Romer: What do travel trends mean for the Vail Valley?
Every week since March 15, travel research firm Destination Analysts has surveyed more than 1,200 American travelers about their thoughts, feelings, perceptions and behaviors surrounding travel in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and explored a variety of topics. While these are national studies, there is a lot we can learn from understanding traveler sentiment and consumer behavior.
Not surprisingly, much can change in two-weeks in the time of COVID-19. As record numbers of cases continue to be reported throughout the United States, 63% of travelers feel the situation is going to get worse in the next month — up dramatically from 34.7% at the beginning of June. Perceptions of travel activities being unsafe are the highest they have been since the week of April 27th.
With the alarming rise in cases in some of the most popular areas of the country, Americans’ health and financial concerns have followed suit, and now nearly 4-in-10 say they don’t have plans to travel for the remainder of 2020.
Those surveyed reported their ability to be inspired to travel in the next three months — even under attractive conditions — has also declined with the worsening of the pandemic. While last week 35% of American travelers said they would be open to taking a trip they had not previously considered, this has fallen to 29% this week.
There was also a significant increase in the percentage of Americans who said there are certain destinations they would normally consider visiting but now will absolutely not due to the coronavirus situation — 37.3% up from 29.6% in just one week. When asked what’s driving the avoidance of these destinations, rising coronavirus cases and the perceived unsatisfactory management of the situation, as well as the expected poor behavior of other tourists (more so than the locals) was most cited.
The reasons people cite for not traveling to a specific destination include a rise in cases, visitors not practicing social distancing, visitors not wearing masks, and a fear of large crowds.
The data isn’t overly friendly toward travel and tourism. People expect things to get worse; many don’t plan to travel; and optimism is at its lowest level since the study started. But there are some pieces of information that are of interest to destination marketers and to our tourism-dependent community.
Those most open to travel in the next 3 months are more likely to be male and far more likely to be millennials. The attributes most important in selecting where to visit in the next 12 months are affordable destinations, relaxing, uncrowded, and fun. Visitors also desire employees and other visitors to wear masks, honor social distancing, and follow the five commitments of containment.
With almost one in three saying they could be convinced to take a trip they don’t already have conceived if the conditions are correct, travel advertising could still inspire joy, particularly if it communicates many affordable, fun things to do in a safe, uncrowded destination. We’re fortunate to have open spaces and trails that align with visitor desires.
The Vail Valley is well-positioned to capture those travelers who still want to vacation. As we enter into the black diamond phase of our reopening, please be a caring neighbor, friend, and colleague and wear a mask.
Our community — dependent on tourism and consumer spending — is now also dependent on our locals and visitors alike demonstrating personal responsibility by wearing a mask and practicing social distancing. It is the best way to support our economy moving forward.
Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at www.vailvalleypartnership.com.