For most of us, 14 March was the day that the world stopped traveling. It also coincided with the end of my second week as Global Industry Lead for Travel at Accenture.
I was ready for a challenge as I prepared to take on my new role, but not for a pandemic that would hurt travel so deeply.
But here’s the thing: As we’re all adjusting to the personal and professional effects of the global pandemic, I’ve come to realize that there’s no looking backward, only forward.
I’ve been talking to my team about this over the past couple of weeks. Things may still feel grim and like the world of travel has stopped, but I believe that a new era of travel is just beginning. And there are signs of hope.
How consumers are feeling about travel
Our COVID-19 Consumer Research has tracked consumer sentiment since the start of the pandemic, and I’ve found it particularly interesting to follow its evolution as it pertains to our industry.
Travel is an expression of human curiosity and is therefore directly impacted when fundamental behavior shifts take place almost overnight.
The world has, for years, if not decades, been our oyster. But, as borders were closed and 1.7 billion people were put under some form of lockdown, travel became known as a vector for virus spread, and, naturally, the prospect of traveling continues to make the majority of people feel uncomfortable.
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Our research shows that concerns around the virus are starting to decline, but 43% of consumers remain cautious about stepping out and resuming normal activities. I’ll be keeping an eye on the 17% who claim they are living for the moment and the 28% that are keen to return to how things were as the virus continues to advance at different paces around the world. This was very evident over the summer in the Northeast as I was on vacation in Cape Cod and every hotel or rental property had “No Vacancy” signs hanging out front, despite the strict quarantine restrictions in place in Massachusetts. Similarly, Hawaii just greenlighted the concept of “resort bubbles” for travelers in quarantine to encourage more people interested in traveling to do so.
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Astonishing, but perhaps not surprising to those of us who already worked as part of a remote team pre-COVID, is the rapid uptake of virtual media to stay connected. 65% of people are connecting with friends and family virtually as a way of filling the Travel void.
And it’s the rapid rise of new ways of working that we also need to keep our eye on in the travel industry. With 83% of employees enjoying working from home, all data points toward the fact that business travel will be one of the last segments to experience a sustained recovery.
Our data proves that the focus should be first and foremost on domestic travel, “visiting friends and family” tourism, and the leisure travel segment overall during the industry’s recovery.
In my quest to look forward, rather than backward, I am heartened by the data which shows that the shift to e-Commerce will remain once the outbreak subsides.
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What’s more, our research shows that usage of digital channels is expected to increase by well over 10%.
I predict a knock-on effect for our industry too, as consumers’ experiences online with other brands will directly impact their expectations when it comes to purchasing holidays online and making travel plans in the future.
Just as we are starting to realize that there are certain habits we’ve adopted over the last six months that we’re keen to maintain in whatever the current “normal” has lined up for us, travel companies can also use this opportunity to take stock and take action.
The rise of e-Commerce is just one of the indicators that demonstrates the potential for exploring new business models and solutions.
A focus on providing contactless, personalized traveler experiences across the travel journey will go a long way to rebuild traveler confidence and address their health and safety concerns, while investment in technology and cloud-based architectures will reduce costs and facilitate the execution of these experiences.
By focusing on the situation that each company finds itself in, and how recovery is tracking in their sector, they will be able to assess the options available to them and seize first-mover advantage.
Amongst all the ambiguity, there is one thing I am certain of – uncertainty doesn’t call for inaction, and those who can assess the situation and prioritize accordingly can come out of this crisis-of-a-lifetime with not just a different future, but with a better one.
Data sourced from Accenture COVID-19 Consumer Research April-July unless otherwise stated.
Image source: Unsplash.
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