Walt Disney World recently announced plans to begin reopening its Florida theme parks on July 11. Observers will be closely watching the reopening of this massive tourist destination, as it could be a high-profile indicator of how the travel and entertainment sectors as a whole might fare while the world emerges from the coronavirus pandemic.
In light of that news, and as the calendar advances into summer, it seems like a natural time to explore the question how the public will approach travel and entertainment venues in the coming months. A number of recent national and statewide polls may shed some light on that issue.
A poll of registered New York state voters by the New York Times and the Siena College Research Institute (SCRI) released on May 26 indicated challenging times ahead for Broadway shows, concerts, and sporting events. Among the findings, as reported by the New York Times:
• nly 39 percent of those who normally attend Broadway shows would be “very” or “somewhat” likely to attend a show that opened around Sept. 1.
• bout 38 percent of those who attended at least one live music, dance, or opera performance in 2019 said that they would be “very” or “somewhat” likely to attend such events on or about Sept. 1.
• mong sports fans who went to at least one or two games last year, 48 percent said they would be likely to attend a game around Sept. 1.
The hesitancy is reportedly driven by concerns that others in attendance will not follow rules requiring social distancing and masks.
“[The poll results] showed a wariness of attending live theater performances, and pop and classical-music concerts if they were to resume around Sept. 1, as well as a high bar for social distancing at venues that some industry leaders say it would not be possible for them to meet,” the New York Times stated in its summary of the results.
Beyond fears about entertainment venues, concerns about traveling to them will also be a hurdle. A nationwide study from the Harris Poll conducted May 20-22 (https://theharrispoll.com/the-argument-against-when-will-we-travel-again/) suggests that both business and leisure travel will be slow to recover.
The Harris Poll’s summary of its findings states, “Even though a number of states are starting to relax some stay-at-home rules, the U.S. general public does not think that it will be traveling for leisure or business in great numbers any time soon. Just under half (47 percent) think that they will be traveling for leisure in 2020 and half of the business travelers (51 percent) think they will be traveling for work.”
Furthermore, a quarter (26 percent) don’t expect to do any leisure travel until 2022 or later and 11 percent of business travelers think it will be that long before they travel for work again.
Other recent research suggests that some modes of travel and destinations will recover faster than others.
A Harris Poll study conducted May 1-3 found that 48 percent of Americans would not feel comfortable flying until the pandemic is fully over, even with mandatory mask policies in place. (https://www.politico.com/newsletters/morning-transportation/2020/05/06/exclusive-what-americans-are-thinking-about-flying-787377)
A survey of upstate New Yorkers from Syracuse–based ABC Creative Group and Drive Research (https://abcideabased.com/when-covid-is-over-what-will-travelers-do/) conducted April 13-16 found that 72 percent of respondents are likely to travel by personal vehicle instead of planes, trains, buses, or cruise ships, once they are able to travel again. The survey also found that the most popular intended post-quarantine destinations would be state parks (54 percent), lakes (48 percent), and shopping (41 percent).
The appeal of automobile travel, state parks, and lakes is consistent with findings from a special report issued on May 11 from Kampgrounds of America (KOA), based on a survey conducted by Cairn Consulting Group (https://koa.com/north-american-camping-report/). That report states, “Campers are most likely to say that their first trip once restrictions are lifted will be a camping trip (29 percent) while noncampers are most likely to say they will take a road trip (30 percent).” The report also asserts that camping was cited by leisure travelers as the safest type of travel in the wake of the pandemic; and that while camping trips accounted for 11 percent of pre-pandemic leisure travel, they are expected to make up 16 percent post-COVID-19.
It might be tempting to take these findings with a grain of salt, since KAO has an obvious vested interest in promoting camping. However, a recent Fox Business report that U.S. recreational vehicle dealers are reporting May sales increases of 170 percent over the same period last year, would seem to validate that the trend toward camping vacations is real and underway.
The overall picture painted by these polls appears to be that, in the near term, local and regional destinations that can be easily accessed by car or RV — especially those that are outdoors — could see a relatively quick turnaround. Those that involve air travel, large crowds, and/or confined indoor spaces very well may not rebound until 2022 or later.
Vance Marriner is research director at the Central New York Business Journal and a part-time instructor of marketing at SUNY Oswego’s School of Business.