For better or worse, there were three times that fate has given me a chance to measure a particular slice of public opinion in the midst of crisis: shortly after 9/11, during the Great Recession, and in the most recent weeks. Each time the goal was to understand the impact of these events on the sports, travel and leisure industries.
In comparing attitudes in September 2001 and July 2009 to today, there is more consumer hesitancy now about returning to those activities.
But the silver lining is the willingness of a majority of customers to return to airplanes, hotels, casinos, theme parks, cruises, movie theaters, and sporting events once multiple conditions have been met.
Interestingly, roughly one-third of respondents would jump back into these activities without hesitation, right now, absent any resolution or assurances.
A survey I conducted for Golf Digest in late September 2001 found 50% of respondents planning to spend “as much money on travel next year as in the past year.” Just 28% strongly agree with that statement now.
Fifty percent strongly agreed in 2001 that “Taking a trip of 500+ miles or more is a priority in the next 12 months.” Only 35% say that now.
Similarly, while 44% of respondents in July 2009 strongly agreed that they were “planning to take a major vacation this year,” only 32% strongly agree now.
Three-quarters of current respondents said they need at least two of multiple conditions to be met to return to return to leisure activities without hesitation. The most commonly cited necessary conditions were related to medical breakthroughs: A COVID-19 vaccine or approved pharmaceutical protocol to mitigate the effects of the virus, along with assurance from a reputed U.S. medical authority. Assurances from the media, government or individual properties were far less compelling.
Not all activities will recover at the same time. The data show that once the necessary assurances are in place, movie theaters and live sports events face an easier recovery. But a majority of respondents would return to all of these activities within three months after credible assurances are made.
In fact, among survey respondents who engaged in the following activities in the past year, a sizable percentage would jump back into them right now if they could: 40% would stay in a hotel or resort; 40% would take a cruise vacation; 34% would attend a live sporting event; 34% would visit a casino; 33% would visit a theme park; 32% would take a commercial flight; and 32% would see a movie in a theater.
Parallel qualitative and social media scraping work we are conducting support these findings. I’m curious to see how these trend over subsequent weeks. The longer the current situation continues, the closer we’ll move towards an inflection point where a majority of these audiences will seek an immediate lifting of current restrictions.
We surveyed 513 Americans a week ago, in the benchmark wave of our “Back to Normal Barometer.”
After being cooped up for a lenthy time, most people will naturally want to again enjoy entertainment of various types and travel. However, this situation is not solely an economic suppression of activity, as has been the case in the past. It is the result of a medical problem that can be a life or death event.
People will be exposed to a constant reminder of the health risks for an extended amount of time. This will make most people very cautious and less likely to indulge their craving to do what they want. When the time comes, the people in the survey who are ready to act now are not likely to be so brave.