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COVID-19 Survey: Optimism about pandemic declines among American frequent travelers

Jul 16, 2020
Our second survey of American frequent travelers continues to explore sentiment around COVID-19 and travel, showing evolving traveler views as the pandemic surges.

Editor’s Note (7/20/2020): This article includes findings from ICF’s fourth wave of data collection that was fielded June 22 through June 29. The fourth 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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While ICF and ICF Next have been fielding the COVID-19 Monitor Survey of U.S. Adults to the American public since the outbreak of the pandemic in the United States, last month we released the first look at this data specific to U.S. frequent travelers. Fielded in May, the results of our initial survey showed a frequent traveler public that was hard-hit by the crisis, largely in favor of public health measures to slow the spread of the virus, optimistic about the trajectory of the crisis, and cautiously eyeing future travel plans.

Late last month, we again surveyed America’s frequent travelers. Again, we specifically included a question that allows us to focus our analysis on “frequent travelers.” This universe of respondents included roughly 513 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. The results of this survey show some notable changes in the attitudes of America’s frequent travelers.

Optimism about the trajectory of the coronavirus crisis among frequent travelers is declining:

While in May, 38% of respondents believed the “worst of the crisis is behind us” in the U.S., 36% of respondents now hold this view. More notably, in May 51% of respondents believed the “worst is yet to come” in the U.S., but 55% of respondents in this survey now believe that the crisis is likely to get worse.

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After some weeks of relatively stable case growth across the country with decline in the early hot-spots of the virus, this evolution of frequent travelers’ feelings about the COVID-19 crisis corresponds to the rapid increases in cases in the South and the Southwest.

Frequent travelers increasingly believe that they may get sick with the coronavirus:

While in May, 68% of frequent travelers willing to travel by air domestically at some point in the future believed it was “not too likely” or “not likely at all” that they will get sick with coronavirus, in June, the number of travelers holding this view had dropped 7% to only 61%.

While frequent travelers express increasing pessimism about the pandemic, willingness to engage in domestic and international air travel in 2020 has increased:

Despite frequent travelers’ increasing pessimism about the pandemic’s trajectory, 5% more respondents expressed a willingness to resume domestic air travel during 2020 (47% in June vs. 42% in May). In addition, 6% more travelers expressed a willingness to resume international air travel during 2020 (30% in June vs. 24% in May).

While this data could be a cause for optimism, it is important to note that willingness to travel and actually traveling are not the same. Increasing cases of COVID-19, quarantine orders for travelers arriving from COVID-19 hotspots in a number of states, and continuing business closures and event cancelations are suppressing travel demand which had been improving, as illustrated by this recent presentation from United Airlines.

Additionally, reluctance to engage in cruise travel has also improved, although by a much smaller margin:

In May, 51% of respondents shared that they would not be willing to travel via cruise until later than summer 2021. In June, this fell to 49% of respondents.

Frequent travelers willing to resume domestic air travel immediately in summer 2020 exhibit conflicting beliefs regarding public health measures:

Interestingly, frequent travelers who expressed a willingness to resume traveling by air domestically in summer 2020 showed considerably less belief in the effectiveness of masks compared to frequent travelers willing to resume domestic travel at later points in time.

In June, 9% of frequent travelers willing to resume domestic air travel in summer 2020 expressed a belief that mask wearing “should not be done” in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus. And 32% of frequent travelers willing to resume domestic air travel in summer 2020 expressed a belief that mask wearing was “not too important” in stopping the spread of the coronavirus.

However, these same travelers exhibit an overwhelming belief in physical distancing.

70% of frequent travelers willing to resume domestic air travel in summer 2020 expressed a belief that staying three to six feet away from others is “somewhat important” or “very important” to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

As some major U.S. airlines have announced plans to resume selling as many seats as possible on some flights, frequent travelers’ desires to physically distance could prove problematic to sustaining growth in travel demand.

We also asked frequent travelers when they would be willing to engage in a number of additional travel and non-travel behaviors, the results of which illustrate divergent points-of-view:

Watch this space

How will American frequent travelers’ feelings and behaviors change as the summer season 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.

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

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