Survey: Americans Look Forward to Traveling More When COVID-19 Restrictions End

NEW YORK—As Memorial Day approaches, 60% of Americans surveyed are looking forward to traveling again. Americans aren’t alone—globally, 56% of the 4,600 travelers surveyed plan to travel the same or more once COVID-19 travel restrictions ease, and most want to travel by air according to consulting firm Oliver Wyman.

Half of American survey respondents are waiting for their government or the World Health Organization to indicate when it is safe to travel. Only 20% are holding out for acquired immunity or a vaccine before traveling.

“Though the timing of the return to travel is dependent on when government authorities deem it safe, the desire to travel is strong and comfort levels are surprisingly high,” said Jessica Stansbury, partner, Oliver Wyman. “This pent-up demand for leisure travel will spark the initial recovery of the industry.”

These findings hold true globally, as well. Data from across Europe, China, Australia and Canada confirm reason for cautious optimism in the travel industry. Travelers are tired of quarantine and are eager to make up for lost vacations, though most will now stay closer to home and away from crowded activities.

Travelers are Comfortable Returning to the Skies
Globally, travelers are significantly more comfortable flying than with any other mode of transport besides driving. U.S. travelers are more comfortable flying (51%) than doing any of the following: staying in a hotel (48%), dining in restaurants (46%), using rideshares (25%) or going on public transportation (23%).

Travelers in the U.S. and Australia fall just behind China in being the most comfortable to take a flight. Italians are the least comfortable flying and are also the least comfortable overall using any other mode of transportation post-COVID-19. In the U.S., travelers between the age of 30-44 are more comfortable taking a flight than younger people (ages 18-29) and older people (ages 45+).

Respondents said that the airlines’ response to COVID-19 was the most important reason, after price, for choosing to fly in the future. In fact, almost 70% said that the airline response so far has been positive. This is especially true among elite travelers, with almost 80% feeling that the response to COVID-19 was favorable.

In terms of hotels, globally, 64% said that improvements in health and cleaning of rooms and public spaces will significantly impact their decision to stay at a hotel. Almost 70% of travelers globally trust their primary hotel brand’s enhanced cleaning policies.

“There is no longer a middle ground when it comes to cleanliness, and this—combined with the customer experience—will be a key differentiator,” said Bruce Spear, partner, Oliver Wyman. “Trusted brands define and can ensure a consistent standard, giving them an advantage moving forward. We expect the expansion of the sharing economy to slow as travelers favor brand-name hotels or staying with friends and family as opposed to independents and private rentals.”

In fact, the survey found 80% of global travelers prefer to stay at a large hotel compared to 57% for home rentals. For U.S. travelers, 83% would like to stay at a large hotel and 61% in home rentals. In China, 94% prefer large hotels with 49% looking at home rentals.

Local Destinations Preferred
People in China, Italy, Spain and the U.S. are the most likely to travel domestically for their next leisure trip. In the U.S., this means travel closer to home such as other U.S. states, Canada and the Caribbean, instead of Europe, Asia or Africa.

Oliver Wyman also examined business travel trends and found a strong desire to return to business travel. Approximately 75% of Americans who travel by air for business intend to travel the same or more when restrictions are lifted. However, this doesn’t consider possible changes in corporate travel policies.

“While there will not be an immediate recovery and traveler preferences and expectations have likely shifted for good, we see a light at the end of the tunnel for the industry,” said Stansbury.