One of the biggest factors controlling whether the U.S. will see the sharp post-coronavirus recovery is consumers themselves. There’s a lot of debate over whether consumers will return in force with a great deal of pent up demand, or whether they’ll permanently adopt some of the behaviors they’ve become accustomed to in quarantine.
The world has been watching China closely for a sign of what’s to come, and the nation’s first holiday without lockdown restrictions painted a hopeful picture.
At the beginning of May, China’s National Labor Day holiday had a strong turnout among travelers, though their behavior had shifted somewhat. China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism announced that the week-long holiday brought in $6.74 billion worth of much-needed revenue for the travel sector .
While people did venture out during the holiday, data show they tended to stay close to home and avoided public transportation and group tours. The travel data also showed that Chinese tourists booked hotels , suggesting tourists may be more similar to their pre-coronavirus selves than previously believed.
Perhaps the most shocking consumer data has come from cruise lines, whose dramatic coronavirus episodes throughout March threatened to hurt consumer confidence indefinitely. But it seems people are quick to forgive cruise operators—a Cruise Planners representative told TMZ that the firm’s Carnival Cruise bookings rose 600% following the cruise line’s announcement that it was planning to resume causing in August.
According to the rep, travelers were mostly young and healthy and “not a bit concerned about traveling at this time.”
A different travel agent confirmed travelers’ willingness to book cruises on Reddit, saying clients wanted to book new cruises because of the favorable cancellation conditions the operators are offering.
Another bright light came from Disneyland Shanghai, which reopened on Monday. The theme park saw tickets for opening day sell out in just a few hours , suggesting plenty of people are chomping at the bit to get back out there.
While these headlines offer a strong picture of a return to life as usual, zooming out a little shows things aren’t quite as rosy as they appear. In the case of Disney, the park is operating at just 30% capacity— meaning that although tickets sold out, we’re talking about 24,000 tickets compared to 80,000.
Plus, Monday appears to be one of the few sold-out days. For now, travelers can only book tickets a few weeks in advance, and it seems there are available tickets every day from now until June 9 .
Concerning the cruises, it’s worthwhile to consider that the 600% increase in sales comes from an anonymous source that spoke to a tabloid website famous for dishing out celebrity gossip. Not that TMZ isn’t worth listening to, but so far, Carnival has not commented on the increase in ticket sales.
Also, ticket sales rose 600% from three days prior. There’s no mention of what the sales were like beforehand when Carnival hadn’t announced any new cruising dates. It’s worth noting that if only one person booked a cruise three days ago, that would be just seven new bookings.
Booking Holdings CEO Glenn Fogel has been optimistic about travelers’ return to normalcy:
I don’t think the world is going to be hugely different once we get past this. There have been pandemics in the past. I’ll go back 100 years, go back, Hong Kong, flu, there have been pandemics. There have been terrible things. But in the end, people want to travel, people are willing to supply accommodations. And I don’t see that there’s going to be a great change in the long run.
Fogel’s company manages a host of travel booking websites, including booking.com , Priceline, and OpenTable, and has some insight into how consumers are responding to loosening lockdown restrictions. He confirmed what China’s Labor Day holiday data suggested: people are staying closer to home than they used to.
Fogel also noted that although he sees consumers eventually returning in force, he believes that it will take years rather than quarters.