I am frequently asked – has the pandemic changed travel? The short answer is – it has, and it hasn't. COVID-19 put a stop to ten years of solid growth for the industry, which thrived globally, forcing businesses to the brink of collapse and putting over 100 million jobs at risk.
In 2019, one in ten people in the world was employed in travel. The industry was outpacing the global GDP growth and contributed to the overall development of communities globally. Border closures and other subsequent safety measures to reduce the spread of the virus have put a dent in consumer confidence and altered our ability to travel with ease and flexibility that we were accustomed to.
What hasn't changed is our love for travel. Wanderlust or exploration, business or leisure, cruise, sports, weddings or honeymoons – travel is woven into the nation's social fabric and is a passion of many. Except now travelling has become a much more complex decision for individuals and families to make.
There are many things to consider – travel corridors, closed borders, COVID-19 spread in a host country, vaccinations, adequate travel insurance, tests, quarantine rules, risks of cancellations, delays, and the list goes on. And so, irrespective of our demographics, in the aftermath of the pandemic we find ourselves with three types of travellers – those 'on-the-go', who are keen to travel, those 'on-the-fence', who are not sure yet or considering when it might be good to travel, and those not interested in or not planning to travel at all.
YouGov asked nearly 6,000 people in the UK about how the Government's new announcement on lifting the lockdown in England has impacted their travel plans. Nearly three in ten (28%) said they are delaying booking future travel – either until they are certain the dates outlined in the plan don't change or for another reason.
Those who feel passionately 'on-the-go’ were emboldened by the announcement, and the 2% of Brits in this camp told us that they were either actively looking to travel overseas or have recently booked a trip abroad due to the new policy laid out by the Prime Minister. Travel company TUI reported a 500% growth in bookings overnight after the PM’s announcement, easyJet reported a 337% surge in flight bookings and 630% daily growth in holiday package sales.
The Association of British Travel Agencies had been saying for months that consumer should "book now, many suppliers will soon be at capacity (domestically or internationally), and prices are likely to continue to rise". While some are sceptical about this, is it possible?
Rapid changes in demand during the pandemic caught many industries unprepared, and many consumers have switched brands or retailers last year. Stock availability, competitive pricing and delayed deliveries were the top reasons. If there is a quick resurgence of travel demand, there could be a similar squeeze on availability.
Overall, interest in travel held steady in the UK over the past six months, despite limits on actually being able to do it. YouGov's daily travel survey shows that 47% of Brits intend to take a staycation this year, and just under a third (32%) are keen to go abroad. However, our confidence in being able to go overseas has yo-yoed a lot recently. Just two weeks ago, after a minister discouraged people from booking trips, only one in twenty (5%) were confident they would be able to take an overseas trip this summer.
Whatever the humdrum realities of life during the pandemic, our research suggests that a change of scene is one of the biggest motivators to book an overseas escape. Britons' old favourites on the continent – Spain, Italy, Portugal, France and Greece rank the highest on the consideration list. Our data shows that Mexico, Thailand, Hawaii, and Bali are also on the minds of those who do not mind hopping on a long-haul flight.
However, if you are still on the fence about booking travel – you are not alone. Two in five (42%) of us are not motivated to travel internationally this year and one in four (24%) say they won't travel at all.
As countries slowly start reopening their borders to travellers, there is an ongoing debate on how to do this safely. To kick start tourism and bring the aviation industry from the brink of collapse, international industry associations, government bodies, tech firms, and airlines themselves have been spearheading a number of solutions that may result in the introduction and requirements of “vaccination passports”. Effectively they are a digitally enabled solution confirming that a person has been vaccinated, and they might be given more freedom about gathering in public places and travelling.
Bringing major stakeholders on board – governments, airlines, airports, border control and the consumer across a variety of markets will be a big challenge. And, although they may be a great way to help aviation and tourism rebound, our data shows that stakeholders have a way to go about educating the public about vaccination passports. Currently, one in five (19%) Brits say they do not know enough about them. Our research shows that others are concerned that these could be discriminatory, risk peoples' private data or dissuade people from taking international trips.
This is a conversation that is likely to continue over the coming months.
Methodology: The data is based on the interviews of 5,987 British adults aged 18 and over. The interviews were carried out online via YouGov's Daily Agenda on February 24, 2021 and results have been weighted to be nationally represenative. See the full results here.
This story originally appeared in the Sunday Times.