Is a rejuvenated environment ready for the return of travel? Domestic demand takes the lead, but international desire is on the rise

22 May, 2020

The current crisis may have created an industry downturn much bigger than many had expected, but it delivers an opportunity for change, a new beginning for the travel and tourism ecosystem built around a sustainable development strategy. One positive from global lockdowns is that the mobility restrictions have helped the environment rejuvenate.

Across the world air quality has improved - imagine living in the Jalandhar district in Punjab, India and seeing the Himalayas almost 125 miles away for the first time in decades. For many under the age of 30 that would have been the first time they had seen the snow-capped peaks from their residences.

Right before Covid-19 struck, sustainability was one of the biggest discussion points with overtourism a genuine concern among many destinations. Now, less than six months on many destinations are urging for visitors to come back after being economically crippled by travel restrictions and the collapse of global air transport activity.

Fortunately, it appears that the worst of the first wave of Covid-19 infections is now past its peak across almost all the world, but a second wave is an clear imminent threat and will ensure that the world will not open up like it was previously, at least in the short- and even medium-term. Destinations and airlines are already adjusting to world that will be more about domestic and at best regional international travel.

In Europe, many airlines are confirming their plans to return to the air with adjusted schedules. For the likes of easyJet and Volotea this sees the introduction of additional domestic flying. For easyJet this has seen it pick up some additional routes between England and Scotland. For Volotea it is more domestic Spanish destinations as popular leisure destinations become repositioned to support local travellers rather than the foreign tourist invasion that has underpinned many local businesses for season after season.

A number of travel sentiment studies have advocated the thoughts that domestic travel will return long before international travel. This will be led by the leisure and VFR markets, with business travel lagging slightly behind.

CHART - Domestic markets are playing an important role in the return of air travel and now account for more than 80% of weekly global seatsSource: The Blue Swan Daily and OAG

The latest monthly survey from LuggageHero, a short-term luggage storage provider in Europe and North America confirms traveller intention to switch to domestic travel in the upcoming months, supporting the findings it discovered in previous editions in Mar-2020 and Apr-2020, but it is also seeing a growing interest in international travel.

From May through September, at least 75% of respondents say they plan to explore their own country, either for road trips or city breaks. More than half of European respondents said they were planning to travel inside the country in the summer months. Moreover, another 20% are so eager to travel they will hit the road within the first 15 days after restrictions are lifted. On the other hand, 3% said they would not leave their own city until a vaccine is available. A similar group of 3% say they will wait for the economy to return to normal before leaving their city.

Interestingly, almost half of the participants said they would like to go to another country before Sep-2020 if the quarantine restrictions are lifted, while 26% will wait until next year - 6% of those people said that would be only on the condition that a vaccine has been made available. There is a 23% rise in European's willingness to travel abroad in 2020 in the May-2020 survey compared to last month's report suggesting a possible return of a business as usual like mindset.

CHART - When also introducing US survey responses into the analysis you can see different views on the sentiment to travel across the Atlantic

Source: Luggage Hero's Covid-19 Travel Sentiment Monitor (May-2020)

There are even positives for the corporate sector that shows that even though online meetings have become routine in the last two months, people still value face-to-face interactions, especially when it comes to professional business matters. Less than one in five (17%) respondents said they have adapted to the efficiency of the online meetings, and almost three in five (55%) believe they will have at least one business trip by the end of 2020.

While their may be a clear intent to travel, the economic environment could be a big factor in turning desire into action. While, more than three-quarters of this survey's respondents said the financial impact to their household was relatively small, from 0 to 25%, more than one in ten (12%) said that since the pandemic started that their monthly household income had dropped by more than 50%.

But, it appears that desire may transcend cost limitations and the longer restrictions remain that desire is increasing. In LuggageHero's May-2020 survey 42% of respondents said they expect to spend the same amount as planned earlier, up from 36% in Apr-2020. However, around one in five (18%) expect budgets to decrease, albeit by only a fifth, matching the loss in the majority of respondents household income.

This paints another optimistic outlook of a bounce-back in travel demand. How long will it be before we have forgotten about the challenging months of 2020 and we are soon complaining again about the environmental degradation of travel and tourism? Let's hope in the rush to get the world moving that we take the time and thought into delivering a sustainable industry of the future.