How to restore confidence in travel during an uncertain time

Safety is top of mind for consumers as they look beyond the current shelter-in-place mandates toward a recovery period when they can resume traveling. What else are they looking for beyond safety? What sources do they trust for information? What reassurances do they need when they travel?

To find out about expectations, attitudes and behaviors, PwC surveyed more than 1,000 consumers nationwide during the week of April 22. All respondents had taken at least one flight or spent at least one night in a hotel during 2019.

Consumers seek trusted sources

The leading authority survey respondents trust for safety guidelines is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with 59% of consumers rating the CDC first among sources they will consult before traveling. In fact, they are 70% more likely to trust the CDC than the federal government (36%), which ranks fourth on the list of trusted sources, after state governments (49%) and other health organizations (37%).

Implications

Use every touch point with consumers to help reassure them by giving them some control of their environment. With driving taking precedence over flying, especially during summer 2020, hotels should look to use data-driven marketing to target those customers most likely to stay at their property within the travel radius of a car in the short-term. They can even provide sanitized parking services to reassure consumers during their stay.


CDC is most trusted source

Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
%
State government
%
Other health organizations*
%
Federal government
%
Local government
%
Your doctor
%
Private companies (e.g. airlines, hotels, restaurants)
%
Source: PwC Traveler Sentiment Survey, May 2020.
Base: 1,005
Q: Who do you find to be the leading authority on what defines safety when it comes to traveling in the context of COVID-19?
*such as The World Health Organization

Consumers want control of their surroundings

Safety matters so much to consumers surveyed that they are willing to pay more for it: 43% are likely to spend more to confirm physical distancing on their next flight. Families with children are even more safety-conscious, with 60% willing to pay more, as are 55% of younger consumers aged 18 to 40 years.

After having to adjust to stay-at-home orders during the recent past, consumers surveyed are likely seeking control of their surroundings when they travel: Almost half said they will drive to their next vacation in a personal vehicle, and 40% said their next vacation will not include any flying. Among those who took at least one round-trip leisure flight in 2019, 80% plan to drive to their next vacation in a personal vehicle.

Brand trust can make a difference to consumers, with more than double the number of consumers surveyed saying they will avoid spending the night in a short-term rental property (37%) versus a brand-name hotel (16%). Brand-name hotels have the opportunity to build on that trust as demand rebounds by touting their ability to adhere to new safety standards at scale.

Implications

Use every touch point with consumers to help reassure them by giving them some control of their environment. With driving taking precedence over flying, especially during summer 2020, it should be important to provide sanitized parking services to reassure consumers.


Consumers prefer personal vehicles and brand-name hotels

I will avoid public transportation (i.e. trains, subway, bus)
%
I will plan to travel by personal vehicle only
%
I will avoid ridesharing (i.e. taxi, Uber, Lyft)
%
I will avoid gatherings of >10 people in public places (i.e. bars, restaurants, museums)
%
I will avoid flying
%
I will avoid spending the night in a short term rental (i.e. Airbnb, VRBO)
%
I will avoid renting a vehicle
%
I will avoid spending the night in a brand name hotel (i.e. Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton, IHG)
%
Source: PwC Traveler Sentiment Survey, May 2020.
Base: 1,005
Q: As a traveler planning your next vacation, would you restrict your travel plans in any of the following ways due to COVID-19 risks?

Consumers want evidence of safety protocols

Consumers are putting their faith in brands they trust and they are likely equating brand trust with cleanliness. While factors such as price, loyalty programs, location for hotels and schedules for airlines carried fairly equal weight in the past, brand trust — including confidence in safety and cleanliness — is now the top purchase driver with our consumer respondents.

In fact, almost 75% of respondents said employees wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and third-party certified sanitation reviews offer them a sense of security. They are also hungry for information: The vast majority of consumers surveyed — almost 85% — said their travel decisions will hinge on communications they receive from hotels and airlines about safety. Some 40%, however, said they are unsatisfied with the communications they’re currently receiving about safety protocols.

Implications

Communicate to consumers about safety by equipping workers with PPE. Outfit the cleaning crew assigned to COVID-19-related sanitization procedures with special uniforms that identify them as such. Communicate frequently with consumers about your safety policies, including identifying which trusted sources — such as the CDC — are helping guide the policies.


