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Research Reveals Top Trends About Traveling During COVID-19

By Kit KieferSeptember 18, 2020

Photo by Victor He on Unsplash

 

Americans’ travel habits have changed because of the pandemic. They’re traveling less, going to different places, and doing different things (or nothing at all). Most importantly, the very way they feel about travel has changed fundamentally.

Recent research from Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection makes this crystal-clear. Here are some of the most important findings from our research: 

73% Of Respondents Say The Pandemic Has Changed The Way They Travel Forever

That’s right. More than 70% of respondents (and more each week) said the pandemic has changed the way they travel forever. No matter what the extenuating circumstances, that’s a really big number.

But it spurs a multi-million dollar question: How long is forever? We don’t know, however travel may be in for some huge, fundamental changes, the scope of which we can’t even gauge yet.

 

On the other hand, if forever settles into 18-24 months, travel as we knew it should be back before we know it.

How will forever be defined? Maybe some of the supporting data below will give us a clue.

 

Americans Are Taking Fewer Trips – And Cancelling A Lot Of The Trips They Were Planning To Take

The average traveler took 1.99 trips in 2020 – but cancelled 1.66 trips.

We’ve been doing this research for six years, and never has the rate of cancelled trips been so high, or the number of trips taken so low.

Family travel was the most common trip type in 2020 – but it’s also by far the most common trip type cancelled. Cruises and bucket-list travel had more trips cancelled than taken.

 
Did you take, are you planning to take, or cancelled any of the following types of trips in 2020?

Taken

Cancelled

 

Family Trips

 

50%

 

43%

Road Trips

33%

17%

Solo Travel

19%

15%

Adventure Travel

16%

14%

Business Trips

16%

14%

Cruises

11%

14%

Bucket-list Travel

8%

13%

Throw out family trips, business trips and road trips, and Americans cancelled more trips than they took in 2020 for the first time in recent history. 

Travel Spending Is Down 23%

The amount spent on travel by all respondents declined 23% from 2019 to 2020.

 

In addition, more than 60% of respondents said they've spent $5,000 or less on travel in 2020. That number was 40% a year ago.

A 23% decrease in travel spending sounds terrible, and it is, but considering that hundreds of millions of Americans literally couldn’t go anywhere for at least a month, and millions are unemployed and international travel is a no-go… those numbers might be understated.

92% Of Respondents People Will Travel In 2021 … But They Haven’t Figured Out Where They’re Going

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that 92% of respondents intend to travel in 2021.

What’s more interesting is where they intend to go and what they intend to do, which is not entirely clear from the research.

We do know road trips are still going to be a thing – as are camping trips.

And all those international bucket-list trips people cancelled in 2020? They plan to take them in 2021.

Which of these types of trips do you anticipate taking in 2021?

Domestic

International

 

Road Trips

 

82%

 

18%

Camping Trips (in a tent or RV)

79%

21%

Family Trips

71%

29%

Cruises

67%

33%

Bucket-list Travel

63%

37%

Interest in specific destinations is down anywhere from 10 to 21 percentage points, even for failsafe destinations like the United States. In all, compared to how they felt about travel heading into 2020, people are less than enthusiastic to say the least.

Destinations

Plan to visit in 2021

Planned to visit in 2020

 

United States

 

69%

 

85%

Europe

27%

39%

Canada

21%

32%

Caribbean/ Central America

16%

36%

Mexico

10%

23%

And they’re not looking forward to doing normal travel stuff like going overseas or taking a cruise ­– at least not for the next six months.

Less than a third of respondents feel comfortable taking a road trip right now, but more than a third of respondents feel they'll have to wait 18 months or more before they can feel safe taking a cruise. 

How long before you'll feel comfortable. . . 

 

Travel Health Is The Number 1 Travel Concern

Health is a very big deal with travelers – and increasingly, a safe place to travel means a healthy place to travel.

“A healthy place to travel” can mean a lot of things, including a place with a pleasant climate, few mosquitoes, and a low rate of terrorist activity. Right now, it means a place that’s free from disease.

Rank the most important factors involved in making you feel safe traveling to a destination.

% in Agreement

 

Free from disease

 

67%

Ability to socially distance/mask wearing required

46%

Low crime rate

30%

Low occurrence of terrorist incidents

20%

Even when they visit a “safe” destination, people are going to do a few things differently to protect their health. Fittingly, they’re many of the things the CDC recommends for all people to stay safe during the pandemic.

What are you going to do differently the next time you travel?

 

Wash my hands more/use more hand sanitizer

 

50%

Wear a mask/other protective gear

49%

Try to stay away from crowds

44%

Visit a different destination

32%

Change where I stay

14%

Nothing

13%

Who’s driving these healthy behaviors? Women. There’s a 20-point difference between women’s and men’s willingness to use hand sanitizer, wear a mask, or socially distance.

Given that, who would you rather travel with?

Throughout Everything, The Desire to Travel Remains Strong

Throughout the pandemic and everything that’s come along with it, people’s desire to travel hasn’t waned.

If you gave respondents $5,000, a lot of people would spend it on travel as opposed to paying bills or buying something for their family.

Suppose you had $5,000 to spend. Please rank the following to indicate what you would be most likely to do with that money.

 

Save it

 

36%

Travel

34%

Pay bills/ living expenses

33%

Spend it on my family

32%

Pay off loans/ debt

32%

In an unusual and difficult way, 2020 has been a time for many travelers to reflect on what they love about travel – and here’s what travelers have concluded:

  • Travel fills them with joy. Last year around 60% of respondents agreed with that statement. Now almost 80% do.
  • People feel free when they travel. Last year 50% of respondents agreed with that. Now almost 70% do.

Like Joni Mitchell said, you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. When people can’t travel, they realize what a fulfilling experience travel can be.

 

64% Of Travelers Consider Disease Outbreaks A Threat To Their Travels

To a toddler with a hammer, all the world looks like a nail. To a traveler who can’t travel, everything looks like a threat to their travels.

In general, all important threats to travel were seen as more threatening in 2020 than in past years.

How threatening to your travels are the following?

Very or Extremely Threatening – 2020 Very or Extremely Threatening – 2019

 

Disease outbreaks

 

64%

 

29%

Terrorism

62%

29%

Safety at my destination

49%

25%

Natural disasters

45%

24%

Climate change

39%

20%

My personal health

39%

20%

My economic situation

36%

20%

It’s almost mind-blowing now to look at last year’s numbers and think, only 29% of people considered disease outbreaks or terrorism to be a threat to their travels. How naive!

Some changes are good. This one is unfortunate, but it’s a natural reaction with only one cure: To get out and get traveling again.

We’ll be updating this research in the upcoming months. Subscribe to our blog, and don’t miss a single one!

For more data from this report, contact Carol Mueller of Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection.

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Kit Kiefer
Kit Kiefer

Kit Kiefer is a former travel writer for The New York Times and has more than 30 years of freelance experience writing about domestic and international travel. He blogs and produces content for Winbound, a content marketing firm.

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Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection (BHTP) is a registered trademark and a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance Company (BHSI), a leader in specialized casualty and liability insurance.  The information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable.  BHTP disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of such information.  The opinions expressed herein are subject to change without notice.

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