Tourism After COVID-19: Consumer Research Points to a Slow and Uneven Recovery


By Mayank Nagpal, Director | March 5, 2020

It’s been more than two months of the world waking up to an unprecedented crisis. Seventeen years ago, SARS shut down travel in parts of the world. Today, COVID-19 is impacting travel worldwide. There are significantly more leisure and business travelers today. To put it in perspective, in 2003 (the year of SARS) there were 700 million international trips. In 2019, the number more than doubled.

The safety of communities everywhere is what matters most. This is our top concern at Grail Insights, and it is the primary concern of the travel industry and the verticals that support it.

As research partners to the travel sector, we wanted to explore the impact of COVID-19 on discretionary travel.  It was obvious that tourism was going to take a hit. We wanted to look at recovery rates for different regions. How fast will traveler confidence return?

Between February 14–27, 2020, Grail surveyed 1,784 US and UK leisure travelers on their willingness to resume travel once the virus is contained. The study reveals a discernible threat of ongoing deferral of leisure travel. In particular, travelers say they will avoid Asian destinations, even after travel bans and advisories are revoked. That means travel and travel-adjacent industries, from airlines to hotels to jet ski rentals, are likely to feel the lingering impact of COVID-19 long after containment.

Before we delve into the findings, it’s worth noting that since the completion of the survey, COVID-19 has hit Europe. Cases in the US are also rising. Our findings should be taken as reflective of the moment.


It may take more than six months after the containment of the virus for many travelers to reconsider their travel plans. This dent in confidence is bigger in the US than in the UK. More than 50% of American travelers say they will either defer travel plans to the impacted countries for six months or not travel at all to the affected destinations in the foreseeable future. Caution is comparatively lower in the UK, with a third of travelers saying they will defer plans to the impacted countries for more than six months.

Older US travelers are warier. Four out of nine travelers over 55 say they will not travel for leisure for the foreseeable future. Women also show more reluctance to travel. Nearly two-thirds of US female travelers are either pushing out travel by more than six months or not traveling at all in the foreseeable future.

UK travelers differ. Only a quarter of UK travelers—both older cohorts and women—say they will not travel for leisure to affected areas in the foreseeable future.

Only three in ten travelers surveyed said they would be willing to visit an affected area within three months of travel advisories being revoked.


Traveler confidence in visiting Asian countries was hardest hit, with one-third of US respondents and a quarter of UK respondents claiming they are less likely than before to travel to Asia, even after the virus is contained. China, not surprisingly, was deprioritized by nearly 40% of travelers. Within Asia, the perceptions differ across clusters. For instance, Southeast Asia and East Asia are more affected than the South Asian countries.


Travelers from the UK show greater consideration towards Southeast Asia. They have a 10% higher willingness than their American counterparts.


When this survey was taken in February, travel within the region (US or UK) was not severely impacted. Travelers from both countries showed comfort in their respective regions. But we have since seen the virus spread dramatically.

US Travelers are still open to travel within the Americas, Europe and Oceania. Africa and the Middle East trail these markets, in terms of willingness. UK travelers show a reciprocal willingness towards the Americas, as well as a near unchanged willingness to travel to Oceania, including Australia and New Zealand, Africa or the Middle East.

 It is worth noting that claimed willingness to travel to Europe was unchanged for more than 80% of all travelers. Survey participants were less concerned about post-containment travel to Europe. However, news of the outbreak in Italy overlapped with the fielding period of this study. This may have created higher confidence in European travel than the same respondents would show today.

Overall, North America, Europe, and Oceania could witness the fastest recovery amongst all regions. Markets such as Southeast Asia would need to have a differentiated focus on specific source markets, such as the UK, that show a higher willingness to visit in the future.

The Road Ahead for the Travel Sector

All indications point to a slow and uneven recovery for the Travel and Tourism industry. With nearly 10% of the global economy dependent on tourism, the tourism value chain will have its work cut out for itself in the months ahead.

The role of responsible and transparent communication has never been more critical. Clarity and honesty will overcome perceptual barriers and potentially reduce travel deferral. Once we defeat the virus -- and we will -- transparency should lead a new era of responsible tourism.

For now, as always, the health and safety of travelers everywhere should remain the industry’s top priority.

The situation is fast evolving and might take a very different shape in the coming days and months ahead. The tourism ecosystem needs to stay nimble and continue to take measured actions.

Grail Insights is here to help. We can share more about this study and share more about what we are doing for tourism and the tourism value chain. Let us help you prepare for a post-COVID era of responsible travel. Contact us at hello@grailinsights.com