Can the travel money business survive coronavirus? Consumer Intelligence’s new International Spending report reveals that although the majority of people still took some cash on holiday with them, over three quarters of spending in most categories at the destination was on cards, rather than in cash, with only spending on restaurants, bars and entertainment falling below this level.


A declining category

Before coronavirus, cash was declining as a spending tool abroad, but a significant number of people still relied upon it.

Our study shows that the majority (65 per cent) of people still took some cash on holiday with them, however it was used for the minority of purchases. Only a quarter of grocery store payments abroad are now in cash, with a similar percentage of hotel payments at the destination.

How people spent on their last holiday

MicrosoftTeams-image (2)
Source: Consumer Intelligence International Spending Report March 2020


The survey also found that
• Nearly two thirds of people are using credit or debit cards abroad, with a sharp generational divide on who uses which
• Older people are more likely to use a credit card and younger people more likely to use a debit card.
• Younger people are the most likely to use a multi-currency account card

What cards did people use abroad?

  Everyone 18-34 35-54 55+
I used my UK debit card 36% 45% 41% 27%
I used my UK credit card 35% 24% 33% 44%

No - none of these





I used a multi-currency account card (prepaid cards or multi-currency accounts)














Source: Consumer Intelligence International Spending Report March 2020


However, there are offputting aspects of debit and credit card usage which providers should understand when marketing to customers. These include, in descending order of importance.

• High charges or fees
• Security concerns
• A desire to leave bank cards at home

The high percentage of people who gave a specific reason not to use their bank card abroad stated mainly that they did not need to as they had enough cash, reflecting the fact that a large number of people still rely on physical money when abroad.

The use of credit and debit cards seemed likely to rise even before coronavirus, with those who have used them in the past saying that they happy to do so again, and those that haven’t, happy to consider it.
Of those who didn’t use their debit card last time, 68 per cent said they would in future, while almost all (97 per cent) of those who had used one previously were happy to do so again.

Would you use cards in the future (those who didn’t use their debit card last time)

No 32%
Yes – but with caution 55%
Yes – As I would at home 13%






Source: Consumer Intelligence International Spending Report March 2020

Would you use cards in the future (those who used their debit card last time)



Yes - but with caution 41%
Yes - a I would at home   56%







Source: Consumer Intelligence International Spending Report March 2020

The Post-Corona picture

Industry experts believe that physical cash, as a percentage of travel spend, will decline after coronavirus, which has already transformed our spending habits.


“I think that Covid-19 may advance the shift away from cash as a 'dirty' payment method and speed the domestic adoption of card payment, especially contactless,” says Jon Rutter, the VP for product management for Mastercard in London.


“In turn I expect this to flow into overseas spend.”

Fears over cash harbouring the coronavirus has prompted us all to use cards more in our day-to-day lives, with the maximum contactless spend increased to £45. The World Health Organisation may have contributed to cash decline by commenting that contactless is a good idea, and suggesting that people should wash their hands after handling money.

This is backed up by customer responses showing that more than half of us believe that we are more likely to use contactless in future when travelling.

Do you think you will be more likely to use contactless payment methods when you travel abroad in future? 

Yes – definitely


Probably, as I increasingly use contactless


No – I’m not comfortable using contactless methods abroad


I don’t travel abroad


No – it won’t make a difference










How providers should respond

The changing landscape requires action from providers if they are to survive the coronavirus crisis, and understanding customer preferences needs to be at the heart of this.

“In terms of a general outlook, I would expect cash usage to diminish in the coming years, although perhaps not to as great an extent as some commentators expect… I would expect pre-paid card usage to remain static, and debit/credit card spend to increase,” says Louis Bridger, General Manager of International Currency Exchange UK.


Understanding which age and socio-economic groups prefer which spending solutions will be key, with more personalised marketing and new solutions ensuring that customers are loyal to your brand when they travel again.

“Focusing on the twin pillars of convenience and good rates may help providers of prepaid cards and MCAs to prevent customers moving straight away from cash to credit and debit cards,” says Jade Edwards, Head of Banking from Consumer Intelligence.


“It is necessary to convince them of the benefits of these other products by understanding what they value when it comes to overseas spending methods.”


Webinar: Post Covid-19

How is the outbreak likely to change the world of travel money and international spending?

 To arm our audience with knowledge and information that will drive confident decisions and decisive action at this difficult time, we are launching a webinar based on our newly released International Spending Report. This webinar will inform you of how consumer's international spending behaviours are likely to change when travel restrictions are lifted, and what you should be thinking about now, to be best placed to adapt to these changes.


The webinar will cover how consumer behaviour is likely to change as of a result of the pandemic. Allowing you to start planning your post COVID-19 business strategy immediately.


Webinar registration


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