In brief

In brief

  • To help travel companies outmaneuver uncertainty, we developed four future scenarios with distinct pictures of recovery and priority actions.
  • There are next-level moves grounded in key priorities that companies can make to respond fully to the crisis and prepare for any eventuality.
  • We believe these moves are the difference between passively riding out the virus and actively seizing first mover advantage.
  • Leaders who assess the scenarios and prioritize actions accordingly can come out this crisis with not just a different future but with a better one.

Travel can be as simple as getting from Point A to Point B or as profound as having the adventure of a lifetime. It has long been one of the world’s largest economic segments. But in 2020, global travel demand plummeted in the face of COVID-19. Now the industry’s future is in flux. Leaders have critical decisions to make in wildly uncharted territory. There’s no looking backward. Only forward.

Travel as we know it is not coming back. But it can become better than ever.

As travel companies look to post-pandemic recovery, there is so much uncertainty. No one knows how quickly and effectively the virus will be contained. Or when consumer confidence will be restored. Or how pent-up demand will play out. Travel as we know it may not be coming back, but a new era is just beginning.

Next-level actions towards the future of travel

The question for every travel leader is this: How are you responding to this new reality? It goes without saying that you must execute the day-to-day business. You must manage costs with precision, price products well, and invest in the right assets at the right time. These are qualifying actions for survival.

However, there are winning actions that go beyond these non-negotiables. These are next-level moves that travel companies can make to respond fully to the crisis and prepare for any eventuality. We believe these moves are the difference between passively riding out the virus and actively seizing first mover advantage in the new travel landscape. These actions are grounded in several key areas:

Four travel futures to prepare for tomorrow today

Few travel companies can pursue all of these areas with equal vigor and urgency in light of today’s cash, resource and capacity constraints. Getting momentum—and outcomes—means setting clear priorities. In fact, the pace and sequence of these actions depends on how leaders expect the future to unfold. Without the proverbial crystal ball, this is a daunting proposition. It can feel like pure guesswork.

To help travel industry executives navigate this tremendous uncertainty, we developed four future travel scenarios. These scenarios are based on our analysis of Accenture proprietary and publicly available data. They are not absolute, but they do reflect potential outcomes and impacts from key external factors that influence global travel demand:

  • Vaccine availability and virus containment
  • Governmental and societal response
  • Consumer sentiment and behaviors
  • Global economic climate

Travel companies will need to do different things – set different priority actions – in each of these scenarios. Now the decision is yours: Which travel future will you start planning for today?

Remarkable recovery

Travel companies must act to take full advantage of a burst in pent-up demand, which largely returns to 2019 levels by 2022.

Collective coexistence

Along with the world, travel companies learn to coexist with the virus through discipline and containment, and travel makes a tentative return.

Market mayhem

Amid permanent volatility, travel companies must shrink and refocus on remaining areas of demand to survive. Some companies fail.

Darkest days

The uncontrolled virus upends the industry, and travel companies must radically rethink their business models. Many fail.

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Actions to take

Our four future scenarios show distinct pictures of recovery. Discover the priority actions that travel leaders need to take in each scenario.


Global airline passenger outlook


Remarkable recovery. Global airline passenger volumes recover to 2019 levels by 2022.

Collective coexistence. Global airline passenger volumes nearly recover to 2019 levels by 2023. But they are still almost 20% below 2019 levels, requiring significant capacity reduction across the travel industry.

Market mayhem. The industry does continue to grow over the coming years, but slowly, and passenger volumes are still only about half of 2019 levels in 2023.

Darkest days. Global airline passenger volumes remain at only about one-fifth of 2019 levels.

Global airline industry profit (EBIT)


Remarkable recovery. The airline industry returns to its recent trend of profitability at an EBIT level, generating enough cash to pay down debts taken on during the depths of the crisis.

Collective coexistence. Airlines struggle to return to profit and continue losing money, though at an improving rate, for the next several years. Cost cutting is important to remain viable.

Market mayhem and darkest days. Without massive, ongoing government support and/or radical changes to the industry, massive losses continue to varying degrees and are likely unsustainable.

Global hospitality industry profit (EBIT)


Remarkable recovery. By 2022, hotels are back to 2019 occupancy and profitability levels.

Collective coexistence. Thanks to a more achievable breakeven point than airlines and steadily improving demand, the hotel industry returns to modest profit by 2021. However, it takes several more years to reach steady profitability. Cost reductions are necessary in the meantime.

Market mayhem and darkest days. Even with some regional travel continuing, the loss of most business travel hits the hotel sector hard across both scenarios. The industry as a whole sees several years of large losses, and the pain is unevenly distributed. Leisure-centric hotels continue to perform well. However, business-centric, convention-oriented, and international gateway city hotels face severe challenges.

Emily Weiss

Managing Director – Global Industry Sector Lead Travel

Jonathan Keane

Managing Director – Strategy & Consulting, Travel, Aviation Lead


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