Download Sojern’s COVID-19 travel insights here.
With our access to real-time traveler audiences and unmatched visibility into global travel demand, we are in a unique position to share current travel trends at the forefront of marketers’ minds. In this blog series we’ll take a look at the data in order to aid travel marketers in their assessment of this worldwide event. Marketers can use these trends to inform their strategies during this period and be prepared for the recovery once the situation stabilizes.
Over the past few weeks we’ve seen the virus drastically shift regions. As a result, travel intent region to region varied greatly. However, this week that variation evened out as countries around the world lock their borders. The Americas and Europe have put stricter regulations in place while Asia Pacific calls its citizens back home. With more than 90% of the world living in countries with travel restrictions, the world’s travel has essentially ground to a halt.
While bleak for the travel industry, this is ultimately a positive for everyone’s health. Countries are behaving responsibly as they fight to flatten the curve, which will lead to faster travel recovery in the long term.
Year Over Year Change on Weekly Flight Search (January – March 30)
All flights and hotels throughout the world have fallen to record lows. Each region’s descent was steep and immediate. The difference is no longer in the magnitude of the decline, but when they occurred. The flight and hotel charts below show clear inflection points that identify when travel started to decline due to government action, which forced airlines to cut capacity and borders to close.
YOY Flight Searches, Indexed to January 5
YOY Hotel Searches, Indexed to January 5
Sojern Flight (Airline/OTA/Meta) Data, Flight searches Jan 5 to March 30, 2020 vs Jan 6 to March 31, 2019
Sojern Hotel Data, Hotel searches Jan 5 to March 30, 2020 vs Jan 6 to March 31, 2019
LATAM Now Showing COVID-19 Impact
We took a deep dive into Latin America this week, as the region was isolated from the majority of infections in the first two months, and they are just beginning to feel the travel impact of COVID-19.
The trends we’ve observed so far include: LATAM just now showing signs of impact, government reactions control travel patterns more than ever, and 2020 LATAM seasonality is changing.
Year Over Year Percent Change in Weekly Flight Search (January–March 30)
Many Latin American countries were insulated during the earliest stages of the contagion, but it inevitably arrived, albeit a few weeks later than the rest of the world. Because many Latin American economies have become increasingly unstable in the last five years, governments in the region were unwilling to restrict travel until the spread of the virus became untenable. As a result, while other regions around the world saw a drop in travel intent weeks ago, Latin America did not experience a drop until last week.
Government Reactions Guide Travel Patterns
As the entire world experiences a major depression in travel, there is a natural decline of tourism. We have yet to fully understand the consequences and repercussions of each government’s actions or inactions. At this point in time, how quickly a region contains the virus is the biggest factor for determining tourism recovery as it directly affects both the health of the local population and the availability of disposable income.
The variety of reactions the last two weeks from Latin American governments has resulted in differing flight search behavior. For example, Ecuador and Peru suddenly instituted extremely strict border control measures, closing their borders to everyone — including their own citizens and residents. In cases like this, we see a sharp spike in flight searches to those countries immediately followed by a sharp drop, representing those who desired to return home before the borders shut.
Colombia and Panama, on the other hand, restricted entrance to foreigners, but allowed their citizens to return with a mandatory 14-day quarantine. In these cases, citizens do not feel the same urgency to return home immediately.
Mexico and Brazil buck the trend, in that their presidents have not been addressing the virus with the same urgency, even mocking other countries’ efforts to contain the virus. Thus, the local governments took the lead in initiating lockdowns for their communities and restricted travel where able. As the two most populous countries in LATAM, with historically the most tourist arrivals, they will be the barometer for how and when Latin America travel recovers.
Travel Intent to LATAM in the next twelve months differs by country
As we mentioned in previous blogs, many examples are beginning to emerge around the world of successful containment (China, South Korea, Macau, Taiwan, Cayman Islands, etc.) which give us good reason to be optimistic about future travel. What dates people search for can give us a glimpse into when they think it will be a good time to travel again.
In Latin America, we noticed four distinct patterns amongst those who were searching to travel within the next year.
This chart above is representative of countries with large populations who have a reasonable amount of disposable income. There is a massive surge of people looking to go to Argentina, Brazil, and Chile in March and April, compared to last year. There are likely a significant number of people who were working or traveling abroad, and now are eager to get back home quickly once the border closure announcements were made on March 16.
The above chart represents beach or scuba destinations. We see interest in travel for September and October peaking even above last year. Notably, these countries have also done a good job thus far defending against the virus.
These are populous countries that have lower GDP per capita, so perhaps they have fewer people traveling abroad. There are definite indications of a higher than normal share of people who are already looking to the end of the year to travel. Perhaps they represent people who are shifting their friends and family visits towards the holidays.
These locations are populated with beaches, all-inclusive resorts, and cheap airfare. While intent to travel there in the next few months is understandably very depressed, it appears there is significant uptick interest to vacation there from August onwards. This may be an indication that travelers believe the Coronavirus pandemic will be over by then.
Keep in mind that the patterns reviewed in the four charts above are a snapshot in time (March 17-30) of how travelers are feeling based on the current situation. As significant shifts occur in perception of physical and economic security, we expect the search patterns for each of these destinations to change also.
There is no doubt that marketers around the world will have to adjust their marketing strategies over the coming months. In fact, some tourism promotion campaigns have already figured out how to hit the right notes, finding success with hopeful messaging, local participation in the economy, and virtual experiences.
We’ll continue to share more insights as we monitor the situation and provide recommendations in this blog series. For the rest of the COVID-19 insights series click here.