Regions around the world continue to see increased pandemic-related challenges, with the situation varying greatly by country. Fortunately, more than 4.6 billion doses of coronavirus vaccines have been administered in more than 190 countries, providing the tourism and hospitality industry a much-needed confidence boost, especially during the current summer months. However, with the increase in cases in many parts of the world resulting in new and extended restrictions, as well as the emergence of new virus variants, predicting future travel demand remains challenging.
Are the twists and turns of the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to inflict seismic changes in tourism behavior?
STR’s Tourism Consumer Insights team continues to keep a close eye on traveler and tourism trends. In July 2021, STR conducted new quantitative research via its Traveler Panel to examine attitudes toward travel. This research builds on a previous Tourism After Lockdown blog series and helps chart how consumer views and behaviors have evolved during the pandemic.
Travel barriers continue to influence travelers’ decisions not to book or undertake an overnight trip. How have these barriers impacted tourism decision making since our previous travel barriers article?
In February 2021, when our previous research was conducted, the situation was clearly different. At that time, most respondents had not booked or undertaken any trips, while in July 2021 most (68%) had undertaken or booked a trip.
While our latest research in July 2021 showed a much higher level of tourism engagement overall, unsurprisingly, COVID-19 was still flagged as a major reason for staying at home among those who had not booked or undertaken travel. Similar to our previous results, around 95% of these respondents cited COVID-19 as a reason for not booking or undertaking travel.
While underlying attitudes toward COVID-19 appear unchanged among some travelers, to what extent have different barriers impacted tourism decision making in recent months?
As seen in February 2021, government-related barriers continue to be the biggest deterrent affecting travel. Around 70% of respondents mentioned government restrictions and the risk of quarantine as reasons for not booking or undertaking travel.
Echoing previous research findings, comfort barriers were the next most important category. However, respondents had fewer concerns in this area compared with February 2021. This suggests that there is increased confidence in traveling due to vaccination progress and continuing COVID-19 protocols. That said, concerns about travelers not adhering to social distancing or not being vaccinated are two major comfort-related barriers which continue to turn people off from traveling.
Personal health concerns were also, again, a notable barrier mentioned by respondents as too was the recognition that the experience of traveling is diminished due to COVID-19.
Financial barriers are less significant compared with other barriers. However, the latest wave of the research highlights that testing costs are becoming an increasing challenge. The industry will watch keenly as market forces and, potentially, governments influence COVID-19 testing costs in the coming weeks and months.
Travel barriers across the world
The current situation across the world is complex, varied, and ever-changing. The research though has again identified some common traits among travelers in different parts of the world. North Americans and Brits continue to view comfort and wellbeing as a greater barrier than their counterparts in Europe. However, Europeans are more cautious and, hence more reluctant to travel, due to concerns about their health if they were to contract the virus. This is likely due to the lower vaccination rates currently among Europeans.
Mentioned by 63%, the biggest comfort barrier among U.K. travelers is the perception that the experience will be diminished due to the impact of COVID-19. Meanwhile, the prospect of other travelers not following the rules was the biggest comfort-related deterrent among North Americans (66%).
Last-minute cancellations and refund challenges due to cancellations continue to be the main financial barriers to travel for respondents across all regions.
Many governments, including the U.K., require COVID-19 tests before and after international travel. Concerns about the additional costs due to required testing were voiced strongly among U.K. respondents (43%). However, these requirements are subject to regular change so the industry will hope that conditions are relaxed, and COVID-19 test prices are reduced to minimize the impact of this barrier going forward.
COVID-19 has changed the way we travel. It has also changed the decision-making process to book and undertake a trip. COVID-19 and, more specifically, government, comfort and financial barriers linked to COVID-19 continue to deter some consumers from traveling. However, there are signs of increasing confidence among these cautious consumers which bodes well. Continued effective COVID-safe measures and clear communications by travel brands are essential to reassure consumers and mitigate the impact of some of these barriers.
STR provides premium data benchmarking, analytics and marketplace insights for the global hospitality industry. Founded in 1985, STR maintains a presence in 15 countries with a corporate North American headquarters in Hendersonville, Tennessee, an international headquarters in London, and an Asia Pacific headquarters in Singapore. STR was acquired in October 2019 by CoStar Group, Inc. (NASDAQ: CSGP), the leading provider of commercial real estate information, analytics and online marketplaces. For more information, please visit str.com and costargroup.com.