Mower survey reveals travel preferences and plans, from road trips to camp-outs

COVID-19 slammed the brakes on vacation plans this spring, but even as the pandemic surges, Americans—stir crazy after months spent at home—are once again making travel plans. And those plans, gleaned from a recent Mower poll, reveal a glimmer of hope for the hard-hit cruise industry: Close to 60% of the nation’s youngest adults, Gen Zers, would feel comfortable booking a cruise before a coronavirus vaccine or treatment hits the market, along with almost half of millennials. Those figures drop to 38% for Gen X and 19% for baby boomer/silent generation respondents.

Mower conducted the survey* to better understand Americans’ concerns and behaviors around life with COVID-19. More travel insights from the poll:

Road trips rule.

The autonomy and privacy of car travel makes it, predictably, the top choice to get Americans to their destinations during the pandemic. More than eight in 10 would be comfortable traveling by car before a coronavirus vaccine or treatment is available, and in fact 56% reported their next vacation will most likely be by automobile, compared to 20% by plane and only 2%–3% by train or bus. One in five Americans have no intention to take a vacation in the foreseeable future.

Camping tops the comfort scale—but only aspirationally.

When it comes to accommodations, there’s a disconnect between Americans’ travel plans and their comfort levels. While staying in an RV or tent at a campground or state or national park is perceived as the safest option during COVID-19 (64% of Americans would be comfortable doing so prevaccine/treatment), only 6% plan to camp on their next trip. Instead, they are far more likely (22%) to book a large hotel with interior rooms—a choice that ranks only fifth on the comfort scale. Besides camping, large hotels with rooms accessed from the exterior, small hotels with limited guest capacity and motels are all perceived as safer choices during the pandemic.

Industry insiders have speculated that coronavirus concerns could renew Americans’ interest in motels, thanks to their outward-facing rooms and convenience for road-trippers. But like camping, while more than half of respondents express favorable views of these roadside classics from a COVID-risk standpoint, fewer than one in 10 anticipate staying at a motel for their next vacation.

Among Gen Zers, privately owned vacation rentals like Airbnb and Vrbo bump camping as the safest accommodation option for COVID-era travel.

Have mask, will travel.

While about half of Americans say they’d be comfortable traveling by plane, train or bus before a vaccine or treatment comes to market, only one in seven would do so without a mask. Across the political spectrum, respondents are more comfortable traveling with masks than without. That said, more than one in five Republicans report they’d be comfortable taking a plane, train or bus mask-free, compared to fewer than one in 10 Democrats, with Independents running right down the middle of the gap.

Safety concerns increase with age.

Older respondents are less inclined to hit the road while the pandemic persists; 22% of Gen Xers and baby boomers/silents report they have no intention to take a vacation in the foreseeable future, compared to just 14% of millennials and 12% of Gen Zers. And while 88% of boomers and older adults are comfortable traveling by car before a vaccine or treatment is available, they are far more cautious about public transport. Fewer than half would fly and just one in three would take a train or bus, while more than 60% of their Gen Z counterparts would be comfortable with any of those modes.

Want to know more?

Mower’s Travel and Tourism specialists have more than three decades of experience guiding hospitality organizations through times of uncertainty and change and positioning them for post-crisis success. For more on our survey and other insights on COVID-19’s impact on the industry, contact Mary Gendron.

*Mower conducted a survey on June 22–24, 2020, with a random sampling of 1,020 U.S. adults ages 18+. Responses were obtained using Dynata, a research panel provider (margin of error: +/- 3.1%).