What Will it Take to Come Back?

By: Jackie Lorch
VP of Global Knowledge Management

It’s been approximately six weeks since some countries – such as Germany – and US states – such as Florida and Georgia – began cautiously reopening non-essential services and sectors. For some, this means opening certain retail stores and restaurants with appropriate safety measures in place; for others, it seems like a full return to all parts of life, including bars, nightclubs and other entertainment “hot spots.”

Our latest report, Global Consumer Trends COVID-19 Edition: The Reopening, focuses on what it will take for sectors such as airlines, hotels, public transportation, dining out, gyms, small businesses, car buying, aftermarket auto repair/upgrades and ridesharing to come back, when travelers and patrons might return (and spend) and what safety measures these sectors will need to embrace to spur this return.

While each sector has their own challenges and opportunities to come back, we can draw some larger conclusions that help illustrate the path to reopening:

For all travel/leisure sectors surveyed, cleanliness matters – For airlines, public transportation, hotels, restaurants and gyms, the road back to reopening starts with reassuring patrons that cleanliness is a priority – and can be proven – but there isn’t one “silver bullet” solution. For example, prospective airline travelers show almost identical scores (between 49-51% each) for the importance of:

  • Proof of sterilization of the plane between flights;
  • Onboard toilets cleaned after each use;
  • In-plane observance of social distancing practices (g., not selling the middle seat, flight attendants wearing masks, etc.);
  • Proof of cleanliness levels on the plane;
  • Increased levels of cleanliness in the airport.

The same holds true for hotels, restaurants, and gyms, where a combination of measures seem most effective in reassuring patrons that it’s safe to come back. Interestingly, customers for those three sectors also want proprietors to provide cleaning products in their rooms (hotels), at their tables (restaurants) or alongside equipment and exercising areas (gyms).

Business travelers are more likely to come back first – Not surprisingly, given the mandate to restart the economy in many places, our research shows business travelers are likely to return to air, hotel and public transit sooner than leisure travelers. Airlines may have a better chance of filling planes again with business travelers, rather than leisure, as those flying for business are slightly more likely to be reassured by the safeguards airlines are likely to have in place when they open again. For hotels, just under four in ten business travelers said they’d be “totally” or “very” comfortable staying in a hotel once restrictions are lifted, while nearly 70% of leisure travelers say they would be uncomfortable doing so at that time.

The work-from-home effect lingers – Speaking of business travelers, 39% of daily commuters have returned to their commute, but only 18% are using rail services “frequently” or “a lot” – while nearly a quarter are not using rail services at all. Three-quarters of respondents here attribute this to continuing to work from home, the prevalence of which we saw in our New Normal survey. Much like airlines, users want to see social distancing and cleaning practices in effect on trains to feel comfortable returning to the rails.

Plans for vacations and car-buying put on hold – With more of us under lockdown, restricting travel for work or pleasure, we observed a delay – but not a cancellation – of plans for both vacations and car-buying. For vacations, three in four people (76%) were thinking of taking a vacation in 2020 prior to the pandemic; most people – 84% – report that they have modified their plans because of the pandemic. Still, more than half (57%) of the consumers we surveyed are planning a getaway this year. That said, 39% have changed plans to now stay in their own country while 35% say they will now avoid tourist “hot spots,” 31% will drive rather than fly while one in five (19%) have changed plans to avoid theme parks.

Meanwhile, our survey showed that car-buying plans were also slightly delayed. For example, 71% (pre-pandemic) intended to buy a car in the next 12 months, but this is now 61%; similarly, intention to purchase between June and September 2020 was 19%, but now is 15%. Interestingly, COVID-19 is influencing decisions on the type, size or features of that new or next car people plan to purchase in the next year – 16% will buy a bigger car, 10% will go for a higher-priced model and 14% will get one with more “extras.”

Fast food poised for fast comeback? – Finally, our research points to fast food, particularly take-out/take-away establishments, as the restaurant sector most likely to make the quickest recovery since, like grocery stores, they never really closed. Return rates could rise, perhaps to as high as 65% within the first month if these establishments put social distancing and safety/cleaning measures in place to make customers feel more comfortable. These include strict social distancing in queues (just under half), requiring masks for staff (44% feeling more comfortable) and cleaning/sterilizing equipment being available at the counter (43%). Separating the entrance and exit from such establishments (if possible) would also be a comfort to 44%.

What will it take to feel better – and safer – when consumers make decisions about travel, vacations, leisure activities or their (current, future or shared) cars? With brands and agencies seeking to better understand the path to reopening, and recovery, our Global Consumer Trends COVID-19 Edition: The Reopening report delivers the insights they need in our new COVID-19 world. Read more here and visit our COVID-19 Insights resource for more research, insights and thought leadership.