Brand trust encompasses safety and cleanliness


Airlines

Brand trust, including confidence in safety and cleanliness of aircraft
%
Price
%
Reservation change and/or cancellation policy
%
Flight schedule
%
Loyalty program/ability to accrue and redeem
%

Hotels

Brand trust, including confidence in safety and cleanliness
%
Price
%
Reservation change and/or cancellation policy
%
Loyalty program/ability to accrue and redeem
%
Reviews or advice/recommendations from others
%
Source: PwC Traveler Sentiment Survey, May 2020.
Base: 1,005
Q: When planning to book your next flight/hotel, please rank the following factors based on importance to you, once the social distancing recommendations are lifted.

Consumers want to travel again

Consumers surveyed are most definitely looking forward to traveling again. Almost 40% of consumers plan to travel by July 2020, while close to 75% plan to do so by September. Leisure travel by younger consumers (18 to 40 years old) will help lead the return. Some consumers are so eager to travel that once restrictions have eased, almost a third of respondents who did not travel at all in 2019 plan to take at least one round-trip leisure flight, while 13% of all consumers plan to fly more than they did in 2019.

In the 12 months after restrictions have eased, some 90% of consumers expect to travel again. However, more than a third plan to take fewer flights than they did in 2019. So, while travel will rebound, a segment of consumers will likely continue to be wary of resuming their pre-COVID-19 pace of travel.

Implications

While demand for travel should eventually bounce back, the nature of that demand is likely to be different. Identify and nurture new customer segments — those who plan to travel more than they did in 2019 — to confirm they are comfortable with safety and sanitization protocols. TTH companies that will emerge stronger from this crisis will likely recognize that every traveler matters.

Consumers choose destinations based on healthcare access

When they do travel, consumers surveyed are seeking destinations that are adequately equipped with healthcare facilities. They are aware that any environment that requires being around a lot of other people may have risks, and public transportation, bars, arenas, movie theaters and other entertainment venues may have greater risks.

While a vaccine inspires the most confidence in potential travelers — and is at least two-thirds more influential than any other factor — consumers surveyed also seek easy access to testing at their destinations. They are more likely to select destinations that are past the peak of COVID-19 infection and have adequate contact tracing and hospital capacity.

Implications

Deepen relationships with customers — and potential customers — so you can better understand their travel preferences. Tailor communications programs to help communicate that safety is paramount.


What do consumers perceive as risky?

Commuting using public transport (Train, Bus)
%
Taking a flight
%
Rideshare (i.e. Uber, Lyft) or carpool with other passengers
%
Staying in a short-term rental (Airbnb, VRBO, etc.)
%
Staying in a brand name hotel (Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, etc.)
%
Travel using personal vehicle
%

Bars
%
Arenas
%
Cinemas
%
Entertainment venues
%
Restaurants
%
Public parks and beaches
%
National parks
%
Source: PwC Traveler Sentiment Survey, May 2020.
Base: 1,005
Q: Today, how would you rate the riskiness of traveling in the following ways where you may be in close proximity to others?
Q: Today, how would you rate the riskiness of these types of local gatherings where you may be in close proximity to others?

What matters in a travel destination?


Vaccine available
%
Easy access to public COVID-19 test at destination
%
Municipality claims they are post-peak
%
Contact tracing available for at-risk individuals
%
Hospital capacity at destination
%

Source: PwC Traveler Sentiment Survey, May 2020.
Base: 1,005
Q: Which of the following factors would have a significant influence on your travel destination choice?

Preparing for a different future

The travel ecosystem is intrinsically linked to government officials easing restrictions, companies determining travel policies for their employees, and scientists devising vaccines and treatments. Consumers are paying close attention to each of these factors, but they are also ready to resume traveling soon — some even more than they did last year. However, travel may grow gradually at first, as people acclimate to a different future, one in which health and safety are the top priorities.

Leisure travel is an experience consumers have historically associated with having fun. Layered on that expectation — in the wake of the current crisis — is an expectation of protection. Travelers want to be informed about what TTH companies are doing to improve their safety standards, based on protocols provided by trusted sources like the CDC.

Contact us

Jon Glick

Principal, PwC US

Jennie Blumenthal

Transportation and Hospitality Leader, PwC US

Mark Baker

Director, PwC US

Follow us