August 7, 2020 · Melissa Kavanagh

Fuel COVID-19 Consumer Sentiment Study Volume 8: Safety Still Top Concern

This is the eighth edition of Fuel’s COVID-19 Consumer Sentiment Study. As the virus continues to impact the state of travel and the hospitality industry, we want to continue to provide insights on the sentiment of consumers.
We hope that you find the information useful. The survey was sent out on July 30, 2020, and received 2,700 responses. Below is a summary of the findings, along with some observations and opportunities that arise from the results.

Executive Summary

Confidence in travel has rebounded since our  last survey, but not to the level we had seen prior.  We asked a new question to see the breakdown of people who have traveled during the pandemic, and some follow-up questions for those who have. We also broke down the data from some questions based on that behavior. Below are the key points of this survey.

  • Most people have NOT traveled since the pandemic.
  • Communication to guests about the status of local restaurants, attractions and activities has been sub-par.
  • On-property cleaning/sanitization generally has been meeting or exceeding expectations.
  • There was a big increase in the percentage of people who want to go to a destination with a mask ordinance vs. those who do not want one.
  • Open air destinations and 1-3 hour drive locations are still far more likely to be visited in the near future.

1. Have you traveled since March 15th, 2020?

  • Observation: Nearly two-thirds of respondents have not traveled since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic.

The following two questions were only asked to people who responded ``yes`` to the previous question.

2. Did the property communicate the following to you prior to your recent stay?

  • Observation: More than 70% of respondents said that they received communication regarding cleaning protocols at the property, and more than 60% for local mask requirements. Properties are not communicating well the status of local restaurants or attractions/activities.
  • Opportunity: You can, and should be, a great source of information as it pertains to your local area. Always have updated information on your website and in all communication to guests on the status of restaurants and local attractions. Remember that the hotel room is just one part of a guest’s vacation.

3. Did the property meet your expectations in the following areas?

  • Observation: Great news for hoteliers! In every area, an overwhelming majority of respondents said their expectations were met or exceeded! The two areas with the most dissatisfaction were social distancing enforcement (17%) and availability of amenities (16%).

4. If your desired destination implements a mandatory face mask ordinance, how will
this impact your travel plans?

  • Observation: Nearly half of respondents say they are unaffected by mask ordinances, and 35% said they would be more likely to travel there.
  • Data Comparison: Those voting positively for mask ordinances increased from 27% to 35% since the last survey!
  • Opportunity: It is important that your property take a stand on this issue, and follow through. Being clear in your expectations of guests’ behavior rather than being wishy-washy, and enforcing those expectations is important, as we saw previously from those who have traveled this year.

5. What is the first word that you think of when considering travel right now?

  • Observation:  “Safety” remains the most popular word.
  • Data Comparison: “Mask” and “masks” have made their second appearance. “Scary,” “risky” and “dangerous” remain at the same size we’ve seen through the last few surveys. “Price” has returned.
  • Non-Travelers: Those who have not yet traveled also mentioned “nervous”, “uncertain,” and “fear,” indicating a higher level of concern about traveling.
  • Opportunity: People are concerned for their safety above all, but they are also craving relaxation. What can you do to ease their mind about traveling to your property, with their budget concerns in mind?

6. Which of the following would most likely persuade you to book a future vacation during the coronavirus outbreak? (Check all that apply)

  • Observation: 67% of people chose flexibility to change without penalty.
  • Data Comparison: People saying that they could not be persuaded decreased, going from 27% back down to 22%. We had seen this at a low of 16%.
    Reassurance of sanitization increased from the #3 spot to #2, and from 54% to 61%.
    Discounts on stays decreased from the #2 spot to #3, though the percentage of votes increased from 55% to 59%.
  • Resource: Fuel put this article together on what types of policy changes and messaging you should be implementing right now:  The Definitive Guide To COVID19 Policy Updates & Communication. 

7. Have you already booked your future stay?

  • Observation: 28% of people do have an upcoming stay booked, 68% do not.
  • Data Comparison: These percentages have fluctuated with each survey, ranging from 60%-65% saying they do not. This is the highest percentage we have seen recently.

8. Pick the top 3 reasons that would prevent you from staying at a hotel right now.

  • Observation: The two most popular answers are pertaining to close contact of people on-property. 46% chose fear of other guests interactions, and 35% said fear of the common areas.
  • Data Comparison: The percentage of fear of guests and common areas decreased from 51% to 46% and 41% to 35%, respectively. The percentage of those saying nothing is preventing remained even at 24%. Budget concerns increased from the #7 spot and 21%, to #5 and 28%.
  • Non-Travelers: Those who haven’t traveled yet voted fear of other guests at 58%, and fear of common area at 45%.
  • Opportunity: Be clear with all of your messaging and website information as it pertains to the cleaning procedures on property. Additionally, communicating the status of property amenities, and area attractions and restaurants is extremely important. If your primary consumer is those with children, being mindful of their budget concerns will also be important.

