New European lockdowns shut the door on travel bookings, but the intent to travel remains very much alive

Europe has been seeing new COVID cases and deaths soar, prompting governments to roll out strict lockdown measures to slow the spread. Across the Atlantic the US are watching the situation closely in preparation for what they could expect to come in the next months.

France, Germany and Italy are in lockdowns, the UK joining the list this week and the World Health Organization (WHO) director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned governments face another “critical moment for action”. Adding strength to his comments the statement was made from self-isolation with Mr Ghebreyesus currently in quarantine after a contact tested positive for COVID-19.

The WHO acknowledges that pandemic still constitutes a public health emergency of international concern, and has urged a focus on response efforts based on lessons learned and strong science. It will “continue to work in partnership across the world to drive science, solutions and solidarity,” says Mr Ghebreyesus.

The lockdowns are deemed necessary to stop the increasing spread of COVID-19 infections but will have long-term impacts on economies. From a travel perspective, accommodation metasearch engine trivago has examined its platform data to shed light on how the latest European lockdowns are affecting travel bookings on the continent.

The data from Oct-2020 gives a glimpse at the trends in searches up to, and including, lockdown announcements, including desire to travel, time to travel and domestic versus international trends. Its research identifies that in France, the second lockdown announcement has led to an immediate decline in desire to travel, a similar impact is evident in Germany, albeit “not as severe,” according to the data.

Notably, domestic travel lost popularity in Oct-2020 in France, Germany and the UK, even before lockdowns were announced, however trivago describes interest as “still remaining strong”. The trivago data shows that in France and the UK, the share of click-outs to domestic accommodation have increased steadily from around Apr- 2020, reaching 70% at the end of summer. In the week of 19-Oct-2020 (before the lockdown announcements), this decreased to around 60% for both the UK and France.

In Germany, the lockdown announcement did not lead to a sharp decrease at the end of Oct-2020, but instead showed a gradual decline, following expected seasonal behaviour. In France however, there was a flat trend throughout Oct-2020, until the very last week where click-outs drop off. In Germany, the share of domestic travel is slightly higher, at around 70% for the week of 19-Oct-2020, according to trivago, but this has decreased since the start of October (prior to Oct-2020 there had been a steady increase since Jul-2020).

Earlier research from trivago covering Sep-2020 data had shown that with travel restrictions still in place and concerns around a second wave on the rise in the US and across Europe travel destinations had clearly shifted from international cities to domestic destinations such as seaside beach towns. The monthly search data showed clear year-on-year shifts in comparison to Sep-2019 across destination type, same day and next day bookings and the number of bookings further from travellers’ homes.

In the US domestic travel continues to dominate and the reopening of casinos in Jun-2020 meant Las Vegas held the top spot for domestic destinations among US travellers in Aug-2020 and Sep-2020. Beach destinations also remained among the most popular destinations in the US, with Myrtle Beach, Panama City Beach, San Diego, Ocean City and Atlantic City all within the top ten among US travellers, according to the trivago data set.

Across the Atlantic it was a similar story. In Germany and the UK, neighbouring countries and domestic seaside cities and resorts were overwhelmingly preferred in Sep-2020 when compared to the same month last year. Cities such as Amsterdam, Dubai and Glasgow were replaced by Brighton, Cornwall and Bath for travellers in the UK.

Last-minute getaways also gained in popularity with the US, UK, and Germany all seeing increases in last-minute travel, defined by booking less than one day before the trip. The UK had the biggest increase from last year, with a 15% increase in searches 0-1 day from travel. Click-out share for trips further into the future, 31-91 days out, dropped across the board, according to the trivago data.

Travellers are also looking to expand their horizons, but still stay relatively close to home, trivago acknowledges. While trips over 5000km away decreased across the US, UK and Germany, the share of bookings within the 100-500km window increased. This signals an increased willingness to travel further domestically, given current limitations on international travel. But while people were looking to travel in Sep-2020 the price they were paying per stay unsurprisingly remained lower than the same period last year in both the US and UK, according to trivago.

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