Released after a couple of waves of interviews conducted in mid-March and subsequently released, a survey of the results of those interviews—conducted by Skyscanner* gives us a window into what travelers have been thinking during the effective shutdown of international travel due to the coronavirus pandemic now plaguing most parts of the world.
Survey responses showed, in effect, a mixture of concern, hope and wishful thinking. “We wanted to gain a deeper understanding of traveler thoughts and behavior during the COVID-19 outbreak, to grasp how sentiments, needs and attitudes around the world are shifting, as well as learn how to better support travelers during these unprecedented times,” explained a statement by Skycanner.
The company undertook in-depth interviews with 30 people aged under 40 across the UK, US, Australia, Singapore, South Korea, Germany and the Netherlands, who—at that time—had either booked travel or were considering travel in the next two months. Skyscanner expects to continue the surveys in order to provide an up-to-date portrait of what travelers are thinking. Following is a summary of the survey’s key findings.
The impact of Covid-19 on Travel Plans
—At the time of the survey, travel wasn’t top of mind for every respondent, except for those who needed to travel to see partners / family, or those thinking about escaping cities to places they consider to be safer.
—All travelers expected (correctly) that trips booked for April / May to get cancelled. They were waiting for these to be ‘officially” cancelled as they hope for a refund.
—There was “wishful thinking” in the long-term, for trips scheduled from June / July, and especially for trips scheduled from September / October onwards.
—Generally, people were looking to China and South Korea – to countries where they believe they “have it under control” – so they feel like “there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
—Participants in the U.S. seemed particularly anxious, worried and concerned about the virus, their safety and the possibility of getting sick. They expected domestic travel to be impossible in the near future.
Feelings about the Future
—The survey team observed quite different attitudes across different regions, probably due to (perceived) stages of the pandemic.
—In Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) there seemed to be a general denial about restrictions lasting longer than 30 days – “the world has to get back to normal.”
—In the Asia Pacific (APAC), people were still very optimistic, and feel that the worst is over and don’t expect sanctions to last much longer (even though several countries are in the second phase of the pandemic).
—In the US, there was a lot of uncertainty and waiting, as people aren’t sure how long it’ll last (especially as most believe the situation will get much worse).
—Even though travelers would have liked to be hopeful about future trips, they’re not ready to plan or dream about them now. No-one is actively thinking about planning trips at this time.
Factors Impacting Decision-Making
—Primary traveler concerns were around whether they’re allowed to travel, and if they did, being able to return safely without getting stuck somewhere. There are also concerns around losing money.
—For this reason, they awaited guidance from their government and whether airlines are operating flights closer to the time.
—As all of the respondents are young (under 40), most weren’t concerned about catching the virus personally. Anxiety is more around societal changes and restrictions. In the US, however, more people were scared about their personal safety.
—In APAC, there’s a strong social pressure not to contribute to the pandemic by travelling.
—In EMEA, there’s less social pressure, although this was observed in our last round of interviews, mainly in the UK.
—While people would avoid going to places where there are lots of cases, the main factors impacting travel plans were sanctions and government policies, and of being worried about not getting home / the availability of flights.
Cancellation / Flexibility Policies
—All participants said these policies would encourage them to go ahead and book travel – as it takes the two key risk factors of a rapidly evolving situation and potential financial losses out of the equation.
—In the UK, there was relatively low awareness of these policies and people were surprised to hear that travel companies were being so flexible. In other markets, this was more expected.
Sources of Information
—In general, people increasingly rely on official and government sources.
—In the UK and Germany particularly, people are more critical, trust the government less, and tend to look for other “credible” media sources or ones that aren’t biased i.e. the BBC. They also try to look at various global news sources for balance.
—The survey team rarely spoke with a traveler who mentioned a non-internet news source (perhaps because of their age).
—YouTube was a recurring theme, and people liked its algorithm for suggesting similar news videos.
—In Singapore and South Korea, the government’s WhatsApp channel is the official trusted news source.
*Based in Edinburgh, Scotland, Skyscanner is owned by Trip.com Group, China’s largest travel agency