A booming travel industry came to a screeching halt with the news of a pandemic and as a result of an enforced lockdown, people faced restricted travel and movement for the first time. Approximately 82% of people traveling within six months of the lockdown changed their travel plans either by canceling or by reducing them. 

While 36% of travelers cannot be persuaded to book vacations at this time (as countries are slowly evaluating and working towards lifting some restrictions) some people are beginning to feel hopeful and are starting to think about travel again. Around 18-20% of people in the US and the UK are starting to speak to travel advisers as a result of COVID-19 since expert advice has now become extremely important to gauge COVID exposure and risk before making any travel decisions. Based on readings and anecdotally, we found that people are keen to travel again as they have been locked in their homes for what feels like forever, and cannot wait to escape this forced lockdown. However, they are aware of the risks and safety remains a big concern when it comes to travel. Even though people are aware of the risks around contracting the virus, what are some of the motivations that drive the interest in travel?

 

Motivations to travel in the times of COVID-19

Our foundational research has illuminated 12 motivation “areas” that encompass our unobservable needs, wants, interests, and desires, that energize and direct our behaviors, and can explain the solutions we choose.

Using this wheel as a lens, it’s evident that our motivations to travel are a bit different in the times of COVID-19. As we always say, people’s needs don’t change…but the way we fulfill those needs can.

In pre-COVID-19 days, people were largely motivated to travel to Embrace Change...the upper half of the wheel. In contrast, we’re now hearing that travel is increasing because of people’s Internal needs to Maintain Stability…the bottom-left quadrant of the wheel.

Graph

 

People are looking to Travel (instead of Home) to fulfill the needs to Escape & Cocoon and Reset & Rejuvenate

They still want to Escape & Cocoon…but away from Home. 

The place to escape from the world and cocoon now feels like a jail as people are forced to stay inside their homes. Zoom-overload means that people are desperate to get away from their screens and into the real world – even if this means more short-term trips in nearby areas where they can find a new place to run away. 

 

They still want to Reset & Rejuvenate…but again, Home isn’t going to cut it.

Remember when going Home after a long day to chill-out provided the refresh we needed to face the next day full of vim and vigor? Not anymore. The current situation has quadrupled* the need to take a mental break and just being Home isn’t enough. People are desperate for ways to get this break and travel can do just that. Yes, travel fulfilled this need Before, but now it might be the only way to get that break [*not backed by any scientific data but just how we’re feeling!].

So, in a world where Home literally houses the stress of everyday life…people need somewhere else to go to release that stress valve…and travel might be just the thing.

 

And with everything so f*cked up right now, travel can help people Simplify & Control by providing a sense of normalcy

Travel used to be so embedded in our “normal” lives. We would try out new things, visit new places and meet new people. Now, a life without travel is just one more thing that feels distinctly not normal about this unpredictable as hell time. 

Being able to travel again now (even in a limited capacity) is helping people regain a sense of normalcy and control over a world that’s disturbingly uncertain and exhaustively complex. Travel is making life feel simple again because it’s a little back-to-normal slice of life. But, people are looking for simplified ways to travel where they are not required to invest too much mental capacity into making travel decisions. 

Barriers and Fears associated with Travel 

Nonetheless, the ground reality remains that however hungry we are to travel again, COVID-19 is still here…and “social distancing” remains our best friend, forcing us to consider our travel risks more than we ever have.

Travel should be expansive and without boundaries but we’re scared to step out of our safety bubble (yep, the Home we so desperately want to get away from!)

Pre-COVID-19, when people thought about travel they would talk about immersing themselves in new cultures with new people, living new experiences. However, now the constant reminder to social distance takes away from their ultimate travel experience as they are forced to scrutinize every action and immerse restrictively on the whole.

As a result, current travel choices reflect an amplified need for health and safety. Preferred travel choices are secluded and private, with domestic trips and the outdoors feeling safer with minimized points of interaction and physical closeness with unknown people.

Travel dreams are big and expensive but now we’re struggling financially.

With the economy taking a hit due to the extended lockdown, people are losing jobs and running out of savings. Travel budgets are being monitored and trip planning will be more important to limit unexpected expenditures and to take advantage of discounts and available perks. And because there are fewer trips overall, the pressure to make it an amazing trip is even higher. 

As a result, people are being forced to shelve their big travel dreams and bucket lists for now and look at smaller and less expensive travel options. They’re planning more, being a lot more cautious, and less spontaneous (sigh).

What can brands do?

In order to address people’s Internal need to Maintain Stability, some brands are already…

Helping people Escape & Cocoon

Luxury hotels are offering sweet deals to encourage staycations as people are looking for a place to Escape & Cocoon away from their homes, even if that means leaving their homes and spending a few days in a different environment close to home. For example, during China’s May Day holiday, hotel occupancies topped 50% following months during which it was as low as 10%. They even had 100% occupancy for two days in some hotels. 

Helping people Reset & Rejuvenate

Initiatives like Work From Mountains are also encouraging people to experience a change in their surroundings and allowing them to Reset & Rejuvenate while also giving them a chance to do so without disrupting their work life. They offer stand-alone mountain homes and cottages to work in and Reset & Rejuvenate away from the city in relaxing surroundings close to nature.

Helping people Simplify & Control

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) put out a campaign stating that they are waiting to see guests again but the focus will be to make sure they are in control of their stay and their safety. They will take measures to simplify people’s experience by minimizing human contact using technology to manage check-ins, adding Plexiglass at the gaming tables, and cutting overall guest capacity.

Some other thought starters…

Make people feel safe so they can be carefree and Escape & Cocoon to a safe place, away from home.

Health and Safety protocols beyond WHO standards (safety kits, cleanliness standards, personal health/safety requests, readily available travel medical advisor)

Provide encapsulated relaxing experiences to help people Reset & Rejuvenate, also away from home.

Experiences within safe premises of the hotel/accommodation (outdoor yoga and meditation, gardening workshops, nature walks, etc.)

Simplify the process and help people make informed and controlled travel decisions.

Seamless access to travel information (open access to policy, health and safety protocols, virus exposure in the area, guest capacity, etc.)

Online/ Virtual heavy processes (online bookings/check-ins) 

Increased engagement and personal attention (constant check-in calls, clarifying doubts, other pre-vacation engagement)

Help people feel in control of their finances and protected financially.

Rework insurance refund and cancellation policies to be more flexible

And while the reality is that most people won’t be ready to travel for quite a long time (and that’s probably for the best), the travel industry can have empathy and understanding for people by developing ideas and initiatives that can help meet the Internal need to Maintain Stability. 

What are some other things you think the travel industry could do to help meet the Internal need to Maintain Stability? Drop us a line at barkha@thesoundhq.com to chat!

Barkha Surana
Written By:
Barkha Surana

Barkha recently completed her MSc. in Social and Cultural Anthropology, specialising in the anthropology of social media, fashion and personhood, and exploring risk, power and uncertainty. As an anthropologist, she loves to immerse herself into new cultures and people's lives to experience it from their perspective. In the past, she has worked extensively across categories like tech, FMCG’s, and fashion.

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