Travel Survey shows how COVID-19 has changed the way South Africans travel

4 min read

Travellers won’t book without flexible Ts & Cs and health and safety protocols in place, with the majority saying they want to travel internationally in 2021

A recent survey conducted by the Flight Centre Travel Group shows how COVID-19 has changed how South Africans travel. Most survey respondents stated that they still want to travel internationally in 2021, provided there is booking flexibility and that health and safety protocols are in place.

The flexibility to cancel or change a booking is no longer a nice-to-have, but a non-negotiable, the survey reveals. Thirty-one per cent of respondents reported that they won’t book a trip unless they know they can cancel or postpone it easily and get their money back, while 21% said they would like to travel but were hesitant with all the complexities. Another 15% said they were not sure if they’re comfortable travelling just yet, while 13% said they were already travelling; it just takes more planning. Only 9% of respondents said they wouldn’t travel until vaccinated. 

Flexibility beats health protocols for international travel

Price is no longer the most significant factor of consideration for rand-conscious South Africans. The flexibility to cancel or change their booking without paying penalties; health and safety protocols; and the destination’s entry requirements (for example, will I have to quarantine?) are now the three most important factors that South African travellers would consider before travelling internationally.

Companies that stated a clear and transparent cancellation and refund process, the destination’s current COVID-19 cases and how safe it’s perceived to be followed as other factors for consideration.

“While our borders have been open for some time, domestic travel on both the business and leisure fronts will remain in high demand for the next two years,” said Andrew Stark, Managing Director Flight Centre Travel Group Middle East and Africa. “Leisure travel will boom before corporate travel. No doubt there will be significant pent-up demand as the world gets vaccinated and when international flight schedules resume fully, and borders reopen without entry regulations such as enforced quarantines.”

Stark adds that international travel remains complex, although the group has been seeing interest and bookings to the Maldives and Zanzibar, countries that remain open to South African travellers at this time. 

While most respondents stated that they would like to holiday internationally in 2021 and beyond, only 46% of survey respondents said they would book a 2021 international holiday now. The remaining respondents cited COVID-19; too much uncertainty and risk; and finances as deterrents to booking international travel at the moment.

Local travel considerations

For local travellers, health and safety protocols are neck and neck with the flexibility to cancel or change bookings. Just 16% said they would consider the destination’s current COVID-19 cases and how ‘safe’ the destination is perceived to be, spelling good news for local destinations perhaps perceived as “hotspot” areas. 

“Flexible booking is now a key consideration” says Sue Garrett, Flight Centre Travel Group’s General Manager for Product and Marketing. “We have expanded our popular Moneyback Guarantee to all local accommodation bookings. All customers need to do is contact their Flight Centre travel expert, in writing 24 hours before the intended check-in date, and we will refund the accommodation booking immediately, no questions asked.”

Only 14% of respondents pumped for the price as the most important deciding factor for their holiday, 9% opted for the destination or experience itself, with only 5% saying the most important factor would be how long it takes to get there.

Flight Centre has stated that 85% of customers now book, pay and travel in the same month, a figure 70% higher than in pre-COVID-19 times.

Flight Centre conducted the survey on their website during February, with 7,978 respondents taking part. The majority of respondents were between 35 and 54 years of age and female. Thirty-three per cent of survey respondents said they were frequent local travellers before COVID-19, with 42% travelling occasionally. Nineteen per cent of the respondents were frequent international travellers, with 35% travelling overseas occasionally. 

Non-negotiables to book a holiday

Survey respondents named the below as further non-negotiables, listed in priority order after flexibility and health and safety protocols, to booking travel currently:

  1. I need to know the travel requirements, for example, will I have to quarantine on arrival? 
  2. Booking with a trusted and experienced travel agent 
  3. The price of the holiday 
  4. A country with a low rate of confirmed cases 
  5. Customer service
  6. Booking with a trusted supplier 

In conclusion, the Flight Centre Travel Group offers the below recommendations for booking local and international travel for leisure or business:

  • Book with a reputable and reliable travel retailer with a 24/7 support line. 
  • Don’t travel without travel insurance cover for the entire duration of the trip. 
  • Check the entry requirements of the country you wish to visit as these vary from country to country and may change from day to day. The Flight Centre Travel Group launched a Travel News information hub last year, a website that allows you to search for any country and get up to date COVID-19 travel information and more need-to-know resources for free.