The Missing Perspective in the Return to Travel

Written by
Darko Socanski
August 7, 2020

2020 is the year of many things, and in the world of corporate travel, it’s the year we all threw out our playbooks and figured out a new path forward based on equal parts community, experience, data, and a bit of hope.

We all became seekers of data, wanting to best understand the spread of COVID-19, how it was impacting our beloved industry, and looking for indications of a light at the end of the tunnel in the form of the re-awakening of travel.

COVID-19 resource centers emerged, industry leaders we look to for guidance showed us what it’ll mean to travel safely in the future, and the industry aligned in a renewed focus on the mental wellbeing of travelers. At each turn you could see suppliers, buyers, and industry think tanks doing what they could to contribute to the communal understanding of what was happening and how we could weather this together.  

If you haven’t yet, check out Standards of Safety in Business Travel and other guides from TAMS, TravelVitals from GBT, Return to Business Travel from CWT, and Back to travel from BCD. These are just a few of the incredible, impactful resources that have been assembled by leaders in the travel community.

But we felt there was still something missing. The signals for the return of travel could be pieced together through various disparate data sources—if you knew where to find them—such as air and hotel booking data, Google search trends, TSA travel volume. The problem was that as an industry, we weren’t looking at these leading indicators together. What was missing was a single view that helped a travel manager quickly digest the most important signals relative to the ongoing pandemic. No spin, no commentary, just clean, simple, data.

That’s how we thought we could best contribute to this industry conversation. We built a reporting dashboard to provide a single view of what we believe are the strongest leading travel indicators. This is a dashboard that we use internally to operate our business. We thought: this is useful to us, so it might be useful for others, so that makes it worth sharing, especially during these times.

The Leading Travel Indicators Dashboard includes four separate views combining the strongest signals of the return of travel, aggregated into a single dashboard and indexed to the same point of time for easy comparison.

Following is a quick breakdown of each report.

Leading Hotel Travel Indicators

The first signal we look at is hotel search compared to hotel bookings. Pretty simply, we wanted to understand the interest in booking a hotel vs. actually booking one.

Report showing hotel search volume compared to hotel booking volume
Report snapshot as of 8/7/2020. See the live dashboard.

Leading Air Travel Indicators

In addition to Hotel Search vs Hotel Bookings, we also look at Flight Search vs Flight Bookings, with the added data point of TSA traveler data (i.e. the number of people that are actually passing TSA checkpoints) to get a relative perspective on the full traveler journey from searching, to booking, to traveling.

Report showing flight search volume compared to flight booking volume and TSA traveler volume
Report snapshot as of 8/7/2020. See the live dashboard.

Flight Bookings Recovery by Region

We further break down flights booked by region, to better understand which regions are recovering first and fastest, and to understand if those same patterns are followed by other regions. To better visualize the relative recovery of each region we started the chart as of April 20th, the lowest point since the beginning of the year.

Report showing flights bookings segmented into US, EMEA, and APAC
Report snapshot as of 8/7/2020. See the live dashboard.

COVID-19 and Travel Bookings

The last graph, shows the intent to travel (based on booking data, not search data) and how it may be impacted by the spread of COVID-19. We tie hotel booking and flight booking data together and compare it to new COVID-19 cases being reported over the same time period to get a perspective on how the virus is affecting booking behavior.

Report showing hotel bookings and flight bookings compared to new COVID-19 cases reported
Report snapshot as of 8/7/2020. See the live dashboard.

You may notice that we didn’t include any speculation as to why the numbers are what they are. That was intentional. We believe that facts are friends, and our goal in building and sharing this dashboard was simply to make this data available for anyone trying to understand what’s happening in travel.

We hope that by being able to view and track the data centralized in the dashboard we’ve built helps you and your organization better understand how travel is returning.

Here’s a link to view the live Leading Travel Indicators Dashboard. Some of the data is real-time, some is updated every week on Fridays.

If you’re looking for a deeper dive into more complex metrics regarding recovery, check out BCG’s travel recovery dashboard.

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