Analysis of travel websites illustrates just how quickly traffic went off a cliff, once COVID-19 was accepted as a real threat by consumers and governments.
SimilarWeb says the “perceived threat” was apparent once cases numbered more than 20 in different countries.
The analytics company notes what it calls a “pivot point” in consumer and business behavior in the first couple of weeks of March when the impact on web traffic was “substantial.”
In its Global Coronavirus Impact report, the company has looked at the spread of the virus and its ripple effect on consumers and online travel traffic globally as well as in the U.K. and U.S.
Europe was in the middle of the crisis by mid-March, with Italy and Spain already in lockdown.
SimilarWeb says that while there was already pressure on traffic prior to the virus being recognized as a serious threat, the real decline is seen when mandatory travel restrictions went into place.
At the time of the report, there were no signs of any improvement in international markets with the exception of Hong Kong, where there were some indication of a stabilization of the outbreak.
Direct traffic to airlines, hotels and other suppliers is also captured in the report, showing a spike in activity attributed to consumers and business travelers seeking cancelations, refunds and, in many cases, the latest information about the status of a trip.
At the time of the report, the U.S. was also seeing huge declines in traffic as companies blocked travel and large gatherings were stopped.
All travel suppliers suffered while web conferencing services and food delivery companies saw huge gains.
Declines in traffic for online travel platforms, including travel agencies and metasearch engines increased week by week from the end of February.
SimilarWeb says that in early-March, traffic was down almost 30% for the category compared to low double digit declines before February 26.
Hotel chains saw similar patterns as events were halted, although SimilarWeb says corporate clients looking for refunds will again have impacted the data.
Rental platforms however seem to have fared a little better which is attributed to the “stickier process” for refunds in hotels.
As with other geographies, online travel platforms have seen significant traffic declines.
From mid-March, seven-day traffic for the group is more than 30% down while individually all travel agencies are down by a similar percentage apart from Skyscanner.