9. During the outbreak, I would like to hear from hotels on the following topics: (check all that apply)

  • Observation: Respondents continue to be more interested in learning about what properties are doing to protect guests than they are about receiving deals for future stays.
  • Data Comparison: We changed the option of “I would not like to hear anything” on this version. Instead, we now have an option for “Nothing – I have not traveled this year,” and “Nothing – I have already traveled.” Those voting for nothing and have not traveled was at 15%.  Packages and specials has moved back into the #2 spot, but is just 2 percentage points higher than how the virus is affecting the local area.
  • Opportunity: For those consumers that want to hear from hotels, sending messaging with important information on their safety AND that provides value to them, and shows empathy, can keep your property top of mind.
  • Resource: Having the right CRM system is critical to this success. Find out how to determine if you are ready for a new one, and for the best strategies for using your system to its fullest ability. Your CRM System Will Determine How (and if) Your Hotel Recovers From COVID-19

10. How would the following hotel protocols increase your confidence in staying at a

  • Observation: Deep cleaning between guests, and placing the sanitized remote in a sealed bag had the biggest impact, with 69% saying deep cleaning would greatly impact confidence, and 54% for the remote. 67% said that having an option to check in via a mobile app would impact confidence.
  • Travelers vs. Non-Travelers: Non-travelers felt that all of these protocols would increase confidence more than those that have already traveled.
  • Opportunity: Be crystal clear in your communication to guests and potential guests about cleaning protocols. Additionally, with the remote being having such a strong response, if you are able to incorporate this small item into your operations, it would be of great value to guests.

11. How likely are you to book a trip:

  • Observation: 45% of respondents answered “maybe” or higher within the next 30 days. 53% responded for the next 60 days, and 62% for 90 days.
  • Data Comparison: We saw a slight increase in those answering at least “maybe” in the next 30 days, going from  from 43% to 45%, but nowhere near the 57% we had seen two surveys ago. When we first asked this question on April 16, 37% responded at least maybe.

12. How soon will you be willing to make the following trips?

  • Observation: We changed the distance categories in this version of the survey, removing staying in a local hotel, and adding 1 and 3 hour drive distances. Those willing to drive up to an hour from home within 1 month was at 53%, 2 hours, was 40%, and 3 hours was at 29%. The percentage of consumers willing to travel within 3 months was much closer within those categories, ranging from 19%-23%.
  • Travelers vs. Non-Travelers: Across the board, those who have already traveled are more willing to travel again within 1 month than those who have not yet traveled.
  • Data Comparison: Within 1 month, the following were notable changes:
    • The 2 hour drive category increased from 28% to 40%! The previous high was 34%.
  • Opportunity: The 1-3 hour drive market remains the most confident for traveling sooner rather than later. For the near future, targeting these consumers via email and paid search will yield the best returns.
  • Resource:  Fuel has developed A How-To Guide For Targeting Drive Markets

13. How soon will you be willing to travel to the following types of destination?

  • Observation: Destinations with opens spaces continue to far more likely to be visited earlier than densely populated areas, or high-touch destinations.
  • Data comparison: There were minor shifts in the 30 day window for open spaces, while several of the densely populated/high touch destinations saw more substantial growth in the year+ categories.

14. During your next vacation, how likely are you to use the following amenities?

This Survey

Last Survey

  • Observation: The outdoor pool continues to be much more likely to be utilized than indoor, and the most popular amenity, overall.
  • Data Comparison: We can see another big shift in numbers since the last survey, with those definitely to use an outdoor pool at 35% vs. 27%. However, previously it had been as high as 44%.
  • Travelers vs. Non-Travelers: Of those who have not traveled yet, just 29% said they would definitely use an outdoor pool, vs. 45% of those who have already traveled.
  • Opportunity: Clearly explaining health safety procedures for all amenities, as well as the availability of them is important, so that guests will know what to expect when they arrive. This is particularly true if it means restrictions on how many people can be present, or if masks are required, etc.

15. During your next vacation how likely are you to do the following?

  • Observation: Respondents voted that eating on property and at local restaurants OUTSIDE was far more favorable to eating at those places inside. 65% said they were likely or definitely eating outside on-property, vs. 42% inside; 72% for outside at a restaurant, vs. 48% inside.
  • Data Comparison: We saw increases in those saying likely or definitely for indoor options: on-property restaurant increased from 33% to 42%; local restaurant increased from to 38% to 48%. While the indoor options have increased since the last survey, they are still not back to the levels they were previously.
  • Opportunity: If you have an on-property restaurant, promoting outdoor seating will be a large benefit. Additionally, with consumers being even more likely to buy groceries to eat in their rooms, properties that have rooms with kitchens have a huge advantage. Showcasing those kitchens is imperative now.

16. Complete the following sentence: I will travel when:

  • Observation: “Feel safe”  is most prevalent since we first asked this question. Phrases relating to a vaccine, number of virus cases declining have also been popular.
  • Data Comparison: We did not see much change since the last survey. “Mask” made a return, as did “money” and “afford.”
  • Opportunity: As mentioned before, whatever you can do to assure visitors that you have their well-being as a priority will increase your chance in convincing them to stay with you. Being cognizant of the financial stress many people are feeling, and providing value-add items to packages where possible will help consumers feel more comfortable booking.

Wrapping it Up

We have now been sending out these surveys for over 4 months. In this time, respondents have been consistently sending the same message: they care about their health safety.
The level of comfort in traveling has shifted again, and while it has increased some, we are still not back to where we were in June. As the pandemic continues to change on a weekly basis, we would continue to expect more changes in sentiment. Properties need to be doing all they can to let potential guests know that they are looking out for everyone’s safety (which seems to be happening), as well as communicating information about the surrounding area (which seems to be where properties are lacking).
Survey Methodology
This was a self-reporting survey sent to a database of leisure travelers located in North America. Questions containing multiple checkbox responses had the options randomized to avoid positional bias. 2,000 respondents completed all questions.
Below is the demographic breakdown of respondents.

Age & Gender:

Do you have children living at home with you?

What was your total estimated household income before taxes during the past
12 months?

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