For the past six months, the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) has participated in the 2020 Back to Normal Barometer study, an in-depth survey measuring public opinion and confidence in various industries and activities. In a sign of optimism for the travel industry, recent results indicate that despite a myriad of restrictions, travel demand remains strong.
Travel Remains a Top Priority
Participants were asked: “If the pandemic suddenly ended tomorrow, what one large discretionary purchase would you make”? Of those who said they would make a large purchase, 46 percent said they would take a trip, with the next-highest responses being remodel their home (20 percent) and purchase a new vehicle (19 percent).
“This is good news, though not entirely surprising,” said Zane Kerby, president and CEO of ASTA, in a press release. “Travel advisors have their finger on the pulse of this industry, and our members confirm the study’s findings: Travelers are thinking and dreaming of travel like never before. The data speaks for itself. Travel remains the top priority for discretionary spending.”
Jennifer Hardy, a travel advisor with Cruise Planners, seconded the notion. “Last week, I booked a couple on a 27-night "Pacific Crossing" from Seattle to Sydney in a Club Class Mini Suite on Princess,” said Hardy. “All my recent inquiries are for seven or more nights. People are desperate to travel again and want to make up for lost time.”
Despite Complexities, Travelers Are on the Road
The data also indicates that not only are travelers thinking and dreaming about travel, they’re actively traveling. Half of the respondents (50 percent) have traveled in the past 12 months, a steady hold from previous waves of this survey and only slightly behind other activities such as visiting a retail store (69 percent) seeing a doctor (61 percent) or going to a movie (53 percent).
More than half (55 percent) of those surveyed have traveled more than 100 miles on a road trip this summer, with 27 percent of those traveling 250 miles or more. In addition, nearly 60 percent indicate that they have recently stayed in a hotel or are ready to stay in a hotel.
Government Leaders Need to Step Up
“We’re pleased to see that, overall, the confidence barometer is moving in the right direction,” said Kerby. “But more needs to be done. A rapid response and reliable test are desperately needed so that we stop treating all 335 million Americans as though they ‘might’ have the virus. Last week, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Robert Redfield said that, in terms of personal health, a mask is more important than a vaccine. We take Dr. Redfield at his word. As such, the CDC should lift it’s ‘No Sail Order’ for the cruise industry and require masking in all public areas on cruise ships. There are nearly 1 million Americans flying every day, and millions more staying in hotels. Other countries have returned safely to normal activities, including crowded public transportation by mandating masks. Our study’s data confirms that an overwhelming majority of cruisers feel comfortable that they can manage the health risks associated with the cruise experience. It’s past time to lift the ban.”
ASTA Presses on the CDC for Answers
When it comes to cruise safety, 27 percent of cruisers trust the CDC guidance and 25 percent trusting the World Health Organization (WHO) for the nod of approval. Unsurprising, the traveling public continues to seek assurances from for government leaders when it comes to safety.
Survey data revealed that nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of travelers who have taken a cruise within the past year are ready to go on a cruise now. Of those travelers who have cruised in the past year, a majority (57 percent) either strongly agree or somewhat agree that they’d be much more likely to take a cruise if a low-cost nasal swab was available at every boarding to pre-screen passengers for COVID-19.
The need for standardize testing and safety regulations from the CDC is a top priority for the association, it says. In a move suggesting that changes to its cruising “No Sail Order” may be on the horizon, the CDC opened a Request for Information (RFI) related to cruise ship planning and infrastructure and the resumption of passenger operations, among other things. After asking travel advisors to weigh in themselves, ASTA submitted comments on the RFI which closed on September 21.
“The RFI is our chance to urge the CDC to work with the cruise lines and put the necessary safety protocols into place to lift the No Sail Order as soon as possible and as safely as possible,” said Eben Peck, executive vice president, advocacy at ASTA. “To help travel advisors respond, ASTA created a portal where travel advisors could answer some of the questions posed by the RFI, and close to 700 did.”
Travel Advisors Continue to Book Cruises
Despite the No Sail Order, travel advisors are still booking future cruises for their clients. Daniela Harrison, a travel advisor with Avenues of the World, Inc., based in Arizona, says, “Clients feel that a cruise ship is a fairly controlled environment, as with testing they will know everyone on board will be healthy and safe and they can enjoy themselves.” As countries around the world slowly open, travelers are seizing the opportunity to take advantage of favorable pricing and flexible cancelation policies. “I’ve been booking ocean cruises left and right,” added Harrison. “Lots of Iceland, Norway, Greece, Easter Island, Tahiti, Asia and some European river cruises.”
Finally, roughly 46 percent of all survey respondents indicate that taking a vacation of 500 miles or more is a priority for them or their family in the next 12 months. Of the survey respondents categorized as “hesitant,” we asked: “Assuming you had the necessary assurances that it was safe to resume normal activities, how quickly would you next take a cruise?” Almost 70 percent indicated that they would take a cruise within three months if they had the necessary assurances.
ASTA remains optimistic that the new landscape of travel, with all the complexities and changing rules, will thrust travel advisors into the spotlight as solution providers for the next wave of travel demand.