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Hurry Up and Wait: Reflections on conducting research in a COVID-19 world

Written by Chris Klauda, Senior Director, STR Market Insights

The travel industry will recover from the impact of COVID-19, but the key questions currently are what we do in the meantime as researchers—and when?

With China further along in its recovery process than the rest of the world, we can look east for guidance on when we might see recovery.

Intention to travel unaffected in China survey respondents

On 10 March, approximately two months after Chinese authorities publicly shared the genetic sequence of COVID-19, a survey of our Traveler Panel revealed that half of Chinese international travelers intended to travel more in the next 12 months, compared with the previous 12 months.

This apparent willingness to travel is supported by STR data, which shows occupancy recovery in China.

Intent to travel among Chinese international travelers

The opposite appears to be true in key English-speaking countries

On 11 March, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. A week later, we surveyed Australian, Canadian, U.S. and U.K. travelers, and this produced directly contrasting results to our China survey.

Half of all international travelers in these four countries stated that they intend to take fewer international trips in the next 12 months, compared to the previous 12 months. Again, this is supported by STR occupancy data, with continuing declines across the board.

Intent to travel in key English-speaking markets.

With much of the rest of the world about two months behind China on the novel coronavirus timeline, our optimistic hope is that, as we cycle through the next challenging eight weeks, we will start to see signs of recovery.

What can we do in the meantime? Wait.

As researchers, we felt it was important to pause some of our work with consumers and travel operators—to give them time to come to terms with what is happening and prepare their strategies for this new environment. The rationale for pausing included:

1) There is insensitivity of asking people, whether consumers or travel operators, to respond to questions about future travel plans and sustainability initiatives when they are grappling with health and safety concerns as well as so many unknowns around financial security.

2) Even if people were inclined to answer questions about future plans, their responses may not reflect their perspective once they’ve had time to process COVID-19’s impact on their lives.  

Over the past month, the Market Insights team at STR has made the difficult decision to pause research studies to allow consumer and travel operator lives to settle. Projects we have “paused” include a business-to-business (B2B) study with hotel operators in Australia, a B2B study with hospitality finance and technology professionals in the U.S., and our business to consumer (B2C) Global Consumer Travel Insights study.

As with our cities and travel overall, we are in ‘hurry up and wait’ mode as we look forward to the reopening of our world to restart our research.

In that meantime, you can find more analysis of COVID-19's impact on the hospitality and tourism industries here