Research shows how COVID-19 pandemic has affected travel perceptions, priorities

Posted at 1:58 PM, May 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-19 14:58:02-04

A recent national study shows how the travel industry could possibly be affected by COVID-19 in the future.

The study shows how consumer perceptions about the present — and possibly the future — of the travel industry are being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the research, consumers in the future may want less complicated, more family-oriented travel experiences that place a greater emphasis on health and wellness.

The report shows activities to which a more positive and faster return may be expected include:

  • Extended family gatherings.
  • Domestic travel by car.
  • Return to restaurants and bars.
  • Outdoor leisure activities.

Activities respondents indicated they would be very slow to extremely slow to return to were:

  • Cruising.
  • International travel by plane.
  • Large events such as concerts, sports.
  • Mass tourism attractions.
  • Domestic travel by plane.

The study was performed by Angela Durko, Ph.D., Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences at Texas A&M’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Steven Migacz, Ph.D., Heller College of Business, Roosevelt University.

It was based on more than 900 completed surveys sent to consumers throughout the U.S. with respondents from 18 to 74 years old.

The research looks at how the travel industry is being perceived when dealing with travel changes, what service-recovery options are being utilized, and intention to return to services.

It also provides suggestions for industry improvement upon reopening based on how time spent at home during the pandemic may shape the industry of the future.

“Social distancing, travel restrictions, a greatly reduced number of flights and accommodations at travel destinations, concerns about personal health, financial considerations and industry response to these and other issues have had an impact on consumer perceptions,” said Durko.

Some survey respondents report they are saving money during the pandemic, possibly leading to an increase in discretionary funding for future travel. Many respondents indicate they want to adhere to a slower approach to life, including travel.

Durko said under the current circumstances, consumers prefer destinations that can offer a simpler but still rewarding experience with fewer overall distractions or scheduled activities.

“An example might be visiting a state park, beach or small attraction as opposed to going to a heavily populated attraction with multiple activities. There may be a shift toward slow tourism, where the traveler stays longer but travels less once they are at their destination. The next vacation may be more about quality than quantity, with less running around and more time to appreciate the destination and travel companions.”

Family bonding during the pandemic may lead to a resurgence in family trips as well as trips to visit extended family once the pandemic has subsided.

The report shows that, although spatially distant, respondents said family bonding activities were more frequent and social distancing had led them to connect with extended family members through social and virtual means.

Family-oriented car travel is one of the areas expected to be among the first to return to normal once consumers feel it is safe enough to hit the road.

“If anything, family time and family connections have become stronger during this time,” Durko said. “This could suggest that travel-related companies could benefit from offering more family inclusive experiences, either by the activities offered or costs associated with the experience.”

She also said the research indicates there may be a surge in “make-up travel” for those who spent birthdays or anniversaries sheltering in place or had to cancel or postpone family oriented events such as weddings, including destination weddings.

A greater focus on health and wellness may also lead to more travel involving physical activity or other healthy lifestyle offerings.

Durko said many respondents noted they have been using their stay-at-home time for personal health, reflection and growth.

More than 50% said they were using this time to reflect on diet and exercise and make wellness improvements they hope to maintain.

“Travel companies could benefit from providing opportunities that contribute to physical, spiritual and mental maintenance and growth,” she said. “We may see a rise in yoga retreats, destination runs and other physical activity offerings, as well as increased use of gyms, health spas and workout areas, provided they can show the customer they are safe and clean. We may also see more healthy food options at restaurants and resorts and an increase in culinary tourism.”

Respondents had a strong “wait and see” approach to specific travel activities, with many being hesitant to return to mass industry-provided transportation and events.

Over 75% of respondents agreed their changes in travel plans due to the coronavirus pandemic were due to factors uncontrollable by the service provider. So, when customer service representatives show more empathy and understanding due to changes, respondents note their overall satisfaction with having to change travel plans has been more positive.

“Three-quarters of those with a positive experience with their travel-related industry indicate they would recommend that company to a family or friend,” she said. “In an age where one customer’s story can be shared with thousands of potential customers via social media, it is crucial for the travel industry to create positive recovery experiences and responses.”

Additionally, 37% of respondents suggest full refunds would incentivize them to work with a company again.

“Companies able and willing to provide a quick and full refund will likely be remembered as trusted industry providers,” Durko said.