Will the travel industry ever recover from the pandemic? I am more than convinced it will. Is the industry still going to be the same? Definitely not. In the last few months, the attitudes of travellers – why do people travel and how do they do it – have changed tremendously.
Airlines, tour operators and the hospitality sector will need to adapt to this new reality sooner rather than later. But what does that mean? Before starting their change journey, the industry first needs to understand what post-pandemic travel will look like.
Here are my thoughts on five trends which I believe will shape the travel industry in the coming years. The list is by no means complete; but I hope it does provide some direction.
1. Not dead: Long-haul travel will come back
In July 2021, which is the main vacation season in many parts of the world, international air travel was still only at about a quarter of the volume compared to the same month in 2019 according to IATA. In stark contrast, domestic travel was already back to 85% of pre-crisis levels.
Will long-haul travel ever recover from the pandemic decline? It certainly will, but it all depends on health and safety regulations for international travellers. Currently, rules for international travel vary hugely between countries; and they are often changed at short notice. In addition, many countries with low incidence of COVID-19 remain closed for tourists. Yes, this is going to change again. We already see a significant improvement in facilitating travel and the opening of borders, but every new and potentially more dangerous variant of the virus could be a huge setback for the travel industry.
This leaves a huge unknown with regards to the recovery timeline for long-haul travel at least.
2. More together: Seeing friends and families again
For many travellers, going on a trip is no longer (only) about exploring new destinations. After months of lockdowns and many hours spent on Facetime calls and in WhatsApp chats, reconnecting with friends and families is now the main reason to travel for many. Airlines and the hospitality sector can play an important role in these reunions by celebrating togetherness.
Moreover, they can help their customers navigate the complexity of traveling in a post-pandemic world: Which destinations are open for whom? What’s the paperwork involved and which online forms need to be completed by when? Where can I get tested on the ground? This process took off to a slow and messy start, but airlines are getting there.
3. Individual experiences: Once in a life-time adventures are the new “sun & fun”
Is your next trip going to be a resort holiday in the Mediterranean or would you rather be crossing rural France on the back of a donkey? Would you stay at an ordinary hotel or choose a room in a former lighthouse on a rugged shore? For many people, travelling is now all about experiencing adventures they might only do once in their lifetime. In some way, adventure trips are the new “sun & fun”.
How are traditional mass market tour operators adapting to these new trends? Are they able to adapt quickly and extend their portfolio to offer more customized experiences? It is now more important than ever to explore new partnerships with local providers and events firms.
4. Best of both worlds: Work, play, stay
Do you remember the good old days of business travel? Well, maybe they weren’t so good after all – early morning flight, taxi to the meeting venue, quick lunch somewhere close to the office and then back to the airport again. More and more people are travelling again for business these days, but their routines will change significantly.
Many travellers are now trying to get the best of both worlds and combine business and leisure trips. A new trend sees many travellers using the new freedom of remote working to work and travel at the same time. Flying off to new locations, fulfilling the work week in front of a video call and exploring the destination during free time.
The hospitality sector needs to accommodate this new class of travellers. A fast Wi-Fi connection and access to co-working spaces could soon be seen at many hotels that traditionally cater to leisure travellers or limit business lounges to select room types.
5. More conscious: What’s my social and ecological impact?
For many travellers, the social and ecological impact of travelling has become much more important in recent months. During the pandemic, the pictures of empty beaches and deserted tourist hotspots made many people realize the negative sides of mass-tourism for local communities. Many locals are equally reluctant to go back to the old days of over-tourism – and they demand action from local politicians. The cruise ship ban for the city center of Venice, which came into effect this August after many years of discussion, is a good case in point.
Understanding their customers and what motivates them is a crucial first step. The travel industry then needs to adapt their business to cater to these different groups of travellers. This is going to be essential for their future success in the world of post-pandemic travel.