Latest research into the UK and Ireland markets and how COVID-19 is impacting plans to visit Scotland
COVID-19 consumer sentiment tracker
The national tourist boards within Great Britain have commissioned some tracking research to measure UK residents' holiday intentions now that coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions are starting to be lifted.
The tracking will be in place from the end of May until the middle of August 2020 with high level reports appearing on a weekly basis to track any movements in consumer behaviour.
Latest reports - UK and Scotland
Market intelligence update
The latest round up of UK and Ireland market intelligence from our VisitScotland marketing teams.
Brief market update
Domestic travel within the UK and Ireland has re-commenced and consumer confidence is increasing. A UK-wide industry standard and consumer mark ‘Good to Go’ has been developed to provide reassurance for visitors, communities and tourism businesses.
Health and recovery of market
Governments within the UK and Ireland are closely monitoring the “R” rate and number of new cases as lockdown restrictions continue to ease. The NHS Test & Protect service within the UK allows anyone who develops COVID-19 symptoms to be tested and contact tracing to be carried out and localised outbreaks to be managed. Face coverings are mandatory on public transport and in shops.
Quarantine and other travel restrictions
There are no restrictions for travel within the UK and anyone traveling to Scotland from within the UK or Ireland does not need to quarantine on arrival. Everyone who enters the UK will need to provide journey and contact details upon arrival.
Travel - Aviation, ferries and rail
Domestic routes have re-commenced across UK airline carriers (Loganair, Ryanair, easyJet, BA, Aer Lingus Regional) with increased hygiene measures. Airline schedules remain subject to change and amendments. Ferry and Rail operations are in operation with increased hygiene measures and limited capacities. From 17 July in England, public transport can be used by anyone and is no longer for essential travel only, however in Scotland this hasn’t yet been eased.
Intermediary insights and horizon scanning
Research is showing travelling car/private vehicle to be preferred mode of travel due to ease of social distancing and ability to make or change plans spontaneously. Coach tour operators in the UK have pushed to release their 2021 programmes earlier to allow displacement of cancelled bookings. Coach tour operators have introduced new hygiene measures, and some have signed up to the ‘Good to Go’ scheme. OTA insight is showing increased domestic searches for Scotland for the coming months. UK travel media is focused on domestic travel and appetite for travel-related news and inspiration is growing.
Social listening update
Our insights team uses 'social listening' as a tool for research. Put simply, it's about gathering data on specific topics from online conversations, to allow us to capture first-hand insights from visitors and potential visitors to Scotland.
We use a social listening tool, Brandwatch, to identify, capture and categorise high volumes of information.
Between 13 and 19 July there were over 5,700 relevant conversations about holiday intention in the UK. This is a 4% increase compared to the previous seven days.
The main conversations topics about holidays in the UK are people planning holidays abroad in August, September and October; as well as planning holidays in the UK in the short term.
Some users express their concerns over going on holiday as they find this risky from a health and financial point of view, thinking it’s too soon to travel given COVID-19.
Online sentiment about holiday intention is neutral. Positive conversations are driven by excitement about booking holidays for late summer this year and planning ahead for 2021. Negative chatter is driven by user’s concerns over re-opening tourism, the effectiveness of physical distancing, disappointment over cancelled holidays and poor customer service experiences from airlines and travel agencies.
Staycation and road trips are the most popular topic related to holidays in the UK, for both UK in general and staycation in Scotland. This shows that UK holidaymakers are booking holidays at home this summer.
Following the re-opening of tourism industry in Scotland on 15July, users express their excitement and relief to be able to explore their local areas and travel around Scotland.
Exploring social listening in detail
These are challenging times for everyone and, as the COVID-19 lockdown continues to impact travel plans, we’ve seen holidaymakers’ intentions to travel, and to holiday abroad or locally, adapt in response to an ever-changing situation.
Using social listening, we looked at holiday intentions during May to build a picture of visitors’ desires, concerns and preferences, allowing us to inform tourism activities in the post-COVID-19 world and help the tourism industry.
