With Increased Vaccinations and Summer Arriving, Consumers Are Ready to Travel
This past weekend marks the unofficial start of summer. And as vaccinations increase, and COVID-19 cases decrease, Americans are ready to travel again. According to a recent Big Village CARAVAN study (May 5-7, 2021), 4 of 10 consumers are very likely to travel for business or pleasure in the next 3 months, and three-quarters (76%) of consumers are very likely to take a trip in the next 12 months.
This past week we saw Americans deliver on their intentions to hit the road. AAA forecasted travel to increase 60% for the Memorial Day holiday, with 37 million people expected to travel 40 miles or more from home, according to Reuters and AAA Travel. In New York, traffic came roaring back this week. According to the New York Times, on May 27th, 970,920 drivers traveled through city tolls, more than any other time during the pandemic. And this past weekend was about as close to “normal” as it gets with about 96 percent of that day’s traffic during a normal year, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Based on consumers’ reports from Big Village’s CARAVAN study, car travel will likely be the dominant way Americans travel, at least as we transition out of the pandemic. Just under half (46%) of consumers surveyed indicated they would be looking to travel 500 miles or less and most consumers (59%) report being most likely to travel by car. More affluent consumers and younger travelers are more likely to take the skies. While airlines did see a significant increase in volume this Memorial Day compared to last, the number of air travelers is not yet at pre-pandemic levels.
Who is traveling and where they are headed will be a key question for tourism-related businesses to answer as the summer travel season heats up. With the temperatures warming up, most travelers (52%) are looking to take advantage of the outdoors and plan to visit a national park or similar natural resource on their next trip. Gen Z is most likely to visit an amusement park, and travelers younger than 40 are most likely to travel to a resort or visit a foreign country. These findings suggest that many will not travel the same way, or to the same places they have in the past.
According to the U.S. Travel Association, in 2020 travel generated $1.5 trillion for the U.S. economy, and last year was a down year for the industry. Understanding what types of experiences and destinations consumers are looking for will be critical to ensuring brands take advantage of the increase in consumer spending this year. Whether it be a state or city travel authority, local attraction, hotel or the variety of shops and restaurants that benefit from tourism, understanding who today’s traveler is will be important to meeting their needs, and delivering the growth brands are looking for as places open up.
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted many aspects of life, and the travel industry may have been the most impacted, which makes getting re-opening right that much more important. With over half (56%) of consumers reporting in the May16 Pulse of the American Consumer report from Big Village that they are, “….still nervous to get back out into public and resume ‘normal life’….” brands that rely on travel and tourism for revenue will need to make sure they understand today’s traveler. For example, looking into Big Village’s media consumption data we can start to see some skews among those in-market for hotels. Their media consumption is fragmented – consumers in-market for hotels consume less media in total, across more platforms than people in general, making them hard to reach.
To take advantage of social distance requirements being lifted, travel, tourism, and related brands need to take action to ensure they have a timely, up-to-date understanding of who their target is and where they can be reached. So much has changed during the pandemic, relying on dated knowledge and old assumptions is too risky. An up-to-date insight into how consumers feel about travel, what their plans are, how they would like health and safety to ensure where they stay, shop, and eat are critical to the success of a business as we make the transition into a post-pandemic economy.