Is the Travel Dam About to Burst?
Pulse Points
by Josh Corman

THE COVID-19 VACCINE ROLLOUT and progress in reducing the disease’s active spread in early 2021 have trav-elers feeling more optimistic about taking the kinds of trips that were often not feasible for much of last year. That’s according to independent research conducted by Des-tination Analysts, which attempts to put an exact figure on that optimism. As of mid-February, just 23 percent of the 1,200 respondents surveyed thought that the situation surrounding the pandemic would get worse, while a record high (Destination Analysts has conducted weekly surveys since last March) 39 percent believed it would im-prove. That confidence has translated to views about travel. The percentage of Americans who view travel as somewhat or very unsafe has fallen to 46 percent.

Though those figures may not seem overwhelmingly positive, they do represent new benchmarks in traveler optimism, which is further illustrated by the percentages of survey respondents who are making actual plans to take trips in the coming months. Just over 80 percent of Americans have plans for one or more upcoming trips, according to Destination Analysts’ research, with July set to be the busiest month for travel in 2021. Nearly one in five travelers (19 percent) surveyed noted that they had already booked lodging for an upcoming leisure trip.

Leaders of spas that rely on out-of-town guests for a sig-nificant portion of their business will likely be encouraged by those numbers, and even more so by figures reporting travelers’ motivations for upcoming trips. Forty-two percent of respondents indicated that relaxing or escaping stress was a primary motivation for upcoming travel, the same amount that reported that spending time with family is a primary reason for their next trip. Par-ticipating in outdoor recreation (50 percent) and connecting with nature (46 percent) are among the experi-ences travelers are most eager to have, which may offer spas in more remote locations—or those with nearby access to natural environments and outdoor recreational ac-tivities—an opportunity to appeal directly to what potential visitors are seeking on their upcoming getaways.

Speaking of direct appeals, Destination Analysts’ report indicates that American travelers are increasingly receptive to travel advertising as well. In mid-February, 56 percent of respondents reported being highly open to travel inspira-tion, while 39 percent said that the last travel destination ad they saw made them feel “happy” or “very happy.” Websites are high on the list of channels in which Americans are most highly receptive to travel ads, with 30 percent of mil-lennials (ages 25 to 40) and 37 percent of Generation X (ages 41 to 56) ranking them first. Baby boomers (ages 57 to 75) re-mained most receptive to broadcast TV ads (35 percent ranked them first), although website ads (29 percent) were not far behind.

Facebook feeds, meanwhile, continue to be an effective channel for promoting travel to millennials (22 percent of whom said they were most receptive to ads found there) and Generation X (19 percent of whom said the same). Baby boomers are the group most receptive to ads that land in their inboxes, with 21 percent reporting they were most re-ceptive to email travel advertisements.

This research suggests that spas—particularly those in the resort/hotel sector—could be facing the most receptive audience they have had since the COVID-19 pandemic forced so many of them to temporarily halt operations a year ago. That Americans are taking concrete steps to plan leisure trips (and that travelers are citing stress relief as a primary motivation for those trips) may indicate a prover-bial light at the end of the tunnel regarding travelers’ more widespread return to spas.

A greater receptiveness to travel overall may also potentially indicate decreasing levels of anxiety surrounding re-turning to public spaces, including spas, for those in areas where that hesitancy has remained high. In consumer re-search conducted by ISPA at the beginning of the pandemic, consumers reported being more nervous about flying than about visiting a spa. If that trend has held over the last year, then Destination Analysts’ numbers may indeed be a rea-son for optimism among spa leaders.

There is, of course, still a long way to go until travelers have their full confidence in travel restored, but it will be the hope of every spa leader that the trends outlined here continue to head in the right direction as 2021 rolls on.