March 27, 2020

Traveller attitudes during Covid-19

We wanted to gain a deeper understanding of traveller thoughts and behaviour during the Covid-19 outbreak, to grasp how sentiments, needs and attitudes around the world are shifting, as well as learn how to better support travellers during these unprecedented times.

We undertook in-depth interviews with 30 people aged under 40 across the UK, US, Australia, Singapore, South Korea, Germany and the Netherlands, who have either booked travel or are considering travel in the next two months.

These interviews were conducted in two waves – with 14 travellers starting on 13 March and 16 travellers starting on 19 March.

We're also conducting a weekly pulse survey of more than 5,000 travellers in our key markets – and we’ll be sharing these findings each week in a new blog series called 'Weekly Travel Insights'.

The impact of Covid-19 on travel plans

  • Currently, travel isn’t top of mind for every respondent, except for those who need to travel to see partners / family, or those thinking about escaping cities to places they consider to be safer.
  • All travellers expect trips booked for April / May to get cancelled. They’re waiting for these to be “officially” cancelled as they hope for a refund.
  • There’s “wishful thinking” in the long-term, for trips scheduled from June / July, and especially for trips scheduled from September / October onwards.
  • Generally, people are looking to China and South Korea – to countries where they believe they “have it under control” – so they feel like “there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
  • Participants in the US seemed particularly anxious, worried and concerned about the virus, their safety and the possibility of getting sick. They expected domestic travel to be impossible in the near future.

Feelings about the future; hope

  • We observed quite different attitudes across different regions, probably due to (perceived) stages of the pandemic.
  • In EMEA, there seems to be a general denial about restrictions lasting longer than 30 days – “the world has to get back to normal”.
  • In APAC, people are still very optimistic, and feel that the worst is over and don’t expect sanctions to last much longer (even though several countries are in the second phase of the pandemic).
  • In the US, there’s a lot of uncertainty and waiting, as people aren’t sure how long it’ll last (especially as most believe the situation will get much worse).
  • Even though travellers would like to be hopeful about future trips, they’re not ready to plan or dream about them now. No-one is actively thinking about planning trips at this time.

Factors impacting decision-making

  • Primary traveller concerns are around whether they’re allowed to travel, and if they did, being able to return safely without getting stuck somewhere. There are also concerns around losing money.
  • For this reason, they await guidance from their government and whether airlines are operating flights closer to the time.
  • As all of the respondents are young (under 40), most weren’t concerned about catching the virus personally. Anxiety is more around societal changes and restrictions. In the US, however, more people were scared about their personal safety.
  • In APAC, there’s a strong social pressure not to contribute to the pandemic by travelling.
  • In EMEA, there’s less social pressure, although this was observed in our last round of interviews, mainly in the UK.
  • While people would avoid going to places where there are lots of cases, the main factors impacting travel plans were sanctions and government policies, and of being worried about not getting home / the availability of flights.

Cancellation / Flexibility policies

  • All participants said these would encourage them to go ahead and book travel – as it takes the two key risk factors of a rapidly evolving situation and potential financial losses out of the equation.
  • In the UK, there was relatively low awareness of these policies and people were surprised to hear that travel companies were being so flexible. In other markets, this was more expected.

Fare flexibility

  • Those who were considering travel but hadn’t yet booked reacted very positively to the concept of being able to cancel or rearrange at no cost.
  • They felt this took the two biggest risk factors of rapid situational change and large financial loss out of the equation, while having the additional benefit of potentially capitalising on current cheap prices.
  • “I think it’s very respectable, the travel industry is not normally flexible at all. It’s nice to hear and I did not expect that, that’s for sure.”

Sources of information

  • In general, people increasingly rely on official and government sources.
  • In the UK and Germany particularly, people are more critical, trust the government less, and tend to look for other “credible” media sources or ones that aren’t biased i.e. the BBC. They also try to look at various global news sources for balance.
  • We rarely spoke with a traveller who mentioned a non-internet news source (perhaps because of their age).
  • YouTube was a recurring theme, and people liked its algorithm for suggesting similar news videos.
  • In Singapore and South Korea, the government’s WhatsApp channel is the official trusted news source.

As the situation is moving so fast, we’ll continue to speak with our travellers and get their thoughts and feelings about the future. We’ll collate these as soon as we can and upload them in another blog post.