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COVID-19 Survey: Air travel and vaccine willingness drop to new lows among American frequent travelers

Oct 21, 2020
5 MIN. READ

In our latest survey, American frequent travelers report significantly decreased willingness to travel domestically by air and lower willingness to get the COVID vaccine once FDA-approved.

Editor’s Note (10/21/2020): This article includes findings from ICF’s seventh wave of data collection that was fielded September 23 through October 4. The seventh wave collected 1,000 completes using a census-balanced, national non-probability sample. The new information, shared below, examines the impact of COVID-19 on the American public as well as their attitudes toward slowing the spread of COVID-19. Learn more about the ICF COVID-19 Monitor Survey of U.S. Adults.

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As the summer has ended and the fall begins, Americans are entering another period of uncertainty. For months, public health experts have warned that the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to increase in intensity as we enter the fall and winter. A great unknown has been the extent of the virus’ reach and the effect it will have on Americans’ consumption, travel habits, and livelihoods during this upcoming season. Our seventh COVID Monitor Survey (the fifth to poll frequent travelers) shows big changes in how frequent travelers are reacting to the pandemic—and how they feel about a potential vaccine that may arrive in the coming months.

In this wave, we surveyed 523 individuals who reported traveling out of state for business or pleasure weekly, monthly, or a “few times per year” prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. While in our May survey, travelers showed cautious optimism for future air travel in 2020 and a significant willingness to try an FDA-approved vaccine once available, these feelings have shifted substantially. And while this survey (and our June and July findings) found widespread openness to many public health measures, this turn away from willingness to take a vaccine (if and when one becomes available) is troubling as it is one of the most likely ways life—and the travel industry—can return to some version of “normal.”

The results of our most recent survey, fielded between September 23 and October 4, illustrate just how much the traveling public’s point-of-view has shifted as the pandemic drags on into its eighth month in the United States:

Frequent travelers’ willingness to engage in domestic air travel in 2020 collapses as summer plans were dashed and the pandemic accelerates.

Throughout the summer months, frequent travelers expressed tepid but steady willingness to engage in domestic air travel at some point in 2020, including during the summer months. But as we entered the fall, it became clear in the data that willingness to travel in the summer did not result in actual travel and this metric declined precipitously. The result? A big drop in the percentage of frequent travelers who now feel they will be willing to engage in domestic air travel during 2020.

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Frequent travelers’ willingness to get an FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine plummets as vaccine safety testing and efficacy continue in the public discourse.

 

In our May survey, 69% of respondents reported that they were “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to get the vaccine. Concerningly, this number is now down to 56%. In particular, this drop is a recent occurrence in our data and is being driven by a 13% decrease in those who say they are “very likely” to get the vaccine since August. While some of this group have certainly shifted their opinion to being “somewhat likely” to get the vaccine, that group has only increased 9% since August. Meanwhile, since August there has been a 5% increase in those who report that they are “not too likely” or “not at all likely” to get the vaccine. This is a concerning trend that we will continue to monitor.

Frequent traveler attitudes regarding the trajectory of the coronavirus crisis improve from July lows, but an increasing percentage of respondents believe the “coronavirus is not likely to be that major of a problem.”

 

Frequent travelers’ attitudes regarding the trajectory of the pandemic have returned to levels seen in the late spring and early summer, after taking a pessimistic turn in our July survey. As frequent travelers have perhaps settled into the “new normal” of the pandemic, the highest percentage yet report that they believe the “coronavirus is not likely to be that major of a problem.” From our August survey to this late September/early October survey, this group increased by 4%. As we enter the winter months, we are interested in monitoring these metrics, particularly if case counts surge as forecast and a vaccine or treatment options become widely available.

Good news—belief in the importance of masks (and other public health measures) hold steady all summer.

 

Despite the concerning changes in the data we reported above, it’s not all bad. Belief in the importance of masks in slowing the spread of COVID-19 held relatively steady all summer, with 86% reporting they believe it is “somewhat important” or “very important” to wear a face mask to “stop the spread of the coronavirus,” same as in June. Importantly, this pattern holds for other measures such as “staying three to six feet away from others” and “self-quarantining for 14 days if exposed to someone with COVID-19,” which stand at 90% and 96%, respectively, of respondents reporting that these measures are “somewhat important” or “very important.”

Desire to wait to resume cruise travel until Summer 2021 or later rises to highest level yet reported.

 

For the cruise lines, the news in this survey is all bad. While the percentage of respondents willing to engage in cruise travel by Summer 2021 or earlier held relatively steady through the summer months, in our most recent survey the number of frequent travelers reporting that they would not be willing to engage in cruise travel until later than Summer 2021 rose to 58% from 53% in the July and August surveys. This increase illustrates the challenging and unfortunate position the cruise industry finds itself in.

Watch this space.

How will American frequent travelers’ feelings and behaviors change as pandemic continues into the winter months? We will report key findings from our data collection efforts and will continue to share this information. 

Learn more about the ICF COVID-19 Monitor Survey of U.S. Adults.

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