A word about 'social listening'
Our Insight team uses ‘social listening’ as a tool for research. Put simply, it’s about gathering data on specific topics from online conversations, to allow us to capture first-hand insights from visitors and potential visitors to Scotland.
We use a social listening tool, Brandwatch, to identify, capture and categorise high volumes of information. We then work with a skilled team of analysis to distil the relevant information by analysing thousands of online conversations from different media sources and identifying topic themes, sentiments and trends.
The tool does not monitor all social media conversations and insights should therefore be understood as an indication of trending topics. Facebook data is not included due to its private nature and, a part of this analysis used location filters to identify relevant conversation and these do not apply to all channels and mentions.
What's trending on social about holiday intentions in May 2020
Between 1 and 25 May, we gathered over 21,000 online conversations about holiday intentions. These included feelings about travelling as well as frustrations, questions and concerns, particularly around issues with booking cancellations.
Although there is a common or emerging trend for people to postpone holiday plans for next year, due to current uncertainty around the pandemic situation, people are expressing a clear desire to travel in the future as soon as it’s possible.
What do people think will happen with holidays this year? I keep reading conflicting advice. We have flights booked to the USA in August, my OH thinks it’s more likely to happen than not, but I thought it would be out of the question. Do people think international holidays will go ahead this year?
Recurring themes in our social listening data include UK holidaymakers discussing their discomfort or concern about booked holidays and their attempts to secure refunds from providers (including airlines, hotels, tour operators and package providers). People are unsure if they’ll be able to go ahead with a planned trip and also when it will be safe to travel.
Exploring conversation volumes
Our social listening reveals that while general conversations about holiday intentions were consistent during the month of May, there is a clear relationship between volumes of conversation and the development of a national response to the Coronavirus pandemic.
As the graph below shows, conversations suddenly increase on days following official Government announcements. For example, on the day following the UK Prime Minister’s 10 May announcement, conversations increase by 30% and, similarly, we see an increase of 14% on 21 May and 12% on 22 May, following the Scottish Government’s publication of a route map for Scotland. This tells us that people are very reactive to developments in the current situation and, although the focus for UK holidaymakers at the moment is to stay close to home and travel locally, this is likely to change in line with new guidance. As the situation normalises, we expect more people to look to travel further within the UK.
I guess there is no better time to start exploring the UK” #Blackpool #staycation #frommybeach
In addition to conversations about holiday cancellations, refund issues and concerns over future travel plans, conversations about day trips begin to trend during May, as lockdown restrictions started easing in the UK. As soon as going outside for unlimited exercise and meeting other households in open spaces was allowed, people begin to discuss planning a day trip to the beach, for example.
However, our social listening data also reveals confusion – even anguish – over lockdown measures and the ability of UK residents to take day trips while still following physical distancing rules. In addition, we noted concerns over incoming quarantine measures for those returning to the UK and also for entering other countries, such as France and Spain, if holidays there go ahead later in the summer. Some holidaymakers wonder whether they should cancel holiday plans for upcoming months.
Conversations about ‘staycations’, ‘holidays at home’ and ‘road trips’ were trending topics on social media during May, driving high volumes throughout the month and revealing people’s plans to holiday in the UK in the near future. In fact #Covid19 and #coronavirus hashtags are used consistently in holiday intention conversations, illustrating that the pandemic is front of mind for UK holiday makers and that they are likely to make and change plans as the situation develops.
Companies associated with tourism and travel were also trending topics during May, with airlines such as EasyJet and Ryanair consistently mentioned, as would-be travellers look for advice on flight status and cancellations. Many also share their experiences of cancelling planned trips and securing refunds for cancelled flights. In addition, mentions of high-profile UK political figures, including Matt Hancock and Boris Johnson, were also trending in May due to ongoing lockdown debriefs and announcements.
As soon as we can, we are booking a holiday.
