The following is an opinion article by Andrew J. Wood. His statements and opinions are entirely his own.
BANGKOK: To counter the impacts of COVID-19 and prepared for the future post-pandemic, global travel will need to change.
The COVID-19 crisis presents a unique opportunity to collaborate on reviving the industry. The pandemic and associated travel restrictions have had a devastating impact on tourism. This pause has led to a new beginning and reimagination of how tourism can be more robust, profitable, sustainable, impactful, and responsible in the future.
Now is an opportunity to unite tourism stakeholders as they reopen their doors a new chapter that will develop a new understanding of the balance between:
human needs vs. economic progress
environmental/social needs vs. financial prosperity
Travel will return. With increased vaccination, we have seen this already. The bounce-back is significant. PATA in their recent report forecast international visitor arrivals in the region will increase by +50.8 percent to 113.55 million visitors this year to 316.50million (+320.3 percent) next year.
ForwardKeys notes shorter lead booking times are the new normal. The ForwardKeys analysts that track global tourism trends in future airline reservations have observed a continued trend for 2021 that booking lead times keep shrinking, often less than 4 days before travel.
China, the world’s second-biggest economy, whose population loves to travel, saw GDP grow 18.3 percent in the first quarter of 2021, compared to the same period the year before.
Flights are increasing too. Qatar Airways for instance will resume flights to Phuket, with four weekly services. The airline is already flying 12 semi-commercial flights weekly to Bangkok. The new Phuket services will increase the total to 16 flights a week between Doha and Thailand as Phuket opens in July to nationalities from countries on Thailand’s low to medium risk list. If they have been vaccinated against Covid-19 and present a negative Covid test certificate they will not need to undergo a 14-day quarantine.
The WTCC says that the future of travel and tourism will fall under four macro-trends that are expected to lead the way through recovery and beyond.
•Demand Evolution: Traveller preferences have shifted toward the familiar, predictable, and trusted. Domestic vacations and outdoor holidays will grow.
•Health and Hygiene: Health, safety, and trust are paramount in this new era.
•Innovation and Digitisation: COVID-19 is proving to be an unexpected catalyst, with contactless technologies among others offering safe and seamless travel experiences.
•Sustainability: The world has been reinvigorated to tackle social, environmental, and institutional sustainability.
When travel does return I’ve identified 6 major trends that will affect us all:
1. Travel agents and travel professionals will become essential
2. Sustainable Tourism Will Soar
3. Small and local communities will see tourism grow
4. Quality over quantity will be paramount
5. Staying closer to home will become the norm
6. We need to travel – traveling is good for mental health
Travel agents and travel professionals will become essential
Travel agents and travel professionals will account for two-thirds of all travel bookings. Conde Nast Traveller predicts a shift to booking travel through agents and established operators, noting their invaluable knowledge and industry connections. 2020 has shown and taught us that the expertise and financial protection of booking through a travel agent often outweigh the amount you pay in commission.
Additionally, consumers will look to agents who specialize in the environment. Those who care about where they send their customers can intuitively cut through greenwash. With the decline in air travel from the pandemic, domestic road trips will be popular.
The $8 trillion global travel industry, with open borders, open destinations, and visa-free travel, won’t return in the short term but pent-up demand will rebound in 2022. Not only will we travel again, but we’ll also do it better.
This pause gives us the gift of time to consider how we can travel more safely, consciously and protect our future industry and the planet.
Sustainable Tourism Will Soar
Getting away from crowds and exploring the great outdoors will increase in popularity. In the wake of the pandemic, experts predict there will be more interest in visiting less-crowded places. Travelers will demand responsible travel policies. The industry is responding by actively promoting a healthy world over profit margins. In addition, travelers are reducing carbon footprints by purchasing offsets and by staying at certified green hotels.
Small and local communities will benefit
We will change where we travel. We need to diversify our locations to avoid mass tourism and focus on the places that really need it. Many communities suffered during COVID-19.
To empower the voice of smaller operators in the ecosystem a good example is travel and hospitality tech players Airbnb, EaseMyTrip, OYO, and Yatra, who have come together as the Confederation of Hospitality, Technology and Tourism Industry (CHATT). They aim to promote domestic tourism, lead the digital transformation of tourism-related business, and proactively engage travelers and the tourism industry to be a thought leader and also offer educational training.
Quality over quantity will be paramount
Before we travel we will rethink how and why we travel, and more off-the-beaten-track traveling. Avoiding crowds and instead heading to wide open spaces and nature.
Staying closer to home will become the norm
Some are discovering the benefits of travel even at home. Self-learning courses; cooking classes, a visit to a park, a meal at an outdoor pavement brasserie or at an outdoor terrace keep the spirit of travel alive by considering the feelings that travel elicits. When we compare everything to being locked up, a walk to the park can feel like travel.
Traveling and Planning trips aid mental health
A recent survey in the US found that travel improves empathy, energy, attention, and focus. Planning a trip is just as effective. A Cornell study also showed that looking forward to traveling substantially increases happiness.
Studying maps and determining a route makes you feel like your working toward a real goal. If we accept that things might get canceled we can also expand our comfort zone without too much stress.