ANA: More than one-third of marketers unclear on when business travel will return

Dive Brief:

  • More than one-third (35%) of marketers are unclear on when their business will again permit travel as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, according to a new survey from the Association of National Advertisers (ANA).
  • Less than 4% of respondents forecast their companies will reinstate travel between February and May, setting up midyear as a more likely timeframe. But 16% of marketers don’t see such plans getting approved until 2022.
  • A key issue is vaccine distribution, as 75% of marketers will only feel comfortable traveling once they’re immunized. The upshot is that events like in-person conferences and awards shows could still be far off for many brands.

Dive Insight:

This time last year, major industry confabs were starting to enact cancellations or make the jump to a virtual format as COVID-19 spread around the world. The shift away from in-person get-togethers appears here to stay until midyear at the earliest amid a patchy vaccine rollout and as the pandemic continues to pose serious threats to public health.

President Joe Biden has attempted to accelerate distribution of COVID-19 vaccines since taking office in January, but the administration has faced criticism for not being ambitious enough with its targets, along with grappling with the logistical challenges of a national vaccine program. In the meantime, travel remains a nonstarter for many brands.

Seventy-six percent of marketers said their business does not allow for travel at the moment, the ANA found in its survey of member and nonmember marketers. Fourteen percent said travel is only allowed when approved by higher-ups or if the trip is intended to address critical client needs.

Many marketing executives would not travel even if they could, which is significant since 43% of the ANA’s survey-takers approve their own trips. Just 2.5% of marketers are open to traveling domestically by air. Three-quarters of marketers won’t find travel acceptable until they’re immunized, while 70% said they’re waiting on “broad distribution of the coronavirus vaccine,” per the ANA. Others said that they’ll only travel when there’s a “substantial” decline in positive COVID-19 cases.

Summer appears a likely period for some form of reopening for marketers, falling in line with projections from Biden on when the U.S. will have enough vaccines to fully inoculate the population. Nearly 13% of the ANA’s respondents said they expect travel to pick up in June, while 23% said July and 30% said August.

“[The] good news is that most companies are anticipating an uptick in travel later this year, and that number increases gradually into the fall months,” ANA chief executive Bob Liodice said in a press statement. “We might not reach pre-COVID levels, but the signs are positive that we’re heading in the right direction.”

Ongoing uncertainty hasn’t cooled the ambitions of some event organizers. Cannes Lions, which was canceled last year due to COVID-19 concerns, plans to host its award show in-person the third week of June. The decision has drawn criticism, although Cannes Lions will offer digital passes, an offering it first introduced in 2016, per Adweek.

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