Today's Takeaways
From SCT's director of marketing systems & insights, Ariane Hiltebrand
This week’s traveler sentiment update by Destination Analysts reveals that American travelers are gaining more confidence in the safety of travel activities, with 84% planning to travel in 2021. 15% have already made airline and accommodation bookings. Business travel is slowly returning, too. However, travel providers will need to find evolved strategies and concepts to convince both employers and business travelers of the benefits of business travel.
Travel Dreaming & Planning
Between March 1-7, 2021
Destination Analysts Key Findings to Know
From Destination Analysts' Travel Sentiment Report
  • With Texas and Mississippi announcing the lifting of COVID restrictions in their states this past week, interestingly there was a very small bump in the percent of Americans who feel the pandemic will get worse in the U.S., inching up to 16.3% from 13.7%.

  • In response to the question “All else equal, if a state fully lifted its coronavirus restrictions now, would this make that state a more or less appealing destination to visit?”, about 45% of Americans say this would makes the state a LESS appealing destination, while over one-third say this would make the state MORE appealing.

  • Nevertheless, half of Americans remain optimistic about the coming month. Americans also continue to feel safer—the average rating of the more than two dozen travel and leisure activities we track as “unsafe” has fallen another 3% this week to 40.0%.

  • The COVID-19 vaccines continue to serve as a travel stimulator, with 37.8% who have begun planning or booking future travel in anticipation of the COVID-19 vaccine being widely available—up nearly 10% since the beginning of the year. However, there is also declining agreement that they will wait to travel until they get a vaccine.

  • Openness to travel inspiration grew another 5% and reached another pandemic record high—now at 60.6%. In the past week, a pandemic-record 71.1% travel dreamt and/or planned. 15.0% said they actually made a booking, largely hotels and airline tickets. About 84% of American travelers have trips at least tentatively planned, and there is a growing percentage reporting planned trips for May (20.3%).

  • Well over half of American travelers—54.4%—say they would be interested in using a Visitor Information Center on their domestic trips this year. In terms of their expectations for these centers, they largely want the traditional—recommendations from staff and physical brochures—with the pandemic principles of masking and distancing.

  • Urban destinations continue on their paths of tourism recovery. This week, 38.8% of travelers taking leisure trips in the next 3 months report they will visit an urban destination, outpacing rural and beach. In addition, several iconic U.S. cities are back on the Hot List of the domestic destinations Americans name as one of the destinations they most want to visit in 2021.

  • Almost half of those employed by companies with business travel as part of their operations report that business travel has now resumed—nearly twice what it was six months ago.

  • Of those who traveled for business prior to the pandemic, 49.5% feel the pandemic has or will change the way their employer does business travel—most commonly fewer trips overall (at 59.8%, up from 51.4% the week of December 7th). Perhaps most alarmingly, 53% of business travelers currently agree they hope to not travel as much for work as they did prior to the pandemic.
The American Rescue Plan’s effects on the U.S. Travel Sector 
Congress passed the $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” coronavirus relief measure yesterday, with President Biden expected to sign the bill into law tomorrow afternoon. The American travel sector heralded some aspects of the bill, but also sees a key area where the package falls short of expectations with companies not receiving targeted relief. The American Rescue Plan added $7.5 billion to PPP and enabled more nonprofits to apply. But it did not extend the federally backed small business loan program through the end of 2021 like many travel groups were lobbying for with members of Congress.

You can learn more about how the U.S. Travel sector benefits (and doesn’t) from the $1.9 trillion in COVID relief, via Skift, here.
Events and Meetings Update
From SCT's group business development manager, Samantha Paull
As we continue to look toward the return of in-person meetings and events, we are seeing the advancements within the vaccine distribution process, as well as the promising downward trends in positivity rates, impact planner sentiment.

As was recently shared by Connect Meetings and an Innovatis Group survey, 60% of professionals felt they would be comfortable attending events in person by Q2 2021 and that by Q4 2021, a resounding 86% of professionals felt they would be comfortable attending in-person events if appropriate safety precautions were taken.