As indicated in the graph above, online sentiment about holiday intentions expressed between 1 and 25May is divided equally between positive and negative comments with a further 40% of comments being neutral. Negative sentiment is driven by conversations relating to experiences of poor customer service, booking cancellations and the general inability to travel. Positive sentiment, however, is mainly driven by a desire to travel and thinking ahead to a future holiday.
Although negative and positive sentiments remain constant over May, there is a slight increase in negative sentiments on the days immediately following the UK Prime Minister’s 10 May announcement regarding easing restrictions on outdoor exercise and advising people unable to work from home to return to the workplace. This announcement generated an increased in both negative and neutral conversations, suggesting people found the new guidelines confusing.
When we explore ‘booking a holiday’ as a theme, we discover this generates both negative and positive conversations. Negative conversations focus on people being unable to travel, having to cancel plans, having difficulties communicating with holiday providers and facing issues obtaining refunds. Positive comments, on the other hand, focus on planning future trips and a desire to travel as soon as possible. Additionally, they reveal people remembering previous holidays and discussing destinations once they are able to travel again.
It’s unusual to observe such an equal split between positive and negative sentiment and these online conversations reveal that the current situation is affecting people in different ways with some struggling to cancel planned holidays and others looking ahead to the easing of restrictions and the opportunity of travelling again.
Where are conversations taking place?
Our social listening shows that conversation themes are similar across different channels as the current situation affects the wider population and not just a specific segment. The majority of conversations (71%) take place on Twitter where users are talking about holiday intentions and debating the political situation. Twitter is also the preferred channel for contacting business (such as airlines and hotels) in connection with bookings. There is certainly more angry sentiment expressed on this channel whereas forums (23%) show people engaging in longer conversations as they look for help and advice and share experiences. During May, Mumsnet was the most popular forum for this topic.
UK holidaymakers also use forums to pose questions about cancelled trips and travelling abroad in the near future, particularly to destinations where lockdown measures are unknown or unclear. And forums are also popular for people looking for advice on creating a fun staycation at home during lockdown or travelling safely within the UK.
Zooming in on Instagram
We identified around 1,000 conversations relating to holiday intentions and the UK and, as shown in the graph below, travel conversations spike after the Prime Minister’s statement of 10May and again after Scotland’s announcement on easing lockdown restrictions of 21 May. This indicates a clear desire to travel with people turning to social media to express excitement as restrictions ease.
The main Instagram conversations revolve around staying at home, taking part in virtual tours of holiday destinations and reminiscing about past holiday. Nature, landscapes and outdoor holidays all trended during May with people posting about adventures, hiking, road trips and beaches. Natural locations are a clear favourite with frequent mentions of Scotland and Scottish scenery including Skye, the Highlands and Scottish lochs.
In contrast to wider sentiment around holiday intention (discussed under What does the ‘sentiment barometer’ tell us?) sentiment on Instagram is mainly positive – this reflects the nature of the channel and the type of content it encourages. As a result, attitudes to holiday intentions are both optimistic and nostalgic, with users sharing pictures of past holidays, talking about longing to travel again and discussing their surroundings during lockdown.
During the period of social listening analysis, we couldn’t travel abroad due to global lockdown restrictions and this was causing significant disruption to UK holidaymakers and tourism businesses alike. Both want to know when their planned activity can resume and, even with the easing of some restrictions and plans around tourism opening up again in July, there’s still a long way to go before the situation fully resolves.
Frustrations over re-booking holidays and obtaining refunds for cancelled flights are being widely shared on social media. However, despite disappointment over cancelled holiday plans for summer 2020 and fears around what the future holds, there is a clear appetite to find out as much as possible about when holiday planning can start again.
From our analysis of online conversations, it’s clear that UK holidaymakers are looking forward to travelling again as soon as the situation allows; in the meantime, the prospects of day trips and staycations are at the forefront of UK holidaymakers’ minds.
Travelling to UK locations is likely to be what people will feel most comfortable with and, from social media posts, we can see that people’s eyes and minds are opening up to what is available to see and do on their own doorsteps.