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How COVID-19 is changing traveler mindsets and behaviors

06 August 2020

The news is not good...

A new analysis by PR firm Ketchum. Inc. (New York and Düsseldorf) provides insights into how consumer perceptions and behaviors with regard to travel have changed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Data come from a "nationally representative" online survey of 3,883 Americans done 14-23 June 2020.


  • 87% of respondents said they don't trust other travelers to follow safety guidelines.
  • But 65% trust airlines - and 75% trust hotels - to provide a safe experience.

Travel party composition:

  • 57% said COVID-19 has made them more likely to travel with close friends.
  • 64% of parents (including parents of adult children) said that COVID-19 has made them more likely to travel with their children.

Emerging traveler personas based on 2 dimensions: Openness to reengagement and Redefinition of Values:

Retro Reengagers (33% of travelers):

  • Expect to return to the world as it was.
  • Travel preferences largely unchanged by COVID-19.
  • Have pent-up demand for travel - will likely travel more in the next year, and more often in groups.
  • Most likely to reject the wearing of masks in public.
  • Attributes:
    • High openness to reengagement
    • Low redefinition of values
    • Politically conservative
    • High personal income

Cautious Questioners (25% of travelers):

  • Reserving judgment until they have more information
  • Most likely to have experienced significant disruption to travel plans
  • Most at risk for COVID-19 because of underlying health conditions
  • 19% less likely to retain pre-COVID-19 travel preferences
  • 2X as likely to feel uncomfortable in shared spaces
  • Brand loyal
  • Attributes:
    • Low openness to reengagement
    • Significant redefinition of values
    • Politically liberal
    • Below-average income

Open-Minded Explorers (22% of travelers):

  • Have new priorities for a new world.
  • Most open to travel today
  • Expect to travel more alone, with children, or with close friends.
  • Will seek travel deals, flexible as to destination.
  • More likely to be urban and highly educated.
  • Attributes:
    • High openness to reengagement
    • Significant redefinition of values
    • Politically polarized
    • Highest personal income

Worried Withholders (20% of travelers):

  • Oldest persona, set in ways, not easily influenced, prefer to remain in comfort zone
  • Distrustful of others
  • Very hesitant to resume traveling
  • Expect COVID-19 to impact what they'll be able to do on vacation.
  • Most brand-loyal
  • Consider advertising less influential post-COVID-19 so earned media and news are key to influencing
  • Attributes:
    • Low openness to reengagement
    • Low redefinition of values
    • Politically centrist
    • Below-average personal income

Universal timelines for reengagement:

Daily activities:

  • 3 months: shopping in stores, visiting doctor
  • 3.5 months: returning to work
  • 5 months: eating out


  • 7 months: Domestic travel, staying at a hotel
  • 8.5 months: Flying, taking public transport
  • 11 months: International travel


If Ketchum's "Universal Timeline" projections prove to be accurate, that will be very bad news.

  • There are (or were pre-COVID-19) about a million restaurants operating in the US, employing more than 15M people, and 70% of those restaurants have just one location. Most of them will fail if nobody eats out for another 5 months.
  • Hotels operating at 42% occupancy (US average, June 2020) for another 7 months - through the summer tourist season and beyond - are going to be hard-pressed to make a comeback in 2021.
  • Airlines have been worrying about the effect on load factor and profitability of having to fly with middle seats empty - but the significance of that issue pales compared with 8.5 months of no one wanting to fly.

BUT if across demographics, people believe that travel companies can be trusted to provide a "safe experience" (airlines 65%, hotels 75%), that suggests that the reservations people have about resuming travel have to do with not trusting fellow travelers to observe health and safety guidelines.

Maybe travel companies need to join forces with government agencies in educating potential travelers about, and encouraging them to follow, those guidelines. That could be a good place to spend marketing and advertising dollars.

Those "Open-Minded Explorers" - being urban folk and open to travel right now - should be good targets for ocean, mountain, lake, rural getaways. If your destination welcomes visitors from certain cities, let those potential visitors know!

Since 2 of Ketchum's personas (comprising 55% of travelers in aggregate) say they expect to travel in groups, with close friends and/or children, that's a market that deserves a closer look by airlines, hotels, restaurants and any other busin

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David Boggs    - David
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