For better or worse, three times fate has given me an opportunity to measure a particular slice of public opinion in the midst of crisis: shortly after September 11, during the Great Recession, and in the most recent weeks. Each time the goal was to understand the impact of these events on the sports, travel and leisure industries.
In comparing attitudes in September 2001 and July 2009 to today, there is more consumer hesitancy now about returning to those activities. But the silver lining is a majority of customers willingness to return to airplanes, hotels, casinos, theme parks, cruises, movie theaters, and sporting events once multiple conditions have been met. Interestingly roughly one-third of respondents would jump back into these activities without hesitation, right now, absent any resolution or assurances.
A survey I conducted for Golf Digest in late September 2001 found 50% of respondents planning to spend “as much money on travel next year as in the past year;” just 28% strongly agree now. 50% strongly agreed in 2001 that “Taking a trip of 500+ miles or more is a priority in the next 12 months.” Only 35% say that now. Similarly, while 44% of respondents in July 2009 strongly agreed that they were “planning to take a major vacation this year,” only 32% strongly agree now.
Getting customers back into these venues will require the satisfaction of multiple conditions. We surveyed 513 Americans, a week ago in the benchmark wave of our “Back-to-Normal Barometer” and found more than three-quarters need at least two of multiple conditions to be met, to return without hesitation.
The most commonly cited necessary conditions were two related to medical breakthroughs—A COVID-19 vaccine or approved pharmaceutical protocol to mitigate the effects of the virus, along with assurance from a reputed U.S. medical authority. Assurances from media, government or individual properties, were far less compelling.
Not all activities will recover at the same time. The data show that once the necessary assurances are in place, movie theaters and live sports events face an easier recovery. But a majority of respondents would return to all of these activities within three months after credible assurances are made.
In fact, among survey respondents who engaged in the following activities in the past year, a sizable percentage would jump back into them right now if they could: 40% would stay in a hotel or resort; 40% would take a cruise vacation; 34% would attend a live sporting event; 34% would visit a casino; 33% would visit a theme park; 32% would take a commercial flight; and 32% would see a movie in a theater. Parallel qualitative and social media scraping work we are conducting as part of the Back-to-Normal Barometer, support these findings. I’m curious to see how these trend over subsequent weeks. The longer the current situation continues, the closer, I hypothesize, we’ll move towards an inflection point where a majority of these audiences will seek an immediate lifting of current restrictions.