COVID-19: Insights on Travel Impact, United States #30

May 13, 2020

With our access to real-time traveler audiences and unmatched visibility into global travel demand, we’re in a unique position to share the current travel trends at the forefront of marketers’ minds. In this blog series, we take a look at the data to aid travel marketers in their assessment of this worldwide event. They can use these trends to inform their marketing strategies during this period and be prepared for the recovery once the situation stabilizes. 

These insights are based on data collected on Tuesday, May 12, 2020. We review our data frequently to provide regular insights into consumer behavior trends and patterns. Sojern’s insights are based on over 350 million traveler profiles and billions of travel intent signals, however it does not capture one hundred percent of the travel market. 

Some States Reopening Has Positive Impact on Domestic Travel

Across the US, several states have begun to lift restrictions. In Texas, sans Austin, all retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, malls, museums, and libraries were permitted to reopen on May 1, but must limit their capacity to 25% of their listed occupancy. Though Texas has some of the loosest restrictions and was one of the first to reopen, states like Florida and Arkansas are following suit, relaxing some regulations, but keeping bars and other specified businesses closed. 

With these lifts in restrictions across the country, we’re seeing a surge reflected in our flight search data. We chose to highlight the graphs indexed on March 8, 2020, as that was the last “normal” week before all flight searches began trending downward, likely due to stay-at-home orders enacted for most states as well as growing infection rates. The bottom falls out on the week of April 5, 2020, followed by a slow climb back up. The good news that this data reflects–the rebound continues into May. 

US Domestic Flight Searches – Indexed to March 8, 2020

US Domestic Flight Searches by US State (Top 10) – Indexed to March 8, 2020

We also took a look at the top 10 most searched US states for flights. As indicated above, all are experiencing nearly or more than 100% growth from that bottom out period in the first week of April. The early signs that plans are being implemented to begin the process of returning to ‘normal’ day-to-day life are showcased in the travel intent. 

For example, the South Carolina governor was one of the last to issue a stay-at-home order and one of the first to begin opening up the state–a contributing factor to the search spikes there. In South Dakota, where the biggest upward trend occurs, no statewide stay-at-home order was issued and the governor has announced a “back to normal” plan for businesses to begin to reopen in areas that have seen cases decline for 14 days.

The data indicates that people are seemingly more comfortable looking into travel in more rural markets, as well as areas where you may be able to drive on your trip once you arrive. 

US Domestic Flight Bookings – Indexed to March 8, 2020

While we expect drive markets to recover faster, we’re very encouraged by the flight booking data shown here as well. Again, we see the bottom occur on the week of April 5, and nearly 100% growth from that low point to the beginning of May. So not only are travelers searching and planning, they are feeling confident enough to book as well. 

Drive Markets and Vacation Rentals See Growth 

In a recent Skift survey, 41% of Americans said they plan to travel by car (their own or a rental) within 100 miles on their first post-lockdown trip. A small 5% said they would travel by train or bus. This low percentage is likely due to the hesitations travelers have with sharing space in the current environment. A majority of those surveyed also stated they want control over cleanliness, and would stay in an apartment rental that they could clean themselves and doesn’t require a shared public space, such as a lobby. 

Drive market activity in Texas and Georgia has grown exponentially. While New York and California have been slower to ease restrictions, residents increasingly want to get out of their houses and are typically staying within 100 miles of home. Arrivalist’s data revealed that in Florida, residents seem to be staying closer to home. 

Vacation rentals remain closed indefinitely in Florida. Because of this, Michelle Hodges, Meyer Vacation Rental COO, is confident they are seeing some traffic that may otherwise have gone to Florida. The properties located on the Gulf Coast of Alabama have an unusually high occupancy and will likely surpass last year’s numbers for the month of May. They are also seeing shorter lead times, from just one day to 30 days out.

TurnKey Vacation Rentals bookings are growing as well, recently increasing 20% year-over-year across the country in all open drive markets, according to John Banczak, Co-founder and CEO. 

Focus on Local Markets 

As facilities begin to reopen we continue to see domestic travel regaining strength in both flight searches and bookings, but a greater focus on drive markets. The pent-up demand for travel, combined with the relaxation of some lockdown measures in the US, has meant many people are booking local trips with shorter lead times. 

This is a crucial time for travel marketers to engage with local and drive markets. Now more than ever, people are looking for things to do nearby as states reopen and with the appropriate safety measures in place. 

We will continue to share more US insights as we monitor the situation and find interesting trends, to help travel marketers shape their strategies when the industry starts to recover from this outbreak. 

For the rest of the COVID-19 insights series and webinars click here


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About Christy Jobman

Christy is Sojern's Marketing Manager, US, Canada, & LATAM. She loves all things communications and she's so happy to be using the Communications/Journalism degree she earned at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. When she's not building relationships and cross collaborating to build out collateral for the sales teams and account managers at Sojern, she's coaching at her gym, dabbling in the non-profits world, exploring, and cooking new dishes.

Christy Jobman About the author

Christy is Sojern's Marketing Manager, US, Canada, & LATAM. She loves all things communications and she's so happy to be using the Communications/Journalism degree she earned at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. When she's not building relationships and cross collaborating to build out collateral for the sales teams and account managers at Sojern, she's coaching at her gym, dabbling in the non-profits world, exploring, and cooking new dishes.