Something in the Way we Move – TRAVEL in the NOW

1st May 2020


  • Covid-19 virus spreads as infected people travel and take it with them
  • Governments have imposed restrictions on movement and travel to contain the pandemic
  • People are still out of the home, but their movements have shifted from city-centres to the suburbs
  • Sunshine may encourage movement out of home
  • International travel is highly limited
  • Brits are optimistically planning post-pandemic foreign holidays in 2021
  • Uncertainty ahead

The current state of UK travel is defined by the universal fact that as people travel so too can the spread of the Covid-19 virus with them. As a result, restrictions on mobility and travel have been introduced by governments across the world including on international travel. However, what we are supposed to do and what we actually do can differ. We know people are still out of the home, but their movements have shifted from city-centres to the suburbs. This piece looks at what we know about UK travel patterns right now.

Movement is far more suburban

Our work with Locomizer’s location data supports what others such Google’s mobility report have been indicating: people have shifted from the city centre to the suburbs. Since the UK lockdown officially started on 23rd March, we have seen a major shift from people moving around city centres (and key places of work) to people moving around more suburban areas. This is a major shift in behaviour, for now, although some elements remain similar to pre-pandemic times e.g. spikes of more movement in general on the weekend. We have mapped the shift from city centre to suburban movement in our proprietary platform ECOS here.

We want to be out of home (and in the sun)

Apple’s mobility data suggests that from the 3rd -24th April the number of requests for walking and driving directions has increased by around seven percentage points. This could be for a number of reasons e.g. people exploring their locales more for new public spaces to roam, an alternative to their understocked local supermarket, delivery drivers navigating new e-commerce customer territories – or just enthusiasm for that rare British sunshine.


Parks and recreation

April’s good weather coincided with an increased (less of a decrease) visit to parks. Google’s mobility report shows visits to parks crept up from a -54% drop from the baseline on 28th March to almost baseline levels of a mere –6% drop on 15th April from the Jan/Feb baseline, in what was looking like the sunniest and driest April on record – until the recent resumption of rain. We cannot claim a causation just yet, but it looks suspicious.

Rain and cloud cover seemed to break-up the momentum of increasing park visits. With typical British weather now back to normal we could see park visits decrease again. This could then have knock on effects on other leisure behaviours e.g. potential increases in gaming, shopping online and travel trends.


A perfect time for brands to get local

As the charts above and our other reports indicate, we are out of home but not in the usual way. Nevertheless, there is a suburban opportunity beyond the goodwill messages we have seen in city centres. People are still making trips to parks and supermarkets. Roads will be used to get to these locations and there are OOH sites on the way. Many people’s (disrupted) lives are in and around their homes more than ever, so tailoring ads to their locale and new dilemmas should be more relevant and engaging than ever. Slapping a town name on existing creative is not the way to go and brands need to avoid jumping on the bandwagon but if they localize authentically and think empathetically then their localized and thoughtful ads will work hard…and they even lift spirits!

‘The Moments of Truth‘ research identified an +18% uplift in engagement when context – such as location – was added to DOOH messaging.

Travel and mobility are down

With fewer places to go and the public health need to stay at home, UK traffic is down by c.60% with some public transport like London Underground and Rail down more than 95%. With people making only ‘essential’ journeys and working from home where possible, public transport hubs have seen a 71% reduction in visits overall.


We want to travel abroad (and we really want some sun)

If we cannot have sunshine in the UK, Brits are certainly planning for sunshine abroad. At the start of isolation, we saw a surge in UK searches for holidays in Spain for October whilst bookings to Italy and Spain had been reported to be (unsurprisingly) down 80%. Whether, and when, bookings result from these isolation searches is another question but the human need to travel to faraway places, for family, business or leisure, is strong, especially in a globalized world – especially when we’re prevented from doing so.

Clearly dreams of being abroad are grabbing attention now as an escape from the mundane. Before leisure travel resumes brands can use wanderlust to engage audiences and break-up the now-routine trip to the supermarket or park. Once it resumes, there is another opportunity for brands to use OOH ads to be helpful to born-again tourists. Wayfinding and ‘welcome-backs’ are obvious tactics to employ but the key thing will be to make tourists trips as memorable and shareable as possible. Fear and financial pain could prevent many from travelling; having those that do travel as advocates and examples will help tourism recover quicker.


Awaiting an initial recovery in short-haul business flights

After the pandemic, we are likely to have a global recession and associated belt-tightening to contend with which will have an impact on all travel. That plus depressed flight/hotel searches and bookings makes for bleak travel news but with some countries starting to ease restrictions we could see some domestic travel start to recover. Sojern’s data shows few people are planning more than 30-days in advance to visit an attraction; these shortened lead-times are of course a result of uncertainty. International business travel has seen huge declines in-line with leisure travel, perhaps even slightly worse according to ARC, with massively depressed prices and sales in April.

As a bellwether for international travel overall, we are eagerly awaiting a recovery in short-haul business travel once restrictions start to lift. With its return will come a unique opportunity to target international travellers in a unique mindset at airports. The essential business flights happening during this recovery phase will see airports as concentrations of focused and determined business execs looking to solve huge problems. Their brains will be on the lookout for relevant partners and products to navigate the challenging commercial times ahead.

Sojern data

February – March – April Global Flights


Travel changes are dynamic at the best of times…

Whilst there is ostensibly a new, more suburban normal in the UK and changed lead times in international travel, these are just dynamic, emerging behaviours. We cannot be fooled into thinking we have reached a permanent ‘new normal’ in travel. Changes to government policy, mortality rates and economic performance will cause dramatic shifts in our travel behaviours. OOH is a medium built around travel behaviours (pedestrian, vehicular, aviation, public transport) so, it is tied to the way we travel. For now, travel and OOH are more pedestrian and more suburban; therein lies the opportunity and the limits.

That is only now though. Humans are not meant to isolate. Will people stick to travel restrictions in the near future? What might happen to travel beyond the now? What will this mean for OOH? We will investigate these questions and others in our Near and Next: Travel report in the coming weeks.

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