Optimism among leisure travelers in advance of the summer season have reached pre-pandemic levels, according to MMGY Travel Intelligence, MMGY Global's research and insights division. The Traveler Sentiment Index (TSI), according to the 2021 “Spring Edition” of MMGY’s “Portrait of American Travelers” survey, was recorded at 119; this, MMGY says affirms that U.S. adults are thinking much more positively about travel than they were throughout 2020, which was full of uncertainty and constantly changing attitudes and policies toward travel.

While there is much optimism, concerns for safety continue to affect demand, although not slowing what is a considerable increase in travel intent. Along with positive signs, such as increased vaccinations and decreasing COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, safety remains below its pre-pandemic levels. At the time of the survey, it lingered 12 points lower on the TSI than it did in February 2020. 

Where and How Will They Go?

The top states of interest among U.S. travelers over the next two years are Hawaii (64 percent), Florida (62 percent), California (53 percent), Colorado (50 percent), Alaska (49 percent) and New York (49 percent). It is also important to note that some destinations—including Portland, Seattle and Washington, D.C.—have experienced large decreases in interest, which is likely the result of extensive political and social unrest that occurred in these destinations throughout the past year. There is some interest in international destinations; however, it remains relatively low with only 19 percent of leisure travelers indicating that they are likely to take an international trip in the next six months (down from 24 percent in January 2020).  

Road trips continue to be the most likely form of near-term vacation travel. Three in five U.S. adults (62 percent) expect to take at least one leisure vacation during the next six months with the preferred mode of transportation being personal car, while two in five (38 percent) say they will take a domestic flight. Looking further out to the next 12 months, four of five (81 percent) U.S. adults expect to take at least one trip of any kind. 

Travel Intentions and Spending Expectations

The intent to take a vacation during the next six months decreases with age and increases with household income. Active leisure travelers (those who intend to travel within the next 12 months) expect to take 3.7 overnight leisure trips this year and spend an average of $2,415 on those trips. Gen Xers and Boomers intend to take fewer trips than Gen Zs and Millennials, but Gen Xers and Boomers intend to spend more overall. This difference in spending expectations is likely because Boomers tend to have more available time for travel and more discretionary income. MMGY also noted Boomers are the generation that’s first in line for COVID-19 vaccinations; however, many states (as of April 1, 2021) have opened vaccinations to all adults or those ages 16 and up.

Though travelers are ready to spend on vacations, they are also anticipating travel deals. Perceptions around the affordability of travel have far surpassed pre-pandemic levels (up 29 points), and this metric was the only TSI component that did not take a significant dip throughout the pandemic, as travelers expected travel companies to slash prices given reduced demand. 

Corporate business travel demand has historically driven fare and rate strength; however, MMGY Global's CEO, Clayton Reid, foresees a shift in this dynamic ahead. “MMGY Global believes the next six months will see a unique environment whereby weekend leisure travel demand is so significant that it pushes leisure demand to weekdays, thereby displacing traditional corporate travel,” he said in a written statement. “We are calling this ‘reverse compression.’ We think trip volume will not only be led by leisure demand, but that fare and rate strength will also come first from consumers and second from business, even in market environments and periods where that just doesn't happen.”

Sustainability and Travel

The pandemic has had a profound impact on travel behaviors, MMGY says. Travelers are doing more driving than flying, showing preference to outdoor destinations rather than cities and, perhaps unexpectedly, expressing an increasing focus on the impact of their travel. Fifteen percent of active leisure travelers indicate a travel service provider’s focus on sustainability and environmental considerations greatly impacts their travel decision-making. This sentiment is more evident among younger travelers who showed greater willingness to pay more for travel brands that demonstrate environmental responsibility than their older counterparts. Though the intent to spend more with travel companies that demonstrate environmental responsibility declines the older the traveler segment, 83 percent of active leisure travelers overall indicate they are open to changing some aspect of their travel behavior to reduce their impact on the environment (for example, visiting destinations in the off-season to reduce overcrowding and using less single-use plastics while traveling appear to be changes most are willing to make).  

Source: MMGY Travel Intelligence

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