Survey: 56% of Americans Likely to Travel for Vacation in 2021

WASHINGTON—A new survey conducted by Morning Consult and commissioned by the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) shows consumers are optimistic about traveling again in 2021, with 56% reporting they are likely to travel for vacation this year.

That represents a significant decline from pre-pandemic levels, when approximately 70% of Americans took a vacation in any given year, according to OmniTrak (TNS) data. Since the onset of the pandemic, just 21% of survey respondents reported traveling for vacation or leisure, and only 28% reported staying in hotel. Prior to the pandemic, 58% of survey respondents said they stayed in a hotel at least one night per year for leisure, and 21% stayed at least one night per year for work.

The survey also found that while consumers remain optimistic about travel, consumer confidence about staying in hotels is tied to the widespread distribution of the vaccine: 11% say they will feel comfortable staying in a hotel when vaccines are available to the general public; 20% when a majority of Americans have been vaccinated; and 17% when they are personally vaccinated.

The recovery of the travel industry is anticipated to take place in three phases: leisure travel, small and medium events and group and business travel. While recovery will begin in 2021, full recovery is not expected until 2024.

The survey of 2,200 adults was conducted Jan. 7-9 by Morning Consult on behalf of AHLA. Key findings of the survey include the following:

  • 56% of Americans say they are likely to travel for leisure or vacation this year
  • 34% of adults are already comfortable staying in a hotel, while 48% say their comfort is tied in some way to vaccine distribution
  • Compared to last year, 36% of Americans expect to travel more for leisure this year, while 23% expect to travel less and 42% about the same
  • One in five Americans (19%) expect their next hotel stay to be between now and April, with another 24% expecting it sometime between May and August

“While consumers are optimistic about traveling in 2021 after nearly a year of self-distancing measures, we continue to face record devastation,” said Chip Rogers, president/CEO, AHLA. “COVID-19 has wiped out 10 years of hotel job growth. In the next COVID-19 relief package, the hotel industry needs support from Congress and the administration that will ultimately help small business hoteliers keep their doors open and bring more employees back to work. Despite the challenges facing the hotel industry, hotels across the country are focused on creating an environment ready for guests when travel begins to return.”

While business travel itself will remain below 2019 levels for some time, business travelers express greater comfort in traveling for any reason compared to adults overall, and they are more likely to say they will travel more in 2021.

Leisure travel demand is projected to begin increasing in Q2-Q3 of 2021 as vaccine distribution increases across the country and consumers can connect with family and friends. In the year ahead, Americans say they are most likely to travel for a family event such as a wedding or family reunion (51% likely to travel), while many are likely to travel over summer holidays, led by the Fourth of July (33%) and Labor Day (28%).

While cleanliness has always ranked among the top factors when choosing a hotel, it has risen to the top in the wake of COVID-19. In a separate survey of travelers conducted by Ecolab in December, 62% of consumers placed overall cleanliness in their top three factors when choosing a hotel—a 24% increase over pre-COVID preferences. Further, 53% of consumers say that enhanced cleaning regimens will make them feel more comfortable staying at a hotel.

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