Life After Lockdown How Vaccines are Changing Travel and Consumer Behaviour

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For much of 2020, ‘normalcy’ became a decent memory. The past 16 months have been defined by adjustments, both big and small, that pushed the pandemic response forward towards a finish line we couldn’t yet see. We made sacrifices, we stayed home, and we canceled trips in the hopes that the coming months would bring long-awaited relief, recovery and, finally, a return to normal. Fortunately, with the help of vaccine rollouts around the world, we finally find ourselves on the precipice of recovery.

As COVID-19 vaccine distribution varies by market, USA, the UK, Israel, and the UAE are currently leading the charge towards a coveted destination: life after lockdown. The question on everyone’s mind is, of course, what will this next stage look like? Are consumers confident and enthusiastic about the post-pandemic landscape, with the promise of an accelerated vaccine roll-out? What do vaccines mean for global travel? Can we anticipate a heightened demand for certain experiences?

Get Your Passport Ready

Few sectors were more impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic than travel and hospitality, as international travel restrictions and mandatory quarantine measures brought both leisure and business travel plans to a standstill. Now, as vaccines become readily available to the public, travel is experiencing the beginning stages of recovery. GWI reveals that intent to buy travel tickets is up 19%, and all countries that have administered a first dose of the vaccine to at least 25% of their population are seeing travel rebound in a meaningful manner.

Consumer motivation for travel is also changing, with 24% of travelers booking trips to visit friends and family, 20% interested in having a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and 19% choosing their next destination based on perceived ease of traveling. In this new landscape, prospective travelers are seemingly less interested in special offers and deals. While value is still important, post-pandemic travel will be predominantly defined by meaningful travel experiences.

In-Person Activities Will Resume

Early in 2020, research revealed that consumers were not only partaking in less in-person activities (i.e. taking public transport, dining at a restaurant, etc.) due to lockdown measures – they were also less interested in partaking in those activities altogether. Especially, the research revealed, as it pertained to live events and cultural offerings. Experts mused that this shift in consumer behaviour may have been tied to pandemic-related fears and, after an extended lockdown period, a sense of disconnect from the events and activities which once consumed social calendars.

Fortunately, as we approach Q3 of 2021, the tide of consumer opinion seems to be changing once again. As of Q1, 60% of consumers residing in highly vaccinated areas expressed interest in live events or eating out. Not only that, but interest in cultural activities is now seemingly more prevalent than it was pre-pandemic, while the hospitality industry is also expected to attract an influx of consumers upon fully reopening. This should come as no surprise, as research reveals that consumers residing in countries with accelerated vaccine programs are less likely to succumb to pandemic-related anxiety and mental stress.Consumer Confidence is Rising

2020 marked a challenging year for many across a variety of indicators, and the social and economic ramifications of extensive lockdowns and restrictions were felt around the world. Consumer confidence wavered in response to these stressors, as communities were plagued with high unemployment rates and financial strain. Fortunately, there now appears to be light at the end of a very long tunnel.

Specifically, GWI’s research reveals that 56% of consumers were confident about their country’s economy in Q1 2021, compared to 46% in Q1 of 2020. Consumers are seemingly becoming less price-sensitive after a year of increased frugality and financial stress as the world begins to reopen.

Some Lockdown Trends Have Staying Power

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most consumers around the world are experiencing a certain degree of digital fatigue. Specifically, many of us are tired of Zoom meetings and happy hours, and a 1,000-piece puzzle (I have done my quota) may boast less appeal than they did this time last year. However, there are some trends that emerged over this time that promise to stick around, even as the world returns to normal.

Notably, ecommerce will remain a primary preference for many consumers as the need for enhanced, seamless convenience remains. After all, over the past year and a half, many consumers have set and grown accustomed to new routines that involve online shopping, including online grocery shopping and hands-free delivery. Live Streams are also expected to remain as a popular and accessible entertainment choice, and will likely be offered in tandem with in-person events in the coming months.

As we move into this period of recovery, the sentiment to keep in mind is this: with the availability of vaccines, the return to normal is inevitable, but it will take time. Consumers are engaged and optimistic, and confidence is steadily rising, but moving beyond the pandemic is not an overnight affair. Consumer entertainment and joy are important themes, but consumer peace-of-mind must also be considered as industries look to win back consumer demand.

In the coming months, as vaccines continue to roll-out around the world, consumer confidence will continue on its upward trajectory, and – slowly but surely – consumers will once again embrace their old routines, likely with renewed appreciation and vigor for the experiences which were unavailable to us throughout the pandemic.