Lori Graph

Graphic from UofSC

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Allen Wallace photo

With Memorial Day weekend and the unofficial beginning of summer upon us, more than 97 percent of respondents in a survey by University of South Carolina and Penn State researches said they definitely will (64.8%) or might (32.5%) travel within the next six months, but COVID-19 will continue to affect their choices of destinations and activities.

The vast majority of those planning to travel are comfortable returning to hotels and resorts (90.7%) and restaurants (80.5%). However, potential travelers are less certain about some destinations and activities thanks to the lingering effects of the pandemic.

“Pent up demand for travel is growing and Memorial Day is the start of summer. It has been a long year and a half, with many people vaccinated and places opening up fully, the tourism industry is gearing up for a return of summer travelers,” said Professor Lori Pennington-Gray, director of the University of South Carolina’s Richardson Family SmartState Center for Economic Excellence in Tourism and Economic Development.

Pennington-Gray and the SmartState Center team are conducting monthly surveys on COVID-19 and travel, in collaboration with Ashley Schroeder, assistant professor of Recreation, Parks and Tourism Management at Penn State University. The ongoing research is in response to changes in travel patterns during the pandemic. The survey samples more than 500 U.S. residents who have traveled for pleasure in the past three years.

Outdoor destinations are perceived as less risky, with more than 60 percent of respondents saying they would go to theme and amusement parks and outdoor festivals and events. Indoor concerts and sporting events and even outdoor sporting events in large stadiums produce a nearly even split, with just slightly more than half of survey respondents saying they are ready.

The pandemic still has a large majority of those surveyed preferring to stay away from cruise ships (58.2% would avoid them) and cities with high COVID rates (62.3%).

“Travel is part of our heritage. This year and a half has been particularly difficult for the U.S. population. We have seen impacts to health, psychology, mental health, society, and livelihoods,” Pennington-Gray said. “This next year shows some promise that with the vaccine we will see increased activity and travel. My hope is that this travel will spill over into positive impacts for individuals, families, communities and society at large.”

Information is based on the most recent survey, conducted April 26, with 576 people responding.

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