Kimono Tea Ceremony Maikoya and Samurai & Ninja Museum, two key experience providers from Japan, studied and analyzed the effects of the pandemic on travel behavior in depth and found out that people are likely to skip major cities and vacation for longer going forward. Post-quarantine and -lockdown, travelers generally seem more concerned about sustainability and the need to support local businesses. However, the only lasting changes may come with extra safety precautions, with other aspects reverting more or less back to normal.
For example, most travelers think virtual tours and online experiences are no substitutes for real-life activities. Most also have no intention of giving up on shared group activities or museums and prefer traditional accommodation options to AirBnB. About half of the respondents stated that provided the pandemic ended, their approach to travel would remain unchanged. About one fifth of respondents mentioned the importance of taking fewer but better trips and supporting local experience providers and local businesses. Overall, little change is apparent, other than increased demand for premium and safe travel experiences and the potential positive impact of working from home on the intentions to travel abroad.
Recently, there have been news stories in the mainstream media that travel after the Coronavirus pandemic would change the behavior of tourists fundamentally. Many stories mentioned how people would avoid indoor places () and favor home rentals over hotels (). The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) declared that the future of tourism still has many uncertainties after recording a 60~80% decline in 2020 ().
In response to this new environment and to understand travelers’ priorities, Tea Ceremony Maikoya and Samurai & Ninja Museum conducted a survey asking international travelers about their future plans and also checked whether the survey findings matched recent Google search trends, a practice common in tourism research ().
Table I: Behavioral intentions of Future International Travelers
Note: These findings were further compared to and confirmed with Google search trends; please read below and check Appendix I~IV for detailed information.
1- People will try to visit small towns more (but first-timers may not)
By now it is clear that people are likely to avoid major crowded cities and explore remote towns with secluded areas after the pandemic. This finding was clear in answers to both our open-ended and closed-ended survey questions. However, this finding did not apply when we compared monthly travel-related search queries on Google for small towns and big cities from 2019 and 2020. We expected that the decline for travel-related search queries would be low for small towns and huge for major cities but the level of decline was almost the same. We think this may be attributable to the fact that most first-time travelers still want to see famous landmarks and check out things to do in big cities where major airports are located. See Appendix I below for more info.
2- Less frequent but longer trips
More than half our survey respondents indicated that their future travels would be longer as can be seen in Table I. We also confirmed this finding with our Google search query comparisons. We were surprised to find out that the decline for “1-month Japan itinerary” search queries in 2020 was far smaller than the query for “1-week Japan itinerary.” The same pattern existed for search queries of “1-week Europe itinerary” and “1-month Europe itinerary.” See Appendix I below for more info.
3- Travelers will still visit indoor museums and join group activities
As Table I shows, most of the travelers intended to visit (indoor) museums and join food tours which involve interacting with a group of strangers. To our great surprise, almost a quarter of the respondents wanted to visit museums more than before. Moreover, most travelers indicated a greater willingness to participate in food tasting tours after the pandemic. This finding tallied with Google search frequencies: the decline in queries for local museums and food tours was lower than for generic travel queries. Apparently, people’s interest in food and culture has intensified while being stuck at home for an extended period during the pandemic. See Appendix I below for more info.
4- Travelers will not necessarily choose AirBnB over hotels
Our survey showed that travelers’ intentions to choose AirBnB over hotels slightly changed after the pandemic (Table I), but that this change was not necessarily positive. While about a quarter of respondents intended to choose AirBnB over hotels, about the same percentage indicated that they were less willing to consider AirBnB. When we compared the frequencies of Google search queries for AirBnB and hotels in major cities in 2019 and 2020, we found that AirBnB was actually getting less popular than hotels. The decline for AirBnB queries on Google was significantly higher compared to searches for hotels. While this may have to do with mistrust of third-party hosts’ sanitation practices, it may also have to do with new post-Corona regulations or AirBnB’s marketing practices or the safety perceptions of upscale hotels. See Appendix I below for more info.
5- Sustainability and supporting local businesses will be trendier
Our analysis of Google search queries showed that the only types of travel searches that did not decline in 2020 were the ones related to sustainability and ecology (See Appendix 1). Additionally, we asked an open-ended question to all participants about how they thought their travel behavior would differ in future. About half stated that provided the pandemic ended, their approach to travel would remain unchanged. Numerous travelers reaffirmed how they would still care about hygiene, sanitation and safety even after the pandemic. About one fifth of respondents mentioned the importance of taking fewer but longer trips and supporting local experience providers and local businesses. The fact that these were spontaneous answers reflect a steady shift towards sustainability. The sample unprompted open-ended sample responses are provided in Appendix III.
6- Wealthy people will be first to travel abroad
We did not ask the survey respondents when they were planning to travel as international travel depends on whether the borders are open and the kind of governmental policies applied in each country. However, when we analyzed the Google search queries for various hotels, we noticed that luxury hotels were impacted less than all the other types in general. It was interesting to see that the number of queries for “budget Tokyo hotels” dropped almost twice more than the queries for “5-star hotels in Tokyo.”
