Personal judgement outweighs Government advice in travel decisions


Despite Covid-19 cases increasing around the world, nearly 20% of global consumers think it is safe to travel now, with 21% putting less weight on government restrictions and more on personal risk assessments. The UK in particular has shifted away from WHO and governmental guidance, with 23% of consumers saying they would be happy to travel to a country that has lifted restrictions, despite national travel warnings.

This is according to Oliver Wyman’s second global traveller sentiment survey, titled “Anticipating The Travel Recovery”. The survey found several other changes in traveller behaviour since the first survey was originally conducted in early May. They include:

• Leisure travel – Interest in leisure travel remains strong and has grown since May, with 63% of respondents expecting to travel the same amount or more post-pandemic. While most travellers in the USA, Spain, Italy, China and Australia are planning domestic trips, travellers in Canada, UK, France and Germany are planning international locations for their next leisure trip post-Covid.  The number one driver for these leisure trips globally is to visit friends and family. In the UK, 51% of respondents are more likely to visit friends and family compared to before Covid-19, showing pent up demand, compared to more than 55% of US respondents demonstrating the effect of Thanksgiving and holiday travel.

• Business travel – 43% of all respondents who travel for business plan to travel less in the future, a 16-point increase from May. In the UK, 50% plan on travelling less. Overall, business travellers have become more comfortable with teleconferencing, but only 53% agree that they can develop new relationships via teleconferencing. This drops to 47% for business travellers under 30. While half of business travellers expect no change in trip duration, 30% expect to shorten their trips when possible, which will impact hotel stays.

Modes of transport – Overall, respondents are more comfortable with various transportation options than they were in May. On average, half are now comfortable taking a flight, though only 43% in the UK are comfortable and 37% uncomfortable, and almost 60% are comfortable staying at a hotel (48% in the UK). However, less than a third are comfortable using public transportation or ride sharing. In the UK as well as all other countries surveyed except for China, over 40% of respondents are still uncomfortable using public transportation or rideshare.

• Cruises – Back in May, the cruise industry was still reeling from news of passengers quarantined at sea. Since then, the gap between cruises and other experiences involving significant interaction with others has closed. Respondents now feel as comfortable taking a cruise as attending a convention or going to a concert or sporting event. Past cruisers are more comfortable than first timers. 

Michael Khan, aviation partnerat Oliver Wyman explains, “Ongoing travel restrictions have taken their toll on the UK public. Much like the rest of the world, UK travellers are increasingly looking forward to going abroad on holiday again or travelling to see friends and family. With nearly a quarter shifting away from official guidance and restrictions on travel, it is increasingly important for Governments to have clear communication on the risks and for airlines to provide adequate safety measures.

“The new national lockdown and international travel ban [introduced in the UK on 5 November]are strong measures to stymie the spread of the virus, and they will bring their own set of challenges for the travel industry. They will likely have the effect of increasing the perceived risks of travel and of flying in particular as the pandemic continues to surge across Europe and the world over the short to medium term.”

Bruce Spear, aviation partner at Oliver Wyman adds, “Personal judgement is now the leading factor for deciding to travel, ahead of government restrictions, advice from the World Health Organization, or even having a vaccine. This means the travel industry must focus on measures that increase individual customer safety such as mandatory masks, cleaning and rapid testing, and not wait for governments to issue directives.” 

Pandemic travel

The survey also asked people about actual travel they have done during the pandemic. Overall, 31% have travelled by air and 24% by train (more than two hours) since March. 60% of these trips were primarily for leisure.

Half of travellers (51%) were excited to travel, while only a quarter reported being reluctant. Almost 80% of those who travelled were satisfied with most components of their experience, including check-in, security, boarding process, and passenger and crew PPE. Travellers from the US and China had an average satisfaction rating of over 80% across their journeys; however, travellers from the UK had a lower average satisfaction level of 70%. Travellers overall were less impressed with food and beverage and airport/station retail because many of these amenities have been nearly eliminated for now. 

Price remains the number one factor for consumer choice, followed by cleaning policies and treatment of travellers. The exception is in China, where aircraft cleaning policies and treatment by the airline outrank price. Travellers view cleaning and mask mandates as the most important health and safety measures, but 40% would still like to see an empty seat next to them on planes and trains.


Oliver Wyman conducted its second global survey of travellers in September and October to capture how views of travel are changing as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves. The survey involved more than 4,600 people across nine countries (Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, United States), all of whom had flown at least once in 2019. A third also have travelled by air and/or rail in the past six months.

The complete Edition 2 survey report will be available in November, with additional detail on the cruise industry and an in-depth look at the pace at which traveller sentiments are shifting and the potential structural impacts that may result from the pandemic.

Our prior survey was conducted in April/May and those results can be found here.

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