Event size is important, as just over half of the respondents felt that the size of an event would impact their decision to attend, even if appropriate safety precautions were taken. Respondents also predicted that the largest in-person events in 2021 would be capped at 250 attendees, and that most will incorporate a hybrid or virtual component to bring in more people.

Although 81% of respondents will be ready to get on a plane in late 2021, they also found that many companies are still hesitant to allow work-related travel. In fact, more than 49% of companies surveyed have an all-out ban on travel, while 47% have cut, frozen or reduced travel budgets for 2021.

Not surprisingly, 92% of respondents said that a vaccine is the most important factor in bringing back face-to-face events. 58% of them would consider attending in-person events sooner if vaccines were widely available. (Related: 70% would return sooner if COVID-19 cases dropped significantly.)
Meeting and Event Re-Opening Guidance:
As we track the re-opening progress in the State and how it applies to Sonoma County, we wanted to share a recent article from NorthStar that highlighted the advocacy efforts toward gaining guidance and clarity from the State on meetings, business events and conventions.

Additionally, the recent announcement that theme parks, stadium and outdoor performances will be allowed to reopen to some capacity as of April 1 provides allowances as follows:

  • Purple Tier: Outdoor venues will be strictly limited to a total of 100 people, with only local residents permitted, advance reservations or tickets required, and no concessions or concourse sales allowed.
  • Red Tier: Capacity will be limited to 20%% and concession sales will be primarily in-seat; in-state attendance is allowed.
  • Orange Tier: Capacity will be limited to 33% with in-state attendance allowed.
  • Yellow Tier: The least-restrictive allows a capacity increase to 67%, and in-state attendance.

While the announcement for the April reopening of theme parks, stadiums and outdoor performances does not directly impact or create allowances for meeting and events, we see this as a positive step forward, and offers optimism for future guidance where group business is concerned. A few things we can garner from the State’s priorities in the return to gatherings, and how they may be integrated into future guidance, are:

  • Capacity limits at the various tier levels, which creates some level of anticipation for how these may apply to meeting and events.
  • Attendance being limited to regional or in-state, at least at this time, lends to the potential that this may also be a factor in the return of group business.
  • Concessions are not allowed or will be limited to delivery direct to seats (they are not re-opening parks and stadiums with physically distanced lines), which we foresee will carry over and impact food and beverage allowances for other types of events as those return.

The Group Business Development team will continue to share planner sentiment, trends, insights, as well as state and local guidance. Please do not hesitate to connect if we can answer questions and be of support to you and your team as we move through the tiers of re-opening.
Website Insights for
During the period of Feb 26 - March 4, 2021 the top content that people were engaging with on the website was: Coronavirus page, 13 wineries with gardens, Sonoma County Restaurant Week, Bodega Bay and coastal content, mustard flowers, lodging articles like glamping and unique inns, along with restaurants (outdoor seating), and several itineraries such as the 48 hours getaways series. Our blog saw traffic for 12 new food trucks, black owned businesses, and what to expect after the fires (still lingering fire worry!).

San Francisco is #1 and represents 14% of the total traffic this past week. San José moved up to #3, Los Angeles is #4, Sacramento moved up to #6, Oakland moved up to #8. We see 3 out-of-state cities in the top 25: New York, Chicago, and Seattle.
STR Tracking for Sonoma County
Things to Note:

  • STR is comparing “Weekly Year Over Year.”
  • 47 of the county’s 125 hotels report to STR.
  • The average from other destinations includes: Napa, Palm Springs, Monterey, South Lake Tahoe, and Vallejo/Napa Valley.
  • For more information on how data is calculated due to hotel closures, please refer to this document.
Smith Travel Research (STR) is the recognized leader in hospitality industry benchmarking around the globe. Powered by the world's largest hotel data sample, they deliver confidential data, accurate and actionable insights, and comprehensive solutions to empower decisions. Discover how STR collects data, how it is calculated, and a glossary of terms, by clicking here