited to travel; while only a quarter reported being reluctant. Almost 80 percent of those who traveled were satisfied with most components of their experience including check-in, security, boarding process, passenger and crew PPE. Travelers from the U.S. and China had an average satisfaction rating of over 80 percent across their journeys. Travelers were less impressed with food and beverage and airport/station retail because many of these amenities have been nearly eliminated.
Price remains the number one factor for consumer choice, followed by cleaning policies and treatment of travelers. The exception is in China, where aircraft cleaning policies and treatment by the airline outrank price. Travelers view cleaning and mask mandates as the most important health and safety measures, but 40 percent would still like to see an empty seat next to them on planes and trains.
“As we continue to adjust to our new COVID reality, travel providers will see a shift in their core customer base due to reduced business demand,” said Jessica Stansbury, a partner with Oliver Wyman, in the release. “Leisure travel will continue to drive the recovery and addressing new customer expectations will be critical. There is no wiggle room for travel companies when it comes to defining, communicating and enforcing policies for cleanliness and ensuring safety.”
Oliver Wyman conducted its second global survey of travelers in September and October to capture how views of travel are changing as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves. The survey involved more than 4,600 people across nine countries (Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, United States), all of whom had flown at least once in 2019. A third also have traveled by air and/or rail in the past six months. The firm’s prior survey was conducted in April/May and can be found here.