This week on Lockdown Unlocked we’ve been looking at travel and transport, two sectors that have seen enormous upheaval as travellers reassess their plans and priorities in light of government restrictions and infection risks. 

Using findings from our weekly quantitative tracker with 1000 people Nat Rep and our qualitative online community of 40 people, here’s a summary of what we heard…

#1 Public transport feels like a risky and unnerving prospect for many 

While clearly underused at the moment, the projection for future use of public transport appears similarly bleak: a majority of Britons say that they will be avoiding public transportation until Coronavirus has been eradicated.


In the same vein, we can see that there is fear at the idea of visiting major transport hubs like airports or train stations - implying that widespread avoidance is very likely.


Qualitatively, we’ve heard that people see public transport as a particularly high risk environment for spreading COVID-19, especially when it comes to the underground, busy trains, and stations. Buses and taxis felt slightly less risky; at least you can wait outside and it’s felt you may be able to social distance more effectively. 

As we’ve seen in other environments, such as shopping, hell is other people! The core worry is proximity to other passengers, and being reliant on them being considerate and responsible (for example respecting social distancing, and staying home if they have symptoms). 

“I do not think I will feel comfortable getting on a train or tube for my commute any time soon, as on the tube in particular I think it will be almost impossible to social distance.”

“Although trains are running and (bizarrely) taxis, I would not be using these services and certainly not with my kids for the foreseeable future. Not with the risk still so high and you have no control over others who may also be using these services.”


#2 People are opting for transport that provides safety and control 

Part of the consumer objection to public transport is the loss of control. Individuals can’t control who is using the networks, or indeed how ably they will follow social distancing protocols. All of this puts them at risk.

However, people will still need and want to get around - increasingly so as lockdown eases. Our data heavily suggests that the car will be increasingly relied upon as the transport mode of choice for long journeys, for the simple reason that it does reassert this kind of control for the consumer. Families are quite naturally even more likely to feel this way.


From our community, we’ve seen people are preferring transport methods where they have control over their environment and can maintain a private space - that’s driving, cycling, or their own two feet. 

However consumers are feeling some guilt over driving; people know it’s a less sustainable form of transport and are noticing the numbers of cars on the road start to increase. There’s some hope that the country will avoid a return to pre-lockdown levels of carbon emissions, and with bikes also on the rise, a desire to make our cities more cycle-friendly.

“We will probably feel safer utilising our own car(s) in the near future as a way of controlling our own environment. I might use my pedal bike a bit more.”

“I am getting a lift from my partner to work and walking home. I used to get the bus everywhere.”

“I think this is a great time for us to reflect on our habits and how we have negatively impacted on the world and nature [...] I would love to see us like Amsterdam or Copenhagen where cycling is so dominant.”


#3 Most don’t plan to book a holiday abroad in the next 3 months, but are craving a break

It’s worth remembering that pre-COVID 19, holidaying abroad was by no means universal - with previous research analysis we have undertaken indicating that just over 50% of people do this annually. However, what we have seen very clearly during lockdown is that the majority of people in the UK will not entertain the idea of booking a holiday abroad now or over the summer months of 2020.


Part of the problem, it would seem, is the widespread fear of being in the confined cabin of a plane. A majority of people agreed that they would be too fearful to board one right now.


But as we move into prime holiday season, we can see strong evidence from our survey that not being able to go away is grating on people - particularly those in their 30s from more affluent backgrounds.


From our community, we heard a very similar sentiment. People expressed how much they’re missing their holidays, but that they’re only going to consider booking again when they feel safe and confident enough to do so. We can expect people to be adding face masks, gloves and sanitising wipes to their packing lists in the future.

“Holidays are what me and my wife work for. They are everything. We love travelling and exploring the countries we visit.”

“We are hoping to get away next summer but again if there's even a whiff of virus this won't happen. For our sanity, I would say holidays are something we really look forward to but only if it’s safe.”

“It's going to be at least until next Spring/Summer before I will even entertain going on a plane and even then I will take wipes for the tray and head rests. I will also wear a mask and gloves and will dispose of clothes I am wearing on arrival at accommodation.”


#4 There are pockets of people who are raring to go!

Whilst the majority are reticent and apprehensive, it’s not true for everyone. There are pockets of people who have a foreign holiday high on their agenda for the end of lockdown. A third of people nationwide agreed that a trip abroad was a high priority, rising to nearly half of 30 year olds. Londoners and the more affluent also showed a raised willingness to make this a priority.


And in opposition to the 6 in 10 who would avoid planes out of fear, a smaller cohort of people skewing towards younger, pre-family Londoners say they would not be scared to get on a plane currently.


This nets out a final total of just over 10% of people who say they would consider booking a holiday abroad in the next 3 months.


