Data Show Some People Are Willing To Book Forward Travel

Even with air travel decimated by the pandemic, lockdowns and travel restrictions, some optimistic travelers are beginning to search online for potential travel destinations at the right price.Travel intelligence firm ADARA says it has seen an increased uptick in search activity for domestic and international flights to China, which has gradually opened its tourist sites and cities that were under lockdown. As of early March, global searches for travel to China had increased 29% week-on-week. 

ADARA taps data from more than 270 partners and analyses 30 data points from over 850 million travelers. These data points are monitored and updated daily. 

In Asia, searches for flights to China and South Korea had become the most frequent, but that quickly changed when new cases of COVID-19 were reported in those countries.

“While the number of new [virus] cases in China has remained low, search activity dampened towards the end of March,” ADARA chief marketing officer Carolyn Corda said. “This is likely due to new government measures aimed at preventing a relapse in the number of cases, including the suspension of entry by foreign travelers.”

International travel to and from China remained limited through May as Beijing works to curb imported cases, implementing the “five ones” rule in which an airline is allowed only one weekly flight to China from any country. By the end of April, only 21 foreign airlines and 14 Chinese carriers were operating international flights to and from China.

The situation is mirrored in South Korea, which has seen a similar pattern of travel demand, with two surges in destination search in the middle of March that followed a sharp decline in new virus cases, before tapering off in April when Seoul imposed new travel restrictions on foreigners. 

US trends

In the US, Corda says there were mini-surges in domestic flight searches toward the end of March, although the general trend was still downward. Demand for business travel has also continued to decline.

“There was a large increase in bookings made well in advance of travel between 24-31 March, compared with the immediate seven-day period prior, particularly for the cities of Honolulu, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, by 130%, 107% and 90%, respectively,” she said. 

With flight cancellations increasing after COVID-19 reached the US, airlines have implemented flexible change policies. As a result, major US destinations like New York and Miami, which also have seen some of the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases, saw smaller increases in advance bookings of 91 days or more as travelers make full use of the change policies and begin planning for vacations to those cities later in the year.


Community lockdown measures across Europe led to 25%-50% year-on-year declines in search activity for domestic and inbound international flights across the whole of the continent through the week of April 5. But ADARA data did show slight improvements in searches for flights departing in June and July.

Corda emphasized that the regional trends do not accurately reflect on-ground outlooks in each market. For example, ADARA’s analysis of the same dataset found significant differences between the UK, Germany and Switzerland markets in forward-looking intent. 

“UK data shows two peaks in search volume for flights departing in May and June, while Germany data reveals a single peak in late April and search volume in Switzerland follows a sawtooth pattern over the same period,” she noted. “These variations likely reflect the vacation calendars in the origin markets, perceptions of health safety, as well as actual restrictions, along with fare pricing that is enticing people to think about travel a few months out. They underscore the importance of tracking shifts in demand at the market level, in order to accurately determine and respond to the eventual rebound.”

However, the potential economic and unemployment fallout from a protracted outbreak and lockdown could see part of the low- to middle-income segment being wiped out. The United Nation’s International Labor Organization estimates 195 million people will be left unemployed from the COVID-19 impact, making air travel a low priority.

Chen Chuanren

Chen Chuanren is the Southeast Asia and China Editor for the Aviation Week Network’s (AWN) Air Transport World (ATW) and the Asia-Pacific Defense Correspondent for AWN, joining the team in 2017.