Why New York City’s Plan To Vaccinate Tourists Is A Smart Blueprint For The U.S. Travel Industry

By Suzanne Rowan Kelleher | Forbes | May 12, 2021

Visitors to New York City who want to save big bucks on sightseeing could leave the Big Apple with an unexpected souvenir: A Covid-19 vaccination record card. This week, the city began rolling out a slew of vaccine incentives, including free weekly MetroCards, Citi Bike passes and comped tickets to some of the city’s most iconic attractions, from the Bronx Zoo and NYC Aquarium to Lincoln Center and NYC Ferry.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says he is working with Governor Andrew Cuomo to approve Covid-19 vaccinations for out-of-state visitors. He wants to see pop-up vaccination sites offering free one-and-done Johnson & Johnson doses to tourists at some of the city’s most popular attractions. Pending approval, de Blasio says vaccination vans will appear at the Empire State Building, Times Square, Brooklyn Bridge Park, High Line and Central Park, among other iconic spots.

“This is a positive message to tourists,” said de Blasio at a press briefing. “Come here, it’s safe, it’s a great place to be and we’re gonna take care of you. We’re going to make sure you get vaccinated while you’re here with us.”

As the rate of vaccinations slows around the country, de Blasio may be on to something that could not only get more Americans protected against Covid-19 but boost his city’s tourism coffers to boot.

For starters, vaccine incentive programs are very popular. According to a new Harris Poll, over two thirds (65%) of American support the idea of using incentives to encourage more people to get vaccinated.

But more importantly, these sweeteners are popular with the most relevant group of people: 57% of unvaccinated Americans support the idea of vaccine incentives and 54% say they are more likely to get vaccinated if an incentive is offered, per the Harris poll.

Other survey results point in the same direction. Nearly six in 10 Americans (58%) think that brands rewarding people is a good incentive to get vaccinated, according to a recent Morning Consult poll. Among the types of businesses a traveler might encounter on a trip, vaccine incentives would be most welcome from fast-food chains (68%), local bars and restaurants (64%), coffee chains (54%), and airlines (50%).

Moreover, there appears to be very little risk for a destination to dangle a vaccination carrot. Morning Consult found that a hefty 83% of U.S. adults would either feel more favorably (41%) about a brand that incentivizes consumers to receive vaccines or that such incentives would have no impact (42%) on their views one way or another.

The Morning Consult survey did find that some groups — most notably Republicans, who remain among the most hesitant to get vaccinated — are split on whether they think organizations should involve themselves in vaccination efforts. Even so, a split opinion among Republicans now translates to just 13% of consumers, as the percentage of Americans who identify as Republican has shrunk to just 26%, according to Gallup’s party affiliation tracker.

In the big picture, getting more Americans vaccinated is key to the recovery of the $1.5-trillion U.S. travel industry, which supports over 11 million American jobs. Survey after survey indicates that Americans are waiting to travel until after they have been vaccinated — and, crucially, they also want their fellow travelers to be vaccinated.

Individuals who are vaccinated or likely to get vaccinated are significantly more interested in traveling this summer (54%) compared to those not likely to get a vaccine (40%), according to a recent study by The Points Guy and Healthline Media.

In a survey from Allianz Partners, a travel insurance company, two thirds (67%) of respondents said getting a vaccine will make them feel safe enough to travel again. “Our survey finds that increased traveler confidence is a direct result of improved vaccine availability,” said Daniel Durazo, the company’s director of marketing and communications.

And a recent YouGov poll conducted for HomeExchange, a Massachusetts-based home exchange network of 450,000 homes in 159 countries, found that nearly two thirds of respondents (64%) would prefer to travel with an all-vaccinated group.

Of course, the cruise industry’s relaunch is highly incentivized, too. New guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) allows cruise ships to return to U.S. waters as long as 95% of passengers are fully vaccinated. Cruise devotees are on board with this requirement. Just prior to the CDC’s decision, two thirds of Cruise Critic readers (64%) said they would book a cruise for 2021 if the CDC were to allow cruises to sail from the US starting this summer. And in an earlier reader survey, 84% of respondents said they would cruise if getting vaccinated was a requirement. “And anecdotally, we’re hearing from a number of cruisers that it’s the only way they’d feel comfortable returning at this time,” said Colleen McDaniel, the outlet’s editor in chief.

The faster Americans get vaccinated, the faster the travel industry will rebound. Given the correlation between shots in arms and “heads on beds,” the age-old tourism metric, other cities and chambers of commerce across the country might consider offering their own vaccine incentives to visitors as the peak summer travel season approaches.

“Looking ahead,” concluded the Morning Consult analysts, “adults who are undecided when it comes to getting a vaccine represent the largest opportunity in terms of increasing consumer confidence.”

Read the full story at Forbes.