We heard from some of these groups on the online community too. They tended to be younger (under 40 years old), often pre-family and less financially impacted and worried by the outbreak. For these groups safety is still a concern, but the idea of stepping back onto a plane and heading abroad doesn’t seem too far off in the distance for them, and they are likely to feel confident to do so once they see people around them doing the same.

“If holidays are allowed I will go. I won’t worry any more than I would about holidaying in this country.”

“I'm really keen to go away, yes. I won't be particularly nervous about going away, but I will be more careful with my health and staying safe for myself and for others.”

“We love getting on a plane and flying 'wherever' so we will be keen to do that as soon as we feel we can with a reasonable level of safety.”

#5 Holidaying will be closer to home in 2020 

For many, UK-based holidays are going to be the obvious choice for 2020. A majority said they would be likely to pivot towards domestic breaks over trips abroad this year.


Hand-in-hand with this tendency to stay at home comes a broader unwillingness to travel long-haul, with families and those aged 55 and over being especially unwilling to consider this in the wake of the crisis. Younger, pre-family individuals are less likely to subscribe to this point of view.


This preference for UK and closer to home destinations was echoed in our online community. People will likely be opting for holidays that allow them to drive and not rely on public transport or planes, and destinations that they can retreat back from quickly in case of emergency. The idea of visiting far flung corners of the earth is not appealing to most right now.

“I don’t think I will get on a plane for a while, I think we’d be more likely to have holidays in the UK or drive to somewhere in Europe.”

“Most certainly will consider UK holidays as a priority. Long haul flights will NOT be on the agenda, possibly for the next 3-5 years.”

“UK holiday only for 2020, and then a short break to Scotland in November and maybe a weekend or two in Cornwall. No European or long haul holidays until 2021 for me.”

#6 People are looking for more control over their future holiday experiences 

While many are not actively thinking about holidays in the next 3 months, they do of course envisage going on holiday again in the future. But people are thinking differently about their needs and desires for future holidays. 

In particular people are thinking differently about where they stay, their type of accommodation and how they’ll get around. People say they are more likely to consider car hire, private transfers, self-catering, self-serving spaces like villas and apartments rather than busy hotels, eating in vs. eating out, and returning to previously visited hotels. People are looking for more control over their future holiday experiences to help them feel in control and safe. 

That’s not to say people will be opting for more DIY holidays, as people are likely to rely even more heavily on the reassurance of a major company, but they will want their tour operators to provide them with more flexibility and control. 

In addition we’ve found from our survey that 6 in 10 people are planning to avoid cities, particularly in 2020, which could lead to a preference for more rural/seaside destination choices in the future.


“On arrival, may consider hiring a car or paying extra for a private hire as these are always cleaned to a high standard. Will of course always follow travel advice in whatever country we are visiting.”

“I think we will be more inclined to go on holidays abroad to more remote places than stay in a crowded city. For example, we might do more road trips and stay at Airbnb’s rather than busy hotels in the capital.”

“We would almost certainly choose self-catering options over a hotel now, either at home or abroad, simply because you have an element of control over your own immediate environment.”

“We normally stay in all-inclusive hotels, but will be looking at villas in the future. I can’t imagine being crowded round a packed pool.”


#7 People want travel and transport companies to provide safety and reassurance 

People are looking to both transport and travel companies for guidance on travelling while the pandemic continues to take its toll. Over 4 in 10 want companies to illustrate and communicate a proper plan regarding Covid-19, and would feel more confident to book a holiday once something like this is in place. 


Many people in our community expect travel and transport companies to take the lead and put in place various safety measures, in a similar way to supermarkets. Expectations include social distancing measures in vehicles, stations, and airports, regular cleaning, encouraging passengers to wear face masks/gloves, and managing crowd density on board.

For holidays people also felt they would more carefully check insurance and cancellation policies of the companies they book with. They want travel and insurance companies to be super clear and upfront about what happens in case of an emergency - both regarding their own security and that of their money.

“[I’d expect] hand-sanitising facilities on entering the vehicle, well-spaced out seating arrangements, plastic glass partitioning, and conductors or security staff monitoring the public's behaviour.”

“Re:trains I feel that at stations there needs to be a queuing system and members of staff direct you to a carriage that is socially distanced. Once a recommended amount of people are on, then you just need to wait for the next train.”

“I would definitely be more inclined to look at what my insurance covers, and what the booking cancellation policy is.”

Next week we’ll be focusing on the role of technology in the home during lockdown, specifically how the use of devices, screens and digital services is changing under lockdown.


Lockdown Unlocked is an online qual community with 40 members across the UK, combined with a nat-rep quant tracker of 1,000 UK adults.