As we hit the one-year mark of COVID-19 lockdowns, it’s more and more likely for people to hit the so-called “pandemic wall“—a breaking point of dealing with the prolonged stress and exhaustion of living through the outbreak and all that it entails.
Amid this collective burnout, a growing number of people are turning to one coping mechanism in an attempt to stay optimistic: booking future travel.
According to a survey released today by American Express, which surveyed 3,000 travelers around the world, 87 percent of respondents said that having a trip planned in the future gives them something to look forward to, while 63 percent said that planning future travel makes them feel excited, and 53 percent said it makes them feel hopeful and happy.
“When we think about travel, we know that travel experiences are good for the soul,” says Audrey Hendley, president of Global Travel and Lifestyle Services for American Express. “That’s what we’re seeing now: That even the act of planning of trip can have a positive impact on our mental well-being and just our well-being overall.”
Just hitting “book now” on a hotel or flight deal can give prospective travelers a much-needed mental boost, even if in reality the trip may be delayed. AmEx’s data shows that 56 percent of consumers are willing to book a trip even if they might have to cancel it in the future.
“This act of planning a trip is important, and it’s so important that they’re willing to make the travel plans even if they think they’ll need to change them,” Hendley says. That’s certainly possible with the amount of flexible cancellation policies from airlines, hotels, and other operators.
“I always suggest to have a plan B because things change, and you often have to pivot your plans,” Hendley says. “You know where you really want to go, but have an alternate. Because if things change, then you can lean into the alternate. I think that’s some of the insight behind why the travel brands are offering flexibility: because the environment continues to change, and it’s good to go into your planning with a flexible mindset and be prepared to adjust as needed.”
So what kinds of trips are people planning? According to the survey data, a majority of travelers—nearly 70 percent—are interested in visiting “second-city destinations,” with the reasoning that these spots have fewer crowds and offer more space for social distancing than some primary cities. Cities that are currently trending include Charlotte, North Carolina, and Dallas, according to Hendley. Internationally, travelers are opting for Porto, Portugal, and Wellington, New Zealand.
In addition to seeking out smaller locales to avoid crowds, 80 percent of travelers surveyed said they are willing to travel to a destination during the off season so that it can be less crowded.
Food and culinary experiences are another factor in choosing destinations. Sixty-two percent of the travelers surveyed by AmEx said that eating is the top activity they want to do on their trips. That means cities known for their food scenes—like Miami, San Francisco, Chicago, and Houston, in the U.S., and Mexico City, Singapore, and Tokyo internationally—are among the top destinations being booked on AmEx’s platforms.
“Customers are excited about getting out there,” Hendley says. “They want to explore, they clearly want to reconnect with their friends and family, and they’ll do it when they feel comfortable.”