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College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management

  • A blurred image of people waiting in line at an airport.

USC tourism management researchers find travel anxiety is down

The arrival of the holiday season means traveling time for many Americans, and tourism management researchers at the University of South Carolina say travelers are less anxious about the journeys now than they have been in nearly two years.

Lori Pennington-Gray and her team at the university's Richardson Family SmartState Center for Economic Excellence in Tourism and Economic Development have launched the Domestic Travel Anxiety Index, a barometer of travelers’ anxiety, worry, and fear associated with leisure travel within the United States. The index is a resource for the tourism industry that can help inform tourism management strategies.

Updated monthly through ongoing surveys of travelers, the October 2022 index shows travel anxiety at its lowest level since before the pandemic.

October Index Key Statistics

  • The number 79.7

    Monthly Index Score

  • The number -11.4%

    Month / Month Difference

  • The number -20.3%

    Month / Baseline Difference

"The current decrease in the travel anxiety index suggests that people are less anxious about travel than during the peak COVID times. A reading above 100 signals travelers have an anxious feeling towards domestic travel. In September, the traveler anxiety index was 90.0, slightly less than 100, suggesting slightly lower anxiety levels. In October, the traveler anxiety index was 79.7 which suggests still lower levels of anxiety," says Pennington-Gray, director and endowed chair of the center, housed in the university’s College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management.

The declining level of anxiety is good news not only for travelers, but also for all Americans, given the importance of travel to the nation’s economy. Tourism is South Carolina’s largest industry, and its impact touches every area of the United States.

"Tourism is either the first, second or third largest contributor to the economy in every state in the U.S.," says Pennington-Gray, the first South Carolina faculty member to be named a Fellow of the Academy of Leisure Sciences. "And so it plays a huge role in economic development and people’s livelihoods. People have this innate desire to travel and that’s part of the reason for measuring anxiety, because it’s related to so many other factors that impact our lives."

Data gathered since the peak of the pandemic shows an overall ongoing decline in travel anxiety, though there are fluctuations.

"Looking ahead, inflationary pressures may curtail consumer spending which might impact travel," says Pennington-Gray. "With rising health concerns due to increases in influenza, COVID and RSV, travel anxiety might elevate slightly in the coming months."

The SmartState Tourism Center, housed within South Carolina’s College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management, was established in 2010. It is dedicated to generating data-driven insights that inform and support the growth of tourism economies. The Domestic Travel Anxiety Index is part of the center’s Tourism Crisis Management Initiative and the latest reports are a relaunch of the index that began in 2020.

For more details and to download a copy of the latest index visit the SmartState Tourism anxiety index page.

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