Holidays could be answer to COVID blues: research

It seems one of the best things to do if feeling stressed and unhappy during the global pandemic is take a COVID-safe holiday, according to the findings of new USC research.

An online survey of more than 600 Australians, from all states except Victoria, found that those who have travelled during the pandemic reported having significantly higher levels of wellbeing than those who have stayed at home.

Dr Shahab Pourfakhimi from USC’s School of Business said the research provided a snapshot of how COVID-19 was affecting people’s travel intentions.

“With global travel off-limits and restrictions on travelling interstate, there has been a surge in people booking holidays within their own state since the pandemic was declared in March,” said Dr Pourfakhimi, who lectures in Tourism, Leisure and Event Management.

The study divided the respondents into equal groups of those who have travelled within Australia since restrictions in most states were eased in June, and those who have not.

“As well as surveying people’s willingness to holiday during this time, we asked them to rate their levels of happiness, satisfaction with life and sense of wellbeing,” Dr Pourfakhimi said.

“Those who travelled generally reported being happier, more content and having a greater sense of wellbeing compared to non-travellers,” he said. “They also reported having higher levels of resilience, coping skills and optimism about their future.”

He said nine out of 10 travellers had spent at least two nights at another destination, which signalled that intra-state visitation was making a significant economic contribution to regional tourism amid the current crisis.

The survey found those who have already holidayed during this pandemic were significantly more likely to holiday again under similar COVID-safe conditions.

Fear of COVID-19 infection and spread was found to be a significant barrier for travel during the pandemic, while after the easing of restrictions, respondents said they expected to feel more confident travelling domestically than internationally due to the virus.

USC Lecturer in Marketing Dr Rory Mulcahy said the snapshot had provided several take-aways for tourism organisations and individual operators.

“There is currently a great advantage in marketing to people on the notion of enhancing wellbeing by promoting the feel-good benefits of the holiday destination, including increased resilience and ability to cope with normal life,” he said.

“With fear of COVID a major deterrent to travel, another take-away is the importance of ensuring and promoting the safety of a destination.”

With many domestic holiday destinations currently experiencing mini booms, the researchers said a key issue is what might happen once restrictions are lifted, and wider travel options become available.

Three out of four respondents said they would be willing to travel domestically in the absence of COVID-19, while less than half intended to travel internationally.

“This suggests there will be a strong interest in domestic travel once the COVID crisis is resolved, and tourism operators need to find ways to leverage this,” Dr Mulcahy said.

About 27 percent of respondents said it was likely they would lose their income due to COVID-19 or face financial difficulties, while a third were worried about this possibility.

“After the pandemic, price is likely to become the biggest barrier to holiday-taking. So tourism operators should tailor their marketing and product offerings accordingly,” he said.

The study is part of collaborative research that also involves USC Sustainability Research Centre Adjunct Professor Noel Scott, USC PhD candidate Ellie Falatoonitoosi and Professor Girish Prayag from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.

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