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COVID-19 Survey: Drop in optimism and vaccine willingness among American frequent travelers

By Dr. John Boyle, PhD, Thomas Brassell, Guy Cierzan, and James Dayton
Nov 19, 2020
5 MIN. READ

In our latest survey, American frequent travelers report continued drops in optimism, willingness to travel domestically by air, and willingness to get the COVID vaccine once FDA-approved.

Editor's Note (11/19/2020): This article includes findings from ICF’s eighth wave of data collection that was fielded October 26 through November 1. The eighth 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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With COVID-19 surging in almost every part of the United States, we recently completed our eighth COVID Monitor survey. Since May, we have included questions in the survey specifically focused on frequent travelers, their habits and behaviors, and how they are feeling about the trajectory of the pandemic, public health measures, and the seemingly soon-to-arrive COVID-19 vaccine.

In this most recent wave, we surveyed 452 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. In general, their optimism about the trajectory of the pandemic and willingness to travel has waxed and waned in lockstep with the growth or decline of active cases of the virus. However, one significant outlier has been a consistently decreasing willingness to take a vaccine (when one becomes available) as the months have gone by.

In this month’s survey, fielded between October 26 and November 1, we have found some significant changes in the point-of-view of America’s frequent travelers as we enter this dangerous new phase of the pandemic:

Frequent travelers’ willingness to get an FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine drops even further as vaccine trials enter late stages.

Fielded before the promising news regarding the effectiveness of Pfizer’s and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines was announced, our latest survey shows continued declines in survey respondents’ likelihood to get a COVID-19 vaccine when one becomes available. In our May survey, 69% of respondents reported that they were “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to get the vaccine. And last month, 56% of respondents still felt this way. For the first time, we can now report that the group willing to get a vaccine is the minority of respondents, with only 48% reporting that they are “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to get the vaccine. Concerningly, the percentage of respondents who report that they are “not too likely” or “not at all likely” to get the vaccine has increased from 44% in our last survey to 52% in this wave. We will continue to monitor this trend and how the news regarding the effectiveness of multiple vaccine candidates will influence opinions in the space.
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Frequent traveler attitudes regarding the trajectory of the coronavirus crisis dip to second-worst levels we have reported but remain above July lows.

 

Frequent travelers’ feelings that the “worst of the crisis is yet to come” have mirrored the spikes in COVID cases seen in mid-summer and now in the fall, with 56% now believing this to be the case. This is the second highest figure we have reported, trailing only the 63% of frequent travelers who reported this belief in July. It is interesting to note that this change in belief coincides with a marked increase in the percentage of frequent travelers willing to travel by air domestically at some point in the future who now believe it is “very likely” or “somewhat likely” that they will get sick with coronavirus. 45% of frequent travelers now report holding this belief, up from 36% in our last survey.

Frequent travelers’ willingness to engage in domestic air travel continues steep declines from summer optimism.

 

As the year draws to a close, frequent travelers’ willingness to resume domestic air travel at some point during 2020 has dropped to the lowest levels we have reported. With limited time left in the year and COVID cases on the rise, 30% may in fact be an optimistic number. We anticipate further declines in this figure in our next survey as reality sets in for many in this group that travel in 2020 is off the docket.

Car service and rideshare brands should expect a tepid recovery until a COVID vaccine becomes available or outbreaks get under control.

 

A question we have not explored in depth so far in our survey is frequent travelers’ willingness to return to using a car service or ridesharing as frequently as before the pandemic. While for some these services are a fact of life, frequent travelers are increasingly reporting that they will be unwilling to resume using these services as often as they did before the pandemic. In this fielding of the survey, 35% of frequent travelers reported that they would be unwilling to return to using a car service or ridesharing as frequently as before the pandemic until “COVID-19 is completely controlled, or a vaccine is available.” This figure is up 9% since the last fielding of our survey in late September and early October

Finally, questions we have been tracking since May regarding cruise travel and belief in the importance of wearing masks to slow the spread of COVID-19 have remained relatively stable since our last survey.

 

87% of frequent travelers report that they believe it is “somewhat important” or “very important” to wear a face mask to “stop the spread of the coronavirus,” up from 85% in October but down from a July high of 89%.

58% of frequent travelers are unwilling to resume cruise travel as frequently as they did before the pandemic until later than summer 2021 or “not until COVID-19 is completely controlled or a vaccine is available.” This percentage matches what we found in our last fielding of the survey.

Watch this space.

How will American frequent travelers’ feelings and behaviors change as the fall pandemic surge continues across the country? We will report key findings from our data collection efforts and will continue to share this information. Sign up to receive alerts as we roll out upcoming results and package our insights into reports.

By Dr. John Boyle, PhD, Thomas Brassell, Guy Cierzan, and James Dayton

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File Under
  • COVID-19
  • Engagement
  • Travel and hospitality