The Travel Sector Is Poised for a Strong 2021 Recovery

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To Understand How Consumers Are Traveling in 2021 as Vaccinations Rise, Look to the Data

By Eric Bamberger, Senior Vice President of Hospitality at Zeta Global

A year into the pandemic and with summertime in sight, consumers are itching to travel somewhere new and re-establish a feeling of normalcy in their lives. Some have already braved the skies, as CDC-mandated restrictions lighten up and airlines begin to fill middle seats again to recoup revenues after a tough 2020.

At Zeta Global, we wanted to better understand Americans’ attitudes towards traveling this spring and beyond, to gain some insight into how the travel and tourism sector might recover. In March, we conducted a survey of 3,700 consumers across the United States as more Americans begin to consider their comfort levels with resuming travel. In polling both vaccinated and non-vaccinated consumers, we spotted some interesting insights about how both groups are approaching travel differently this year, as well as top domestic destinations among both groups. Airlines, hotels, and restaurants, take note: 2021 will be your comeback year.

Expect to See a Boom After Memorial Day

Last summer, health officials were on high alert in the midst of locking down the country ahead of holidays like Memorial Day and July 4, to prevent coronavirus spikes. This year will look much different, with almost half of the U.S. population having received at least one vaccine dose.

Most of the respondents to our survey, both vaccinated and non-vaccinated, said that they won’t feel comfortable traveling on an airplane until after May this year – which includes the Memorial Day holiday. While vacation resorts and airlines have continued to offer deals to people willing to travel to farther-flung destinations, the tourism sector may have to look ahead to July 4 or longer to see those revenues really start to come back again. All is not a loss, though – consumers are still willing to travel locally. A recent survey from AAA showed that 80% of respondents’ planned vacations would be road trips. Highway traffic may be at an all-time-high this summer, but vacation spots and businesses that have struggled in the past year have a glimmer of hope as Americans continue to populate the roadways.

Proof of Vaccination is a Key Issue

For those with vaccination cards, hang onto them: while proof of vaccination hasn’t been required for travelers yet, there is certainly a chance it will come into play. In our survey, there was a clear divide between people who want to return to normal travel without proof of vaccination and people who don’t mind taking the extra step to communicate vaccination status. Respondents who had not yet received the vaccine were nearly two times as likely to being opposed to airline mandates for proof of vaccination to fly.

Though it may take some time for a vaccine passport to become part of our new normal, travelers who plan on flying internationally in particular should pay close attention to regulations around proof of vaccinations and plan accordingly. Businesses in the tourism sector, such as hotels, car services, restaurants, and tour companies should use this time to put plans in place for potential vaccination passports as a requirement for travel. This mandate would translate into more expenses down the line to create infrastructure and communications around proof of vaccination and would impact a business’s daily workflow, so it’s important to plan ahead.

Tourist and Outdoor-Friendly Destinations Are Coming Back Strong

While many are hesitant to travel, this doesn’t mean people aren’t traveling at all – many airports around the country are reporting dramatic upticks in travelers as we get further into 2021. Insights pulled from Zeta’s Data Cloud show that there are a few popular destinations among both vaccinated and non-vaccinated travelers: New York City, Orlando, Denver, Atlanta, Tampa, and Dallas. Interestingly, these cities include all-time popular tourist destinations, warm-weather locations, and hubs for major airlines.

Vaccinated travelers were more likely to visit destinations in the Northeast and Midwest, according to Zeta Data Cloud. Cities like Minneapolis-St. Paul, Columbus, Oh., Boston, Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Washington, D.C. were all top spots for vaccinated travelers. Meanwhile, non-vaccinated travelers braving the skies more frequently opt for Southeast and West Coast destinations, like Houston, Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, San Antonio and Austin. With summer-like weather already in full swing in many of these locations, it’s no surprise that travelers want to head towards cities that have plenty of outdoor activities and pleasant outdoor dining conditions. Local businesses in these locations should plan to see an increase in activity from vacationers and business travelers alike as we head into the summer months.

Check Your Local Listings

As tourism ramps up, it is encouraging to know that many travelers are paying close attention to how local rules and restrictions for dining, gathering, and masking change state by state. Our survey showed that 81% of vaccinated people reported some level of concern about local restrictions when they travel, while 38% of unvaccinated people said they were concerned. However, vaccinated people tend to be far more concerned about local restrictions than those who have not been vaccinated: in our survey, a whopping 62% of unvaccinated respondents said they were “not at all” concerned with local restrictions.

Knowing this sentiment and level of concern in vaccinated vs. unvaccinated Americans could be helpful as travelers who are wary of safety measures plan their trips. Businesses in areas where there are high numbers of unvaccinated people should also take note and double down on enforcing local restrictions to ensure their patrons are safe and comply with CDC and government guidelines.

For the month of April, the Zeta Data Cloud is seeing the average lead time for consumers from booking to arrival to property is 16.1 days. This represents the highest arrival to property levels we have seen since Feb 2020. If you do plan on traveling soon do not wait until last minute.

Though the past year has taught us that there is no telling what might happen in the future, the world has rallied around pushing for pandemic recovery faster than ever before. There’s lots of opportunity for entrepreneurs to bring us new services and innovations in our new normal, and for established businesses to keep surviving and slowly recover. Travelers are coming back strong, and the tourism sector should be primed and ready to open up their doors, with safety measures in place to ensure we can keep traveling for many months to come.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.