We are still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past few months, we’ve seen the world come to a halt and recently we’ve seen parts of the world start to open up again. While we’re all anxious to open our economies, doing so too quickly might result in unintended consequences – especially as we see some regions of the world going back into lock down after easing restrictions. This has all caused a lot of people to be hesitant to travel even as restrictions ease, leaving money in a limbo thinking “when will I be able to travel again?” So where does that leave the state of travel?

What are travelers thinking? 

Not planes or trains, but automobiles

It probably won’t shock most of us what travelers are thinking, as we ourselves play both traveler and travel industry worker roles. In a recent Skift research report, 41% of Americans say their first trip will be by car within 100 miles. An additional 26% said they would travel more than 100 miles by home, but still by car. So that’s 67% of Americans who will not get on an airplane to travel. 

skift report -expected first trip type april 2020
That does leave a small chunk (16%) of people who would travel by flight, but within the United States. Only 8% say they’ll travel outside the U.S. The shift to road trips should not be surprising, especially since we’ve seen this before. After the 2008 economic crisis, Americans spent more of their travel budgets on road trips during the 7-year economic recovery period, than they did during times of stability.  And while some may still visit urban centers, we expect that road trips will lead travelers to more remote and outdoor-focused destinations.

A shift in accommodations & things to do

Even as many hotels develop comprehensive social distance practices and ramp up their sanitation efforts, travelers are still hesitant about staying in hotels, but that’s not to say that travelers will not stay in a hotel. In the United States, we’re seeing hotels with amenities related to being outdoors have become more prominent with travelers right now, including Boating, Ski In/Ski Out, Canoeing & Horseback Riding.  Similarly, outdoors activities like hiking and skiing have become more prominent for European destinations. With plenty of options, Castles and Cottages in Europe’s more rural destinations make for some of the most popular searched accommodations.  Back in the United States there are also signs for increase in vacation rental bookings. Vacation rental property management platform Guesty saw a 38% increase in Thanksgiving travel bookings year-on-year and a 40% increase in reservations during Christmas year-on-year, suggesting that not only are travelers looking for private accommodations like vacation rentals but also that they are hesitant to travel in the summer of 2020. Still, some travelers are hesitant about the level of cleanliness in your average vacation rental, but the separation from larger groups of people is enticing.  Along with isolation in a vacation rental, more travelers may also be seeking isolation on wheels. TravelPulse is calling Summer 2020 the “Summer of the RV.”

More research and less spontaneity 

Our new normal will result in travelers being extra cautious. Of course travelers (and travel advisors) will have to do their due diligence when it comes to any restrictions in the area to which they are traveling, but travelers will have to spend more time planning out their travel. Spontaneity leads to a lot of unknown things that travelers won’t be able to control.

What should I do now? 

With so many unknowns in our future, many in the travel industry are aiming for when things can go back to normal. But there are a few steps we need to take before we get there.

Prepare for changes in travel preferences

Based on the data, we know that many travelers won’t travel the same way that they did a year ago. Travelers will have new requirements when choosing accommodations and destinations, being conscious of how they can protect their health in a post-COVID-19 world. Travelers are eager to help get the travel industry back on its feet and we should meet them halfway.

Consider the appropriate timing for promotions and outreach

When we start seeing daily life return to normal, travelers will be more receptive to committing to travel plans – even if domestic and international travel are still not possible. Use the time now to start planning promotions and offers. In addition to appropriate timing, we need to rethink messaging so that it is appropriate and sensitive to health concerns and other hesitations clients might have. As the experts, travelers will be looking to us to help guide them through traveling in a post-COVID-19 world.

Focus on travel closer to clients’ hometowns

Travelers want to stay closer to home and have no big plans to travel domestically just yet. While we can immediately help travelers plan local day trips, we can also start preparing for the steady increase of domestic travel in the coming months. The marketing will need to change too, as some locals may not want to go on the typical tour of their area.