Inbound COVID-19 sentiment tracker

In partnership with Visit Wales, VisitScotland and London & Partners, we commissioned research to understand international consumer sentiment towards international travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.

So far, 3 waves of the tracker have been commissioned:

Wave 1 of the tracker was fielded between 2nd-16th December 2020 in 14 markets and you can download the full report for wave 1 here (PDF, 7MB).

Wave 2 of the tracker was fielded between 24th March-5th April 2021 in 20 markets. All trended data is calculated using the 14 markets included in wave 1. You can download the full report for wave 2 here (PDF, 12MB).

Wave 3 was fielded between 23rd August and 6th September 2021 in 13 markets including Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, the Irish Republic, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the USA. You can download the full report for wave 3 here (PDF, 7.6MB) and read the summary below.

Overall travel intentions:

Overall, 8 in 10 respondents would consider an international leisure trip in the next 12 months from August 2021 with 50% saying they would ‘definitely’ consider travelling – showing a steady and more established desire to travel despite prolonged pandemic uncertainties. While Australia and Norway have a more reserved attitude, France, Italy, the Irish Republic, India and the US show the most positive sentiment towards travelling abroad. By age, whilst younger demographics still have the highest propensity to travel there is a growing sentiment for travel for older generations as the vaccination rate increases. It is actually those aged 55+ who are more likely to have already decided (and booked) their next international leisure trip.

Nearly 1 in 5 respondents (18%) say they are better off vs. only 6% worse off, when asked about spending power for the next 12 months vs the previous year but 32% feel uncertain about the impact of COVID on their finances (down from 37% in wave 2). Whilst propensity to travel remains highest for those who are better off or have not been financially impacted, finance is becoming less important in relation to travel intentions. This is particularly true in France and Italy, however this is less common in the Nordics.  

Overall, over 4 in 10 (43%) have a clear plan in mind about where they want to go but only 13% have booked their trip, making the destination choice still open for the next year. The USA, Netherlands, Germany and Irish Republic are the most likely to have booked their trip. The majority of leisure intenders having Britain destinations in mind had booked with the majority still considering a wider set of destinations. 

Markets are still primarily motivated by holidays to take their leisure trip (86%) but stable proportion still express interest to visit friends and/or relatives (34%) showing the continued pent up demand to connect with others in the current climate. Half of respondents in India, the Irish Republic and Australia would like to travel to visit friends and/or relatives in the next 12 months.

A combination of health and money-related factors are still top for triggering bookings for international travel in the next 12 months, however, a money-back guarantee is now the number one activator for trip planning. This is followed by a significant decrease in coronavirus cases, removal of quarantine policies, hygiene and safety protocols in a destination, high vaccination rates, attractive offers and insurance for Covid-19 related changes. The top activators remain the same for triggering a booking to Britain, however there is a slightly ranking for attractive offers. When asked about top concerns for travelling abroad, concern around others not respecting Covid-19 rules was top (78%). This was closely followed by 70%+ being concerned about uncertainties in planning changes including change of quarantine rules whilst abroad, access to healthcare and limited experiences at the destination. Long haul markets were more likely to have concerns about all factors listed compared to short haul markets.

Looking at attitudes to travel, concerns around crowded places is still important (71%) but there has been a shift to pre-pandemic attitudes with increased trust in trust in public transport (61% vs 51% in wave 2) and fewer saying they will leave booking until the last minute (58% vs 64%).

Destination Planning:

Europe continues to be the most popular global region, with 63% of respondents saying they would consider travelling there. This is most pronounced in short haul markets (75% would consider it), but Europe remains top in long haul markets too (48%). 13% of those interested in leisure trips in Europe would consider Britain specifically.

Regarding top European destinations for travellers, Britain has increased its competitive ranking in most short haul markets except Germany and Spain, with a top 3 spot in the Nordic markets, Italy, and the Irish Republic. Its position is much higher in long haul markets, being the top European destination for China and Australia, and in the top four for India, Canada and the US – although the latter two are down by one each compared to wave 2.

Overall perceptions of all Britain destinations in term of COVID-19 safety have improved, with 2/3 of respondents now rating it as COVID-19 safe – as opposed to December 2020, where they were in the minority. This has increased the most since March 2021 for Australian and Chinese respondents specifically, but also in closer markets like France and Spain.

The impact of various factors on propensity to consider Britain was examined in more detail:

  • Age: Interest in England is predominately by those aged 18-34 – those aged 55+ were half as likely to consider London – although Scotland and Wales saw a more balanced age distribution of potential visitors.
  • Sex: Largely equal, except in long haul markets which saw slightly more interest from men compared to women (17% vs 14%).
  • Financial situation: A determinant of travel to England and cities more so than to other Britain and Europe destinations.
  • Vaccination: Now that the vast majority of the population in Britain and most major inbound markets is at least partially vaccinated, being vaccinated is less a clear determinant of travel among Britain intenders when compared to wave 2.
  • Previous visits: the propensity to consider Britain increases with the number of past visits among respondents, though there is an increase in intention with potential first-timers too.

For destinations within Britain, 55% are interested in England, 39% in Scotland, and 18% in Wales (multiple answers allowed). Long haul markets are generally more interested in all three, with India listing the most interest in all three regions. Germany was the only nation to list Scotland higher than England (40% vs 38%) although Spain was tied for both (49% each). For destinations within England, interest is predominately for London with 40%. This was followed by the South East (31%), East of England (30%), and North West (28%). London was the only region seeing more interest from short haul markets compared to long haul ones (46% vs 34%).

Flight remains the most popular transport option for about 90% of potential visitors, with owned vehicles second (56% via ferry and 55% via the Channel Tunnel). Long haul markets also are comfortable with ferry/tunnel travel too, as part of a trip involving multiple countries in Europe. Once in Britain, trains are the most popular mode of transport overall, but there is a preference for using personal vehicles from respondents in the Irish Republic, Netherlands, France, and Germany.

When booking international trips, travel comparison websites (35%, multiple answers allowed) and online travel agents/tour operators (34%) are among the most popular channels, especially the latter for long haul markets (37%) – showing the continued use of expert intermediaries is reassuring to consumers facing uncertainties over travel. The use of intermediaries was particularly high in China and India, which are also highest for organising through friends and family, showing the large share of continued VFR travel. Booking directly with travel operators is seen as most preferred in the US and some short haul markets like Norway.

Travel preferences:

When looking at the destination types of international leisure trip, overall sentiment has remained mostly steady since wave 2, which itself saw a large increase in interest for almost every kind of trip. Visiting large cities remain the most popular type with 48% mentioning it, while coastlines (38%) and a mixed visit (37%) are next. 66% of Britain intenders are interested in visiting large cities, more than the average for Europe intenders in general (50%), indicating a continued strong desire to experience lively urban environments, with 46% interested in roaming around visiting many types of places too.

No significant changes are seen regarding the demand for accommodation types, nor travel party – the most popular, travelling with a spouse/partner, is unchanged (71%), while accommodation choices changed by only +-2% compared to wave 2. Hotels remain the most popular with 61% feeling comfortable about staying in one for their next trip.

Regarding activities for international trips, interest in dining in restaurants/bars/etc. has increased the most on wave 2 by +7% to 51%, becoming the activity with the most interest and the only to reach over 50%. With the next highest being exploring history and heritage (48%) and visiting tourist attractions (47%) this reflects a general trend of returning to pre-pandemic behaviour on trips, with interest in socialising activities while experiencing culture and heritage as well. Results were similar for Britain intenders specifically, although exploring history and heritage jumped to first place (56%).