Hurry up and wait

18 June 2020

As European economies begin gradual reopening strategies, what can be learned from the experiences and sentiments in countries further ahead in the process – and how should the travel and tourism industry interpret the results? Chris Klauda, senior director at STR Market Insights, looks at differing regional attitudes and explains its decision to temporarily pause research studies as the crisis enters a new phase.

The travel industry will recover from the impact of Covid-19, but the key question is currently what can be done in the meantime as researchers and when? With China further along in its recovery process than the rest of the world, people can look east for guidance on when they might see recovery.

On 10 March 2020, approximately two months after Chinese authorities publicly shared the genetic sequence of Covid-19, a survey of STR’s Traveller Panel revealed that half of Chinese international travellers intended to travel more in the next 12 months, compared with the previous 12.

This willingness to travel is supported by STR data, which shows recovery in China. The opposite seems to be true in English-speaking countries, however.

On 11 March 2020, WHO declared the Covid-19 outbreak a pandemic. A week later, STR surveyed Australian, Canadian, US and UK travellers, which produced results that directly contrasted its China survey.

Half of all international travellers in these four countries stated that they intended to take fewer international trips in the next 12 months, compared with the previous 12. Again, this is supported by STR occupancy data, with declines across the board.

With much of the rest of the world about two months behind China on the coronavirus timeline, STR’s optimistic hope is that, as the world cycles through the next challenging phase, signs of recovery will start to show.

As researchers, STR felt it was important to pause some of its work with consumers and travel operators – to give them time to come to terms with what is happening and prepare their strategies for this new environment. The rationale for pausing included two main points:

  • There is an insensitivity of asking people, whether consumers or travel operators, to respond to questions about future travel plans and sustainability initiatives when they are grappling with health and safety concerns, as well as so many unknowns around financial security.
  • Even if people were inclined to answer questions about future plans, their responses may not reflect their perspective once they’ve had time to process Covid-19’s impact on their lives.

Over April 2020, the market insights team at STR made the difficult decision to pause research studies to allow consumer and travel operator lives to settle. The projects it has ‘paused’ included a business-to-business (B2B) study with hotel operators in Australia, a B2B study with hospitality finance and technology professionals in the US and its business-to-consumer (B2C) global consumer travel insights study.

As with cities and travel overall, STR has been in a ‘hurry up and wait’ mode, looking forward to the reopening of the world to restart its research.

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