Travelers Plan to Stay Closer to Home Following Pandemic

Once the coronavirus pandemic subsides, travelers will continue to remain closer to home, according to the new Future of Travel survey from Simon-Kucher & Partners, a global strategy and marketing consulting firm.

The survey of more than 3,600 consumers across the U.S. and Europe found that the way people travel and their travel preferences will have shifted following the global pandemic.

The research also showed that structural changes in consumer behavior are expected to pose significant challenges to the tourism industry.

Thirty percent of those surveyed indicated that they would travel as soon as they are allowed. Forty percent said they will only travel once they are certain that travel providers have taken appropriate measures with regards to things like health screenings and social distancing.

When it comes to where travelers will be headed, many said they would be looking to stay more local. Thirty-two percent of consumers indicated that they expect to go on more domestic trips following the global pandemic, and 52 percent expect they will book more last minute.

The decreased interest in international travel is particularly prominent in the U.S.

“The U.S. has the highest number of COVID-19 cases and the situation is quite fluid in development with many states showing diverging trajectories. In addition, there is no clear timeline for the travel restrictions that the U.S. and many countries around the world have put in place since March to be lifted, so it is not a complete surprise that Americans are reluctant to travel internationally,” said Wei Ke, partner and U.S. travel expert at Simon-Kucher & Partners. “Clearly this will be terrible news for travel sectors that rely on international travel like airlines; however, it is more encouraging for domestic-focused businesses like theme and holiday parks, which can use the sentiment to their advantage and gain new customers who had not previously tried domestic proposition.”

For 80 percent of respondents who intend to travel after the outbreak is contained, booking flexibility is of the utmost importance, including knowing that they have money-back guarantees should they need to cancel their trip.

Eighty-two percent say they will consider the hygiene/cleanliness measures taken when deciding on their next travel provider. Customer loyalty programs, offers and incentives and customer friendliness during the pandemic will matter significantly less.

“That means consumer priorities are clearly on health and money,” said Dimitris Hiotis, partner and head of the leisure, tourism and transportation practice at Simon-Kucher & Partners. “They want to feel ‘confident’ that the appropriate health measures are taken to minimize risk of infection before they travel, while at the same time they want to have considerable booking flexibility and guarantee that their money is safe, as the resurgent crisis creates uncertainty on when and how it is safe to travel again.”

Hiotis advises travel companies to focus on health reassurance and booking flexibility and to realign their products and offerings with these ideas in mind.

A big shift will come in the area of public transport. Fifty-five percent of survey respondents said that they will rely on public transportation less, and 40 percent said they will use private transportation more frequently.

“This is clearly a big shift in preferences, but it remains to be seen how feasible it is,” said Rosalind Hunter, partner and expert on mobility at Simon-Kucher & Partners. “Big cities like London and New York are built and designed on the basis of public transportation.”

Hunter also notes that shifts to working from home have also reduced the reliance on public transportation.

“In practice, we should expect some decline in demand for public transport, more as a result of shift in working practices rather than people taking their car more, as the infrastructure is not in place to support that,” Hunter noted. “At the same time, this might be a boost for short-term bike or scooter rental mobility providers as people opt to use these means to avoid crowded buses and trains.”

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