UGA researchers to conduct national survey on travel behavior, motivations during COVID-19

Airports on Memorial Day weekend are usually packed, and hotels are all booked up, but not this year.

The coronavirus has hit the travel and hospitality industries hard.

“A lot of the job is me by myself in hotel rooms, so I just feel like I’m on a very long layover trying to keep myself occupied,” said Lexi Nunn, a flight attendant.

Nunn is fairly new to her job as a flight attendant. She graduated from college last May, but one year later, the job looks much different.

She is one of many airline staffers on temporary leave. Her return date is up in the air.

“This is the longest I’ve spent on the ground in a long time. It’s very weird. The job is so much more than a job. It’s truly a lifestyle,” Nunn said.

One University of Georgia researcher says Georgia is only second in the southeast for employment in the hospitality and tourism sector.

“March and April are two of the busiest months for the state of Georgia," said Dr. John Salazar, coordinator of the hospitality and food management program at UGA. "That really takes the wind out of the tourism economy cell.”

To better understand the long-term impacts, Salazar and a group of researchers have begun drafting a national survey to gauge travel behavior and motivations during COVID-19.

“A significant proportion of our economy is relying on consumer behavior," Salazar said. "Travel motivation and hospitality services are really at the core of that consumption paradigm.”

Nunn says she volunteered to take the leave since she is in a better financial situation than some of her coworkers.

But she knows firsthand the economic impact COVID-19 has had.

“Knowing that some people are struggling. There are people who pick up trips all the time just to make ends meet, and now we can’t even make our minimum guarantee for the month,” she said.

The researchers hope to send the survey out nationally in a few weeks.