New survey: Half of people do not expect to return to normal levels of leisure travel even following the completion of the government’s vaccination programme

Since the first UK resident was vaccinated for COVID-19 on 8 December, the UK government has embarked on one of the world’s fastest vaccination programmes and has set out a goal to vaccinate the entire adult population by autumn 2021. L.E.K. Consulting (via Toluna) has undertaken a survey to understand how leisure travel habits may recover as restrictions on travel begin to be eased over the coming months.

L.E.K.’s survey of 1,665 UK residents (conducted 26 January – 2 February) shows that half of respondents do not expect to return to pre-COVID-19 levels of leisure travel or at least not until there is effective ongoing management of COVID-19 (similar to the flu). In total, 22% of respondents state that they will not travel as often as they used to, even after the implementation of systems for health management (see Figure 1).

Only 27% of survey respondents tie their expected return to normal levels of leisure travel directly to the government’s vaccination programme. This shows that recovery in personal travel habits is likely to be prolonged and may take some time beyond the vaccination programme’s conclusion in autumn this year.

The survey findings also provide insights into how recovery in travel demand is likely to vary by different population demographics (see Figure 2).

  • Attitudes towards returning to normal levels of travel are correlated with age, with 60% of respondents over 70 years old unlikely to return to normal travel habits even after they have been vaccinated.
  • Women also appear to be more reluctant to return to normal levels of travel compared to men, with 25% stating that they will not travel as much as they used to (against 17% for men).
  • The survey also found that attitudes towards leisure travel do not appear to differ significantly across different regions of the UK.

Implications for the travel and transport industry in 2021

L.E.K. Consulting’s transport sector clients are rethinking how to forecast and plan their passenger businesses for rebuilding after the pandemic.

  1. Passenger demand: Almost one quarter of respondents indicated they would return to their normal leisure travel habits as soon as allowed. As restrictions are eased, transport companies should prepare to capture growth in demand through increased marketing spending.
  2. Leisure travel, always discretionary, may be even more so after COVID-19: Transport and travel companies will need to enhance their creativity and reach in marketing leisure travel if they want to rebuild towards pre-COVID-19 levels.
  3. Renewed importance of safety: The survey findings suggest travellers will retain some caution around travel even after the conclusion of the vaccination programme. Operators should carefully communicate the measures undertaken to ensure the safety of their customers in order to alleviate this concern.
  4. Financial resilience remains crucial throughout 2021: Operators, particularly those with a large pre-COVID-19 base of older customers, should not expect a full recovery in demand in 2021, and should maintain disciplined spending budgets to ensure ongoing resilience.
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