Demand for long-distance travel has recovered significantly in the past year and a half but is still below pre-pandemic levels. This level will probably not be reached in 2023 either, according to the study "Destination unknown: The future of long-distance travel" by Roland Berger.
On one hand, significantly more people are travelling again - mainly due to catch-up effects. But at the same time the number of respondents who state that they want to travel less in the future is increasing compared to 2021. In addition to the increased use of online communication, ecological concerns are also increasingly cited as a reason.
For the study, the experts conducted market analyses as well as a large-scale survey with about 7,000 consumers in seven countries. The entire study in English is available online here.
"The lifting of covid-related travel restrictions has given a strong boost to air and rail travel worldwide over the past 18 months," says Jan-Philipp Hasenberg, Partner at Roland Berger. "Nevertheless, demand in key markets is still below pre-pandemic levels. In addition, other factors such as rising energy and fuel prices or the shortage of skilled workers are putting pressure on suppliers to make their operations more efficient."
Increase in travel due to catch-up effects
Compared with results from the previous study from 2021 as well as a pre-Covid index from 2019, there are clear changes in travel behaviour for long-haul routes. In the US, for example, demand for flights increased to 87 per cent of pre-Covid levels in the first half of 2022, 18 percentage points higher than in 2021. Air travel also recovered in Europe, despite the Ukraine war and economic challenges. In the first half of 2022, demand was already back at 60 to 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. In 2021, it was still 20 to 40 per cent. Similarly, European rail traffic recovered to about 75 per cent of pre-Covid 19 levels. In China, on the other hand, demand for air travel fell to just 32 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in the first half of 2022, down from 74 per cent in 2021, due to Covid restrictions. Demand for rail travel also fell by 37 per cent from 2021 to 2022.
More critical consumer attitudes towards long-haul travel
Overall demand for long-haul travel is expected to remain below pre-Covid levels in the coming year. This is what the author team concludes from the global consumer survey. In all focus markets, respondents are planning significantly less travel than before the pandemic. For example, the number of expected business trips fell by 28 per cent compared to 2019 and was even five percentage points lower than in the 2021 survey. For planned private trips, the decline was 19 per cent.
The reluctance of consumers to travel long distances is particularly evident: The number of planned intercontinental business trips fell to 42 percent, 22 percentage points less than in 2021.
The main reason for the change in mobility behaviour is the increased use of online communication, both for business trips (cited by 61 percent of respondents) and for private trips (40 percent). This is followed by changes in travel policies (43 per cent), new legal regulations (38 per cent) and, increasingly, ecological reasons (37 per cent, an increase of 8 per cent compared to 2021). For private travel, legal regulations, financial and also ecological reasons are in second place with 36 per cent each.
"Two core results of our survey show how important the environmental and climate protection factor is to the respondents. On the one hand, a majority plans to reduce air travel in favour of rail or car travel. On the other hand, almost all respondents (90 percent) are willing to pay 20 percent more for airline tickets if this would reduce the climate impact of flights," emphasises Hasenberg. "Accordingly, the top topic for many suppliers at the moment is to expand their product range to include 'green products' with correspondingly adjusted prices."