The new, even more severe surge of coronavirus cases across the country didn’t seem to stop Americans from traveling, as the early round did. According to our July U.S. travel tracker survey, 35% of Americans traveled in July, continuing the slow-climbing trend since April.
Certainly, the fact that we all have better knowledge of the virus and are more confident about protecting ourselves against it now plays a big role in it. But this doesn’t mean that the travel sector is well on its track to recovery. Rather, challenges abound in the next few months.
In this report, we highlight new trends in travel incidences, consumer sentiments and future travel intents distilled from our June Travel Tracker survey.
What You'll Learn From This Report
- Travel incidences Jan – July 2020
- July travel highlights
- COVID-19 impacted travel Feb – July 2020
- Changing consumer sentiments on the economic outlook Feb – August 2020
- Changing consumer intent on future travel April – August 2020
Skift Research’s monthly U.S. travel tracking surveys are conducted to examine the travel penetration rates and detailed travel behavior of the U.S. population. The sample population represents the demographic breakdowns of age, gender, income, race/ethnicity, and residential location of the U.S. Census Bureau. Respondents are asked to report if they traveled in the previous month and recall travel-related details if they did. The January survey was fielded on February 25–28, 2020 with a total sample of 1,002. The February survey was fielded on March 12–16, 2020, with a total sample of 1,085. The March survey was fielded on April 8–13, 2020, with a total sample of 1,022. The April survey was fielded on May 7–11, 2020, with a total sample of 1,077. The May survey was fielded on June 1–3, with a total sample of 1,007. The June survey was fielded on July 6–7, with a total sample of 1,006. The July survey was fielded on August 3–5, with a total sample of 1,001. All surveys were fielded online by a trusted third-party consumer panel provider.
In addition to the factual travel occurrences, we also asked respondents their perceptions on the macro-level economic condition as well their personal financial and travel outlook. Given those questions reflect what respondents felt at the time of the survey, the date for those questions that we refer to in this report is the month when the survey was conducted, instead of the month when travel happened.
Highlights of July U.S. Travel
Travel Rate Continued to Rise
Despite soaring new COVID cases across a big part of the country, 35% of Americans took at least one trip in July, nearly three percentage points higher than June.
Summer Vacation the Main Driver of Travel Growth
Out of all the trips taken in July, 41% were for the purpose of vacations. We’ve been talking about the pent-up demand for some time. With summer finally here and after being stuck at home for four months, Americans are venturing out to enjoy the summer, although most of the vacations are close to home within driving distance, as we will see later in the report.
On the other hand, with more people taking vacation time and the rising COVID cases, business travel numbers went down dramatically in July. General business travel dropped from 14% of trip share in June to 9% in July. Conference and trade show segment was even worse, accounting for only 3% of all July trips, a seven percentage point decrease from June.
Air Travel Stalled, Again
After a slight rebound in June, air travel didn’t continue the upward growth despite the increase in travel incidences and vacationing. Air travel rate for personal trips remained the same at barely 9% in July, and for business travel the number dropped from 26% in June to 17% in July. We believe this has very little to do with what the airline sector is doing. Instead, the new wave of COVID cases and reinstituted inter-state travel restrictions by some U.S. states were the main reasons behind the stagnation.
All Destination Types Saw Some Return
The new normal of vacationing, at least for this summer, seems to be associated with staycations, day trips, driving trips, and the like. And with that, all types of destinations, in close proximity to vacation-takers’ homes, seemed to enjoy some return of tourism. Beaches, national parks, even the long-shunned urban centers, saw some increase in tourism activities.
Accommodation Sector Continued to Gain Ground
The worst fears of the virus and the resulting escapes to stay together with families and friends might have passed its peak. Paid lodging continued to gain popularity among travelers. With vacation being the main travel theme of July, all-inclusive resort hotels rose to account for 10% of all travel stays, a sharp increase from 3% in June. Short-term vacation rentals remained strong, at 10% of all July travel stays.
Travel Cancellation and Rearrangement Still High
Yes, people are travelling again. But they are not flying or taking long-haul trips yet. Long-haul trips are often booked at least 6 months ahead. Because of that, the number of consumers who cancelled or postponed pre-booked travel due to the concerns about COVID-19, while declining from the height of March to May, remains high. Another factor that might contribute to the high cancellation rate is the flexible cancellation policies that most travel companies offer now. Consumers are more likely to book a trip hoping that the COVID situation could improve, but cancel the trip when they don’t feel safe to travel.
Price-Induced Travel Remained Low
We believe that until COVID cases go down to a comfortable level for the general public, discounted prices, no matter how attractive, are not going to be enough to lure consumers to book and travel. Our survey data has been consistent in supporting that argument. In July, the number of people who booked travel due to deeper discounts remained at about 9%.
Highlights of August Consumer Sentiments
Optimism about the U.S. Economy Dampened
Uncertainty about the new round of stimulus relief, the upcoming election, and social and racial justice protests, all seemed to cast a deep shadow on American consumers’ confidence in the economy in early August. The number of consumers who believed the U.S. economy would be much worse in the next 12 months jumped from 19% in early July to 24% in early August. At the same time, only 32% believed the economy would be better in August, dropping from 37% in July.
Yet Consumers Are Still Evenly Divided About Their Personal Financial Outlook
The percentage of consumers who expected their personal financial situation to get better in the next 12 months only dropped slightly in August, trailing the sharper drop in positive outlook for the macro economy. As we explained in the previous reports, this is likely because many who have been suffering financial losses now believe their situation will improve once business situations improve.
Near-Term Travel Demand Remains Low
Fewer people plan to increase their travel spending than decrease it in the next twelve months. But, many consumers who would’ve traveled have not been able to travel since the pandemic started. Still others who would’ve had long domestic or international trips ended up having a weekend getaway in a neighboring town. As such we believe that this data speaks more towards pent up demand being pushed out rather than being a signal of long-term travel setback.
Highlights of August Future Travel Intent
Concerns About COVID-19 Remained High, But People Felt Less Impacted by It
There seems a trend of divergence between how people feel about the virus and how they cope with it. With rising new cases, U.S. consumers are more accepting of the fact that fighting the virus is a hard battle. Yet on the other hand, they seem to be coping with the pandemic situation much better. While 57% of Americans surveyed in August were very concerned about the coronavirus, the same as July, the number of consumers who indicated their lives were very much impacted by the virus dropped from 48% in July to 44% in August.
Forty-Four Percent of Americans Predicted COVID-19 to End in H2 2021 or Later
The number of consumers who expect a fast end to the COVID-19 crisis has continued to decrease for the past 4 months. While a large cluster of consumers, 40%, believe we will have the virus cured or contained in the first half 2021, an even bigger percentage of Americans only expect COVID-19 to be under control in the second half of 2021 or beyond.
Similarly, more people think it will take a long time for life to be back to normal even after the virus is under control. In early August, close to 30% of Americans surveyed indicated that life wouldn’t be back to normal until at least a year after the pandemic is under control.
More Consumers Planned to Wait Longer to Travel Again
Our July survey showed that the number of people who planned to travel soon after travel restrictions were lifted started to decline and more consumers indicated they would wait until 10 months after the virus was under control to travel again. The numbers for August changed little from July.
Road Trips Remained the Most Desired Trip Type
Number of Consumers Who Said They Would Change Their Travel Preference for at Least One Part of Travel Post-COVID-19 Decreased Slightly
In August, the numbers of consumers who said they would likely change their accommodation type, transportation mode and destination type all dropped slightly from July. A modest sign that Americans are at least beginning to consider a return to more normal travel patterns.