2021 American travel boom less likely than previously thought, survey finds

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 22: Travelers wait in line to check in for a flight at the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) amid a COVID-19 surge in Southern California on December 22, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. TSA agents screened over 1 million people for three consecutive days last Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the beginning of the traditional holiday travel season, for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
By Ethan Wolff-Mann | Yahoo Finance | Jan 4, 2021
Expectations for 2021 are high. Earnings estimates are ticking upwards, the stock market continues to crest, and people talk of a “Roaring ‘20s” boom as Americans emerge from their COVID cocoons to spend, go out, and travel.
“I think the vaccine is going to help a lot,” said Jason Ader, SpringOwl Asset Management CEO and a former leisure analyst. “I think right now there’s very little people want to do other than finally go out and travel. And so that’s a great thing. And so I think we’ll be a year from now, and things will start to feel a bit more like normal.”

The question is how much.

Hotel bookings spiked last month on positive vaccine news, but it may only be relative — simply better than a 2020 fraught with deaths, shutdowns, and unemployment.

A new poll from Yahoo Finance and The Harris Poll examined evolving attitudes to travel as vaccines are disseminated throughout the population and light at the end of the tunnel appears. Unfortunately, the light is far away and the travel industry may not be primed for a boom just yet.

“Most Americans are eager to start traveling again, but travel likelihood may also be affected by the lack of disposable income to spend on travel as well as vaccination status,” Harris Poll analysts found.

Only 14% of Americans have booked travel out of state in 2021 so far, and just 28% of Americans plan to travel out of state within three months of getting vaccinated. (Roughly 4 million Americans have been vaccinated so far.)

Half of survey respondents said they plan to travel out of state within six months of their vaccines. For most, travel is contingent on getting the vaccines, not simply having more of the population around them with immunity; 61% of the sample of 1,015 respondents would not feel comfortable traveling without their shot. The poll was conducted Dec. 18-21.

Surprisingly, older populations that are more at risk are more cavalier, with only 50% of respondents 65 and older saying they wouldn’t feel comfortable traveling until their vaccines.

Money is a huge factor

Though risk tolerance is a big factor, having the money to travel after record unemployment levels plays an important role — even after stimulus checks.

“Young adults are nearly twice as likely to travel less frequently in the year after they get vaccinated compared to the elderly,” the Harris analysis found.

This is correlated to how much people have saved. According to the survey, 54% of people 18 to 34 were unable to save money during the pandemic, compared to slightly less (49%) of people over 65. The pandemic has shown diverging experiences because while the unemployment rate has spiked, those with jobs often found themselves spending less, resulting in a national personal savings rate more than 173% higher than the year before.

This dichotomy played out in another survey question: Almost two-thirds of families with income of over $100,000 plan to travel, while just 37% making under $50,000 will travel out of state within six months of their vaccines.

A hypothesis emerged over the past year that the year of stay-at-home orders and business closures might change behavior in some way, as people restricted to their homes will want to travel more than they used to.

Again, money may be a factor. The richer $100k+ cohort indicated they’d travel more frequently — or the same amount — and lower-income $50,000 households said they would likely travel less.

One interesting result from the survey found that while Airbnb has benefitted some from longer stays during the pandemic and remote work situations, far more people are more comfortable staying with relatives (70%) and at hotels (65%) than at a short-term rental like an Airbnb or VRBO (50%.) (Hostels might take a while to recover, with 36% of respondents saying they’d be comfortable there during the vaccination period.)

A boom is badly needed by the hospitality industry, which has been hit disproportionately hard during the pandemic. According to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, 65% of hotels were below 50% occupancy at the end of August, below the break-even point. Airline executives have been sounding the alarm since the beginning; Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest Airlines, told Yahoo Finance that it would take the better part of a decade for business travelto recover. And though travel picked up over the holidays, it was still far below 2019’s level.

A dining out boom is far more likely

According to the Yahoo Finance-Harris Poll survey, 68% of Americans who plan to get vaccinated said they’d go out to eat more frequently or about the same as before the pandemic once they’ve gotten the vaccine.

This was once again weighted by age, with wealthier Americans over 65 gearing up for the local restaurants over those 18 to 34 — 80% to 68%.

“In fact, Americans 65+ are the age group most interested in eating out again in the year after they get vaccinated for COVID-19,” Harris Poll analysts wrote.

Read the full story at Yahoo Finance.