Traveler Sentiment Offers Cues to Recovery Path

By George Zimmermann, Longwoods International

Five months into the worst pandemic in 100 years, hopes for a swift recovery for the travel and tourism sector have wilted in the summer heat. We at Longwoods International have been checking the pulse of American travelers regularly since March, and the trends are not encouraging.

In our August 12 survey of U.S. travelers, the inconsistent and ever-changing travel restrictions and health protocols across cities and states is causing American travelers to be hesitant about traveling in the U.S. About half of U.S. travelers are aware there are different restrictions regarding travel in various destinations they might visit, but they are unclear exactly what those restrictions are.  And about four in ten American travelers are aware that different destinations have instituted individual health protocols (mask and social distancing requirements), but they are confused about the precise protocols in place for destinations they are considering.

The mixed messages (and even feuding, for goodness sake!) among federal, state and local officials on how to respond to COVID-19 has taken its toll on consumer confidence in those very officials and their pronouncements.  The percentage of travelers relying on information on the safety of U.S. travel from the CDC or other federal health agencies has dropped from 57% on April 22nd to 45% on July 29th. Confidence in information from the White House Coronavirus Task Force also declined, from 24% in April to 17% in July. Reliance on information from state health officials has slipped from 36% in April to 28% in July.

And despite concerns that safety mandates might discourage visitors, our July 15 data from American travelers showed the opposite -- about 60% prefer destinations which require face masks in public, with 35% reporting they will ONLY visit destinations with mandatory face mask orders. In contrast, only 9% are less likely to visit a destination which requires face masks, with 3% refusing to visit destinations which require face masks.

All of these factors and attitudes have created consumers who remain cautious about travel. The percentage of Americans who feel safe traveling, which was around 40% in early May, rose to the mid-40s mid-June, has now fallen back to around 40% in mid-August.

Similarly, the percentage of Americans who support opening their communities to visitors, which was around a third in early May, rose to the mid-40s in early June. By mid-August, this too had retreated, back to about a third.

A robust rebound in the travel industry will require both consumer confidence in traveling and confidence in the safety and wisdom of inviting visitors in our communities. That confidence may be on hold, like so much of America, waiting for an effective vaccine to defeat coronavirus.

About the Author

George Zimmerman headshot
George Zimmerman
Longwoods International
George Zimmermann brings three decades of experience in tourism destination marketing and research to the Longwoods team and its clients. He was the Vice President responsible for Travel Michigan from October 2001 until April 2014. Under his leadership, Travel Michigan and its advertising agency, McCann Detroit, created and launched the award-winning Pure Michigan branding campaign, a campaign that Forbes ranked among the top ten tourism promotion campaigns worldwide.