COVID-19 Survey: American frequent traveler attitudes dip further amid embrace of masks

Aug 24, 2020
As COVID-19 cases surge across the country, American frequent travelers recognize the importance of public health measures—but feel more pessimistic about future travel and the trajectory of the pandemic.

Editor’s Note (8/24/2020): This article includes findings from ICF’s fifth wave of data collection that was fielded July 23 through July 28. The fifth 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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How did attitudes about travel among frequent travelers change in July, as the pandemic surged? We surveyed 467 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 to find out.

In our third look at frequent traveler feelings and behaviors regarding the pandemic, ICF and ICF Next uncovered a continuing downward shift in sentiment among this population. While our May survey showed a cautious optimism for future travel, the story quickly changed as the pandemic reignited around the country. Our June survey revealed declining optimism about travel prospects among frequent travelers, and our July findings, shared below, show increased pessimism—a troubling trend that is tempered only by the fact that travelers have indicated a willingness to adapt their behaviors and beliefs around roundly-recommended public health measures.

The results of our July survey show a striking evolution in the attitudes of America’s frequent travelers:

Frequent traveler attitudes regarding the trajectory of the coronavirus crisis turns deeply pessimistic.

While in May and June, respectively 51% and 55% of frequent travelers believed that the “worst is yet to come” in the U.S., 63% now hold this belief. Conversely, while in May and June respectively 38% and 36% of frequent travelers believed the “worst [of the crisis] is behind us” in the U.S., only 25% now hold this view. This rapid increase in pessimism bodes poorly for travel brands, which may be looking to the holiday season to salvage a dismal 2020.
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Attitudes regarding the trajectory of the coronavirus crisis turn deeply pessimistic.

Frequent travelers’ willingness to engage in domestic and international air travel in 2020 recedes to levels seen in May.

While in June we reported upticks in willingness of frequent travelers to engage in both domestic and international air travel at some point during 2020, this has eroded back to essentially the same levels that we reported in our May survey. This decline in willingness to engage in air travel coincides with the summer surge in COVID-19 cases across the United States.

Willingness to engage in domestic and international air travel in 2020 recedes.

Belief in the importance of masks increases precipitously among frequent travelers.

While belief in the importance of other public health and social distancing measures like “staying three to six feet away from others” and “self-quarantining for 14 days if exposed to someone with COVID-19” has remained flat (and both north of 90%) from our June survey, frequent travelers expressed a marked increase in the belief in the importance of masks, with 89% reporting 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 June.

This coincides with a big swing in belief regarding masks held by those frequent travelers willing to resume domestic air travel immediately in summer 2020: 31% of frequent travelers polled in July expressed a belief that mask wearing “should not be done” or is “not too important” in stopping the spread of the coronavirus. This is down from 41% of these same travelers who held this belief in June.

Positive attitudes regarding the importance of masks in stopping the spread of COVID-19 increased from June to July.

Reluctance to engage in cruise travel has dropped to the lowest levels we have reported.

While our last survey showed a slight improvement in willingness to engage in cruise travel by Summer 2021 or earlier, 53% of frequent travelers now report that they would not be willing to engage in cruise travel until later than Summer 2021, illustrating the challenging position the cruise industry finds itself in.

Reluctance to engage in cruise travel has dropped to the lowest levels we have reported.

Watch this space.

How will American frequent travelers’ feelings and behaviors change as the summer season ends and the pandemic continues? We will report key findings from our data collection efforts over the coming months and share this information. Sign up to receive alerts as we roll out upcoming results and package our insights into reports.

Meet the authors
  1. John Boyle, Senior Advisor, Survey Research

    John is a research expert with more than 30 years of experience in the design, execution, analysis, and reporting of large-scale health surveys. View bio

  2. Thomas Brassell, Portfolio Director, Survey Research

    Thomas Brassell is a survey research expert with more than 10 years of experience designing and executing complex survey research studies on behalf of federal, state, and local government agencies. 

     View bio

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

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