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

May 21, 2020

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New York, May 21, 2020 – As Memorial Day approaches, 60 percent of Americans surveyed are looking forward to traveling again. Americans aren’t alone – globally 56 percent 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 percent 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, a partner with 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. US travelers are more comfortable flying (51 percent) than doing any of the following – staying in a hotel (48 percent), dining in restaurants (46 percent), using rideshares (25 percent) or going on public transportation (23 percent). 

Travelers in the US 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. In the US, 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 percent said that the airline response so far has been positive. This is especially true among elite travelers, with almost 80 percent feeling that their primary airlines’ response to COVID-19 was favorable. 

In terms of hotels, globally, 64 percent said that improvements in health and cleaning of rooms and public spaces will significantly impact their decision to stay at a hotel.  Almost 70 percent 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, a partner with 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, we found 80 percent of global travelers prefer to stay at a large hotel compared to 57 percent for home rentals.  For US travelers, 83 percent would like to stay at a large hotel and 61 percent in home rentals. In China, 94 percent prefer large hotels with 49 percent looking at home rentals.

Local Destinations Preferred

People in China, Italy, Spain, and the US are the most likely to travel domestically for their next leisure trip.   In the US, this means travel closer to home such as other US 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 percent 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,” concluded Stansbury. 

This study will be repeated every six weeks over the summer to determine global traveler preferences.  Please email if you are interested in learning more about this or any upcoming travel surveys.

About the survey

The survey was administered to a nationally representative sample of the population by using the profiled data (triple/double opt-in panels) and confirming demographic data within the survey. Quota caps were monitored and adjusted live during fielding to achieve demographic representation. Respondents took one or more roundtrip flights in 2019 and frequent traveler respondents having taken four or more roundtrip flights in 2019.  The survey was conducted between April 24th through May 10th of nearly 4,600 total respondents across nine countries including: US, UK, Canada, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Australia, and China.

About Oliver Wyman

Oliver Wyman is a global leader in management consulting. With offices in 60 cities across 29 countries, Oliver Wyman combines deep industry knowledge with specialized expertise in strategy, operations, risk management, and organization transformation. The firm has more than 5,000 professionals around the world who work with clients to optimize their business, improve their operations and risk profile, and accelerate their organizational performance to seize the most attractive opportunities. Oliver Wyman is a wholly owned subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan Companies [NYSE: MMC]. For more information, visit Follow Oliver Wyman on Twitter @OliverWyman.

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