People Aren’t Booking Travel, But Travel Searches Are Up Year-Over-Year

I don’t think that travel will recover for some time, but there’s still some interesting data on this that really surprised me.

International travel is going to be especially challenging. Domestic travel should come back somewhat first. However,

  • Many countries will remain locked down past when they have a handle on the virus, concerned about it coming back in.
  • Travel procedures may be more cumbersome scaring passengers away, who may have fears anyway
  • Companies will push off international travel until next year
  • International leisure travel usually has a longer planning horizon than domestic travel, we’ll be too late for the summer peak season.

Nonetheless consumer travel search data provides reason to be optimistic.

[A]n analysis of flight searches done in several countries during Mar-2020, when most of the population has been in quarantine..reveals that they are still researching foreign travel and, furthermore, that they have a disproportionate interest in long haul travel in the third and fourth quarters of the year.

People still have a sentiment to travel and industry know needs to tap into this travel market and convert them to a future booker. Its data shows similar trends for Italy, Greece and Spain. People may be in a strict lockdown, but they are still searching for trips overseas.

…This year in March it shows they that they were looking at making trips in third or fourth quarters instead.

An interesting data point is travel searches from within Italy which was ahead of the U.S. and much of Europe with a viral outbreak. In March, while they were in the midst of the pandemic travel searches were down substantially for trips April – June but were actually up for July – September trips and nearly double 2019 volume for October – December. That could suggest,

  • That people won’t travel less overall, just push their travel back in the year
  • That people remained hopeful about a quick recovery and end to lockdown
  • That travel remains inspirational and something people hold onto during the worst of times

It would be one thing if people had stopped searching travel altogether. They didn’t. And their travel searches for trips six to nine months out actually shot up.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I am so guilty of this. We cancelled our UK cruise a month ago (end of May departure) since we knew what was going to eventually happen (okay. . .we guessed and were right, unfortunately). We are getting all our money back as a refund except for the deposit and they are giving us the cost of insurance back as a credit too (thanks Princess. . very cool with that). So during endless conference calls I am dreaming about Hawaii or the Caribbean since long distance travel is out of the question for at least two years I am betting. Dreaming of sand, surf and a cocktail being brought to me, with mask and rubber gloves on the waiter.

  2. United airlines has already given up. Slashing their program , returning fleet types and wanting of the biggest mass layoffs. Travel may wan my to come back but there won’t be service to support it.

  3. If the antibody prophylactic works (even if only for a few weeks as speculated) I would take it and travel. But not till that is available. Antibody is better as it prevents. The idea that a cure could be found is less exciting as I don’t won’t to get it in the first place. So vaccine or antibody prophylactic for me to actually travel vs dreaming of where I might go

  4. I’m betting on “That travel remains inspirational and something people hold onto during the worst of times”. At least this is how things are for me right now. I’ve been looking up possible trips for next year because it distracts me. I might book something that i can reasonably cancel because it would give me something to look forward to. In reality I’m not sure when I’ll actually be traveling again. My progression has been,
    Dec – “I’m going to see about spending a month working remote in Europe in 2021!”,
    March – “Well lets plan on doing a semi-splurge trip once this is all over.”,
    Now – “Maybe we should look into doing a few weeks somewhere easy next year…if we can cancel everything…and we still have our jobs”

    I think you you’re right. Not searching at all would be a big sign because that would mean that traveling isn’t a possibility.

  5. I’d imagine that searches on *anything* are up year-over-year, because everyone is sitting locked in front of their computer, bored out of their minds with nothing to do. And yes, fantasizing about possible trips that might happen one day is definitely a popular pastime!

  6. Many cruisers opted for bonus Future Cruise Credits (1.25 FCC vs 1.0 refund) when their recent cruises were cancelled. There are a lot of cruise catalogs open on kitchen tables around the world with pent-up demand and “money to burn” in expiring FCCs,

  7. I wanted to throw some kudos your way Gary for coming up with interesting stuff to write about in this environment. I’m sure it isn’t easy with travel grounded, but it’s a nice break from the death tolls and panic reporting in the media overall right now.

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