7- Working from home means more opportunities to take vacations
Another pattern that emerged from our data was that those who worked from home plan to travel more in future (Appendix II). As remote working gives people more opportunities to travel, those working from home tend to prefer more trips that are longer. At the same time 43% of office workers mentioned they would take more trips than before. A side note that should be mentioned here is the difference between remote workers and office workers when it comes to intentions to travel more was only 10%. While working from home means people can go on “workations” anytime they want, it also means that people have more time to spend with their families and they may not need more family vacations than before.
8- Virtual tours and online experiences will be for special occasions only
We asked the respondents whether they would be interested in online cultural experiences and virtual walking tours for approximately half the price of what it would cost for an in-person equivalent. Most respondents said they would not be interested in virtual experiences because it would not be the same as the real thing, unless it was a cooking class where they could get the ingredients beforehand. Meanwhile, over the past half year, Maikoya Tea Ceremony, and Samurai & Ninja Museum have received many inquiries for teambuilding and cultural group activities via Zoom for special occasions (celebrations, birthdays, etc.). We thus concluded that virtual tours and online experiences are unlikely to replace actual tours and experiences. See Appendix IV more information.
9- Masks will be around for a while
Respondents mentioned that even after the pandemic they would pack masks and sanitation materials whenever traveling abroad. Accordingly, we can expect mask-wearing habits to persist and hotels and ryokans will be careful in providing extra sanitization services, even after the pandemic. See Appendix III.
10- Female travelers care more about travel safety
Consistent with the past tourism studies (), we found that female respondents were more concerned about safety in general and cited safety and hygiene concerns more frequently than male respondents in the sample. We also noted that females were more likely to choose hotels over AirBnB based on the tabulations of Table I.
What are travelers’ concerns about online experiences and virtual tours & classes?
Our Open ended Responses and Google Trends analysis yielded these results:
- Time Zone Differences: Any online experience during the day time would exclude about half the world population.
- Labor is the same but perceived value is lower: Travelers don’t think online experiences can have the same value despite the fact that experience providers need to spend about the same amount of time and effort, if not more.
- Problems with shipping the ingredients overseas: Our survey shows that participants want the ingredients or tools necessary for online experiences.
- Diminishing novelty: The number of Google searches for typical virtual tours and online cultural experiences is decreasing except for the demand for virtual team building that Maikoya focuses on.
Differences between domestic travelers and International tourists
Comparisons of Google search queries in Japanese and English yielded these results:
- Weekends only: Domestic tourists usually consider local cultural experiences mostly on weekends because of their jobs or family obligations.
- Certain times of the year only: Domestic tourists usually don’t stay overnight except for certain seasons and the searches peak just before national holidays.
- Not Once-in-a-lifetime: Most locals do not search for history tours or bucket list cultural experiences in their home countries.
Appendix I Search Queries for Various Travel-related Concepts before and after the Pandemic
Appendix II Differences between Those Who Work from Home vs. Those Who Work at an Office
Appendix III Travelers’ Intentions to Change Their Traveling Behavior after the Pandemic
Appendix IV Travelers Reactions to Online Experiences and Virtual Tours
|Q: If you travel internationally, would you do the following more often or less often? (After the borders are open and it is safe to travel again)||More often||Same as before||Less often|
|Visiting small towns instead of big historic cities||62%||35%||3%|
|Staying at an AirBnB or Vrbo||22%||58%||20%|
|Visiting famous museums||22%||64%||14%|
|Joining a food tasting tour||53%||37%||10%|
|Taking long trips (e.g. multiple weeks or longer)||54%||39%||7%|
|Traveling in general (Will you travel more or less?)||52%||41%||7%|
Travel-related Monthly Search Queries on Google: Comparison of 2019 & 2020
Source: Google Adwords, Sample: English speaking countries
|Explanation||Search Query||October 2019||October 2020||Percentage of Decline|
|Search queries for long term trips are getting “relatively” more popular||1 week Japan Itinerary (Short trip)||590||50||-92%|
|1 month Japan Itinerary (Long trip)||90||50||-44%|
|1 week Europe Itinerary (Short trip)||260||30||-88%|
|1 month Europe Itinerary (Long trip)||260||90||-65%|
|“Relatively” lower percentage of people are searching for AIRBNB in big cities compared to people who are searching for hotels||AIRBNB Tokyo||14800||3600||-76%|
|Search queries related to sustainable travel recorded zero drop!||SUSTAINABLE hotels Europe||20||20||0%|
|ECO FRIENDLY hotels||1900||1900||0%|
|Search queries for big cities are NOT “relatively” less popular compared to small towns||Things to do in TOKYO (Big City)||40500||6600||-84%|
|Things to do in KYOTO (Small City)||18100||1900||-90%|
|Things to do in TAKAYAMA (Small Town)||590||70||-88%|
|Things to do in MILAN (Big City)||22200||4400||-80%|
|Things to do in TUSCANY (Small Town)||1900||390||-79%|
