Shocking Findings From COVID-19 Consumer Sentiment Study

by Stuart Butler

TravelBoom recently fielded a study to North American leisure travelers regarding their perceptions and fears related to travel during the COVID-19 crisis. The survey was sent out on April 2, 2020, and received more than 10,000 responses. Below is a summary of the findings, along with some observations and opportunities that arise from the results.

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

  • Observation: This may be the most jarring and most important data point from the entire study. There are almost no positive words appearing at all on this list. People are scared and they think travel is unsafe. The one small glimmer of light is that some folks indicated that they are hopeful. We would like to see this word become more popular in future surveys.
  • Opportunity: People will remember how you make them feel during this crisis. If you can be a voice of positivity during their darkest moments, they will appreciate it and it will lead to long-term loyalty. Approach your guests with sincerity and empathy and focus on messages containing hope and optimism.  Also think about their current situation and find ways to ease their pain and frustration. What can you do to make their day just a little bit better?

Have you had a trip affected by the Coronavirus outbreak?

Rescheduled Trips During Coronavirus

  • Observation: Over 50% of respondents have either canceled or rescheduled a trip, with cancellations outpacing rescheduling by 4:1. 
  • Opportunity: A large number of people have yet to cancel a future trip. Being proactive with these guests by reaching out and offering to reschedule for free would potentially reduce the risk of losing these guests altogether. We have also seen success from properties who call the canceled guests and offer to rebook them with added incentives and a no-risk cancellation policy. 
  • Resource:  On this episode of our podcast, Kelly Simmons, Director of Marketing for 14 resorts discusses how they have significantly reduced the number of cancellations by implementing an outbound call strategy:  TravelBoom Hotel Marketing Podcast: Episode 141 – A Hotelier’s View On How To Market During The COVID-19 Crisis (with Kelly Simmons)

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

Persuade You To Book A Hotel

  • Observation: Guests are anxious to travel, and flexible cancellation policies are going to be key in getting visitors to book and travel. Nearly 75% plan to travel in the next 18 months — but they want the power to make a decision about their plans without penalty.
  • Opportunity: While many locations are on lock down and more than 30% of respondents said nothing could persuade them to book now, aspirational and forward-looking messaging is critical for the time being. 
  • Resource: TravelBoom 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

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

  • Observation: Visitors are still dreaming about their future travel plans. Half of respondents want to hear about specials on future stays. Only 25% of respondents would prefer not to hear from hotels at all during this time. The remaining 75% are open to receiving communications about a variety of things, particularly what the property is doing to protect staff and guests. Nearly 40% of respondents would like to hear how COVID-19 is affecting the local area.
  • Opportunity: By proactively messaging your guest database with important information that provides value to them and shows empathy, a property can build a tighter relationship and stay top of mind. Being in communication with your guest during this time increases your chances of earning bookings when recovery begins
  • Resource: Here are some great examples of the types of messages that properties are pushing out right now: Coronavirus: Examples of Hotel Messaging Done Right

If you have stayed at a specific property before and you knew that it was struggling financially, would you be willing to do the following to help?

  • Observation: Over 90% said they would book a future stay as long as they could change or cancel with no penalty! Very few people are willing to take on the financial burden by prepaying for a stay or purchasing gift cards. Only the most die-hard fans would be willing to make a donation.
  • Opportunity: A focus on future stays seems to be the logical conclusion, but keep in mind that the folks who are willing to go that extra mile for you are your most fervent fans and will be your biggest advocates. Don’t ignore the opportunity to leverage their positive sentiment and turn them into word-of-mouth marketers. Especially, given the fact that social media usage is so high right now.

Do you intend to take a vacation in 2020 or 2021?

  • Observation: With 60% saying yes in 2020 and 14% saying yes in 2021, consumers have not lost the desire to vacation. Most important, only 3% said that they had no desire to take a vacation.
  • Opportunity: The pent-up demand is only going to increase as people are stuck in their homes. Priming the pump now so that people will think of you when they are ready to make travel plans should be your focus.

Have you already booked a future stay?

Already Booked Future Stay

  • Observation: While 30% of people do have an upcoming stay, 70% do not.
  • Opportunity: Coupling this response with the previous insight that people do still plan to travel suggests that demand will return at some point. The question is: When? In the interim, you should be making plans for the promotions you’ll be running, the creative elements you’ll need, and your overall strategy for recovery.
  • Resource: TravelBoom put together this master resource list to help properties navigate these uncharted waters: Crisis Management Resources For Hotels Master List

Are You currently planning for a future vacation?

When do you intend to BOOK your future vacation? & When do you intend to TRAVEL for your future vacation?

When Do Travelers Intend To Travel

When Do You Intend To Book

  • Observation: For booking, 44% said after the virus has passed, 21% were undecided. Sometime in 2021 was chosen by 8%. Of those that chose a 2020 date, September was most popular, at 4.4%, followed by August at 4.2%. For traveling, 30% were undecided. June was the most popular answer of those that chose a date, with 14%. As the crisis continues, we expect to see some of these dates slip further back. 
  • Opportunity: For both booking and traveling, more than half of the respondents are either waiting things out or are undecided. Sending reassuring messages to these people and taking some of the fear away by offering favorable incentives and risk-free conditions may persuade some of the undecided into making a booking, especially if they know they can adjust the dates at a later time.

As a result of the coronavirus situation, which of the following best describes you?

  • Observation: 60% claim that their budget for travel is unchanged, while 38% say that it’s reduced. While this is somewhat reassuring, we would expect this to shift as conditions are changing at such a rapid rate. Increased unemployment will likely have an impact on future results.
  • Opportunity: Properties should be looking at a shift in traveler demographics. As with previous economic downturns, we would expect to see a shift where people downgrade to a lower-tier property or destination. Now is the time to be thinking about how you can not only maintain your previous guests and prevent them from going somewhere else, but you should also be planning ways to grab folks who would not have considered you previously.
  • Resource: We did an amazing podcast with our friends at Milestone where we discussed the things hoteliers should be focused on right now: TravelBoom Hotel Marketing Podcast: Episode 142 – Now Is The Time: What Should You Be Doing Right Now (with Tammy Carlisle from Milestone)

The government is going to send a check to every American to help us during the coronavirus crisis. What do you intend to do with this money?

  • Observation: Very few people (<10%) are considering spending their stimulus check on travel at this time. The majority of people are looking at paying bills (~50%), putting it into savings (35%), or buying essentials (31%).
  • Opportunity:  Anyone holding out hope that the stimulus money is going to be spent on travel should realize that people have more pressing needs at the moment. Keeping in mind that money will be tight for people for some time, there should be a focus on adding value to your packages. Look at incorporating things like free upgrades and  food and beverage credits to encourage people to stay with you and help their pennies stretch further. 

What's Next?

We plan to field the same questions, along with some additions, to the same database every two weeks. Our goal is to monitor trends in consumer behavior and to identify when recovery begins.
In the meantime, check out our COVID-19 and crisis management resources here.
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 option of randomized to avoid positional bias. 10,556 people completed the survey. We did not collect demographic information from the respondents.

Schedule a Free Evaluation

Stop settling for mediocre results. Partner with TravelBoom and transform your data into a competitive advantage.

Schedule a Free Evaluation