Half of Americans say travel affects their decision to get vaccinated

Feb 3, 2021

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For restless Americans who have primarily stayed home since the onset of the pandemic, coronavirus vaccines are in hot demand — particularly for travelers. Like face masks and hand sanitizer, these new vaccines promise to make the world safer for everyone and are also key to restarting travel.

Though health concerns are certainly top of mind, half of Americans (49%) say their willingness to get vaccinated is influenced by their desire to travel, according to a new survey by TPG.

More than a quarter of Americans (over 26%) — mostly millennials and those earning more than $80,000 a year — said travel had a “major impact” on their decision to get vaccinated, while 23% said travel had a “minor impact” on their vaccination plans.

TPG partnered with YouGov to survey nearly 1,300 U.S. adults between Jan. 25 and Jan. 26, 2021, and the promise of coronavirus immunity is influencing how people across the country are thinking about travel.

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At this time, less than 10% of the U.S. population has been vaccinated, primarily healthcare workers, first responders and high-risk individuals. Still, people are clearly itching to hit the road: More than half (55%) of Americans surveyed said they hadn’t taken any trips since the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic, underscoring why so many people may see the COVID-19 vaccine as the key to unlocking travel. Even before the vaccine rollout, travel providers told TPG that they saw an uptick in optimistic travel bookings for 2021.

“We do expect that [the vaccine] will definitely be an important motivator to folks being willing to [travel] again,” Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president of public affairs and policy at the U.S. Travel Association, told TPG late last year.

Related: Will you need an immunity passport to fly? How the COVID-19 vaccine will restart travel

A third of Americans say they have at least one trip planned this year, though most of those people are waiting until at least April — perhaps in anticipation of vaccines becoming more widely available and warmer weather. The majority of trips planned for 2021 are currently booked between April and September, with young millennials (48%) at the forefront of the travel comeback.

“Since the beginning of January, it felt like the floodgates opened with clients calling not about traveling in the next two weeks, but traveling to the Mediterranean this summer,” said Jack Ezon, founder and managing partner of luxury travel agency Embark Beyond, a Virtuoso member. “And it seems like we’re not the only ones,” he added, saying that European “hot spots” are already filling up, as “people [jump] on summer plans early.”

Ezon says about half of his clients who are booking summer trips have already been vaccinated or have COVID-19 antibodies. “The other half just assume they will be by the summer” and are “focusing on tomorrow.”

Related: Making up for lost time: 2021 is gearing up to be an epic year for travel

For most Americans, the types of trips they’ll be comfortable taking even after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine may not change as much as you might expect.

About a third of Americans said they’d be likely to take an out-of-state or in-state road trip (35% and 32%, respectively) if they received the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of 2021. Road trips will, by and large, remain the preferred method of travel in the immediate future.

But though the numbers are still low, vaccines are noticeably boosting traveler confidence — which explains the rise in summer trips to Europe.

More than 14% of Americans surveyed said they’d be likely to take an international flight after being vaccinated (up from 10% who said they’d be comfortable flying out of the country in May). And 27% said they’d be likely to book a domestic flight, up from 20% who said they were comfortable with domestic flights over the summer. Only 8% said they’d be likely to cruise after getting the vaccine, but even that’s up a tick from last summer, when only 7% would even consider such a notion.

“The people who love to cruise, I think, will put up with a lot to get back on a cruise ship. Even if [a vaccination] is required before you can get on a cruise ship … I don’t think that’s going to deter anybody who wants to get back to cruising who is a cruise enthusiast,” said Virginia Sheridan, a managing partner at Finn Partners, who monitors the cruise industry.

In May, 28% of Americans said they’d be comfortable staying in a hotel before the end of 2020. That number moved up incrementally to 30% in January, with the promise of vaccines on the horizon. And over the summer, 19% of people said they’d be comfortable staying in a vacation rental, such as an Airbnb or VRBO. But just under 14% of people surveyed in January said they’d be likely to stay at a vacation home after getting vaccinated.

It’s possible other factors — ongoing mask mandates, new virus variants and new testing requirements, for example — are figuring more prominently into people’s travel plans than vaccinations, which are still not widely available. And planning a trip during the ongoing pandemic remains a tricky business, whether you’ve been vaccinated or not.

This is changing the pacing and nature of trips that Americans are booking, even if they expect to be vaccinated. But a study from Priceline found that travelers still had strong interests in Mexico and the Caribbean for upcoming travel — even with the new testing requirements for international arrivals.

“The trips we design now are much slower than pre-pandemic trips,” Ezon said. “People are going to less places and staying longer in each place,” he said, explaining that “travel logistics are too cumbersome, complicated and unpredictable to move around a lot.”

The vaccine may be a harbinger of better times, but it can’t immediately undo all the border restrictions, testing mandates, quarantine recommendations, social distancing practices, mask requirements and other policies Americans may see as obstacles to travel.

Bottom line

Though the vaccine is crucial to restoring normalcy and facilitating travel’s comeback, it’s not an instant cure for an ailing industry. There’s still a long road ahead to restoring traveler confidence and getting people comfortable with traveling again, the survey suggests.

But hopefully, when the pandemic is far behind us, travelers will find the industry is a safer, more hospitable place that recognizes how the needs of travelers have changed.

“The travel industry has learned a lot about being more flexible if people have to move dates [with] fewer penalties,” Sheridan told TPG. “I think that has helped the confidence level of a lot of people because it wasn’t so easy to do before.”

And, of course, vaccines will play into this broader picture of travel in a post-pandemic world, where health is at the forefront of travel policies.

“Travel really … brings people together, ” Barnes told TPG in December. “We know people want to be able to get together again, and we’re very encouraged by …. the vaccines and … hope [that] they’ll be widespread and available.”

Additional reporting by Vikkie Walker. 

Feature photo by Marko Geber/Getty Images.

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