|Things to do in PARIS (Big City)||60500||12100||-80%|
|Things to do in CANNES -Small Town||1600||390||-76%|
|Group activities and indoor museums are NOT “relatively” less popular than before.||Food Tour Rome||1900||260||-86%|
|Food Tour Tokyo||1300||260||-80%|
|Q: If you travel internationally, would you do the following more often or less often? (After the borders are open and it is safe to travel again)||Employed or business owner mostly working from HOME||Employed or business owner mostly working at the office/factory|
|Taking long trips more often||60%||49%|
|Traveling more often||53%||43%|
|Categorization of representative answers||Unprompted Open-Ended Responses to the Question: Do you think you will change the way you travel after the borders are open and it is safe to travel again? If yes, how?|
|Safety||I would travel the same way as long as it is safe to travel again. If we were to make any changes, it would just be to bring disinfecting wipes to be able to clean things if we saw necessary.|
|Safety||Not really, maybe just be more conscious of hygiene such as wear a mask more and carry sanitiser|
|Safety||Outside of any modifications that may be recommended for COVID safety, I don’t think my style of travel will change much in the future.|
|Safety||Pack a mask! Otherwise about the same|
|Safety||Taking more precautions and expecting higher level of services in terms of cleaner environment and maintaining social distancing, better crowd control|
|Safety||Yes, choose safe/healthy places and those who make an effort and have proven to be safe.|
|Sustainable & local||I would though be more mindful of supporting smaller businesses too.|
|Sustainable & local||In general I think I will travel the same however will make more of an effort to support small businesses|
|Sustainable & local||I guess I would try out more. I would probalby want to have a holiday just as the locals would have it.|
|Sustainable & local||I will be more interested in staying in smaller towns and enjoying local experiences.|
|Sustainable & local||I would like to tour Japan on holiday & have some of it organised by a local person|
|Sustainable & local||To be efficient with flights, I will try to visit multiple countries in Europe/Asia on the same trip.|
|Sustainable & local||I will likely be more careful about attending crowded places, and will likely go on a few longer trips instead of lots of short trips.|
|Sustainable & local||I will travel primarily by airplane to the destination and make use of public transportation as much as possible, avoiding taxis unless necessary|
|Categorization of representative answers||Q: Would you be interested in ONLINE cooking class, VIRTUAL Tea ceremony, VIRTUAL interactive walking tour, VIRTUAL sake tasting or ONLINE zen meditation that costs $30 per session? Why, why not? (Approximately 25% negative, 50% conditional or ambivalent and 25% positive responses)|
|Time||Maybe – the main factor for me is time rather than cost. Also time difference could be an issue|
|Time||Possibly. Depending on time and artifacts/food availability in my country.|
|Time||no – these activities are relevant in the context of an international trip. Also time difference due to timezone would make it very hard|
|Time||Sound good. Cost/Time Factor Is important.|
|Ingredients||I would definitely be interested in an online cooking class, as long as it used ingredients that I am able to get here.|
|Ingredients||I would be interested. It would depend on timing and whether I would need to buy my own ingredients on top of the $30…|
|Value||No. Doing virtually doesn’t really interest me.|
|Value||Unfortunately no, I would prefer to participate in person and would wait until I can visit Japan again.|
|Value||No, I would not be interested in those. For all those virtual sessions, I can find on youtube.|
|Value||No, virtual experience would not be as enjoyable as in person|
|Value||No. It is a tough predicament. These experiences are much more worth it in person.|
|Value||The price seems expensive. I expect that a number of similar activities/experiences already exist for free on YouTube.|
|Value||No. Feel that it wouldn’t be an authentic experience.|
|Value||Can’t really beat the authenticity of doing it live. Especially a tea-ceremony.|
During the month of October, 2020 the password-protected online questionnaires were sent to travelers who made a reservation for an activity in Kyoto or Tokyo on https://mai-ko.com/. A total of 102 respondents from 22 countries who participated in a cultural experience abroad filled out the surveys. The respondents were informed about the purpose of the study and no individually identifying or confidential information was collected.
Google (Alphabet Inc.) provides a free service to its advertisers listing monthly average search volume for search queries that can be tabulated by location and language. Google search volumes are often used by tourism practitioners and academicians internationally.
Kimono Tea Ceremony Maikoya is one of the top cultural experience providers in Japan with 4 branches and more than 3000 five-star reviews on various platforms. Maikoya also provides its guests with additional services such as kimono rental, photography, zen meditation retreats, zen monastery stays, ryokan reservations, onsen reservations, Kyoto tours, online tea ceremonies, virtual zen meditation, online cooking classes, geisha culture introductions, maiko performances, food tours and cooking classes in Tokyo and Kyoto.
About Samurai & Ninja Museum Kyoto
Samurai & Ninja Museum Kyoto is a leading samurai museum in Japan that offers unique samurai experiences such as sword cutting in addition to offering ninja training experiences as well as ninja history tours in Kyoto.
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