The Evolution of Travel in 2020 and Beyond
Before the disruptive emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the travel industry was experiencing an uninterrupted period of strong, sustained growth. The numbers back this up, too, with numbers from Statista showing that since 2006, the travel industries’ contribution to global GDP has increased by 44 percent year-on-year. Unfortunately, this growth was put to an abrupt halt with the rapid emergence of COVID-19, which has seen the majority of countries around the world effectively shut down, imposing severe travel restrictions to curb the spread of the virus.
The impacts of these travel restrictions have been far-reaching and immediate. Thousands have either been furloughed or completely laid-off, financial projections for airlines have seen a complete reversal from the 4 percent year-on-year increase to a 13-to-30 percent decrease, 46 percent of tour operators are at risk of closing business within the next six months, and even hotels are feeling the impact, with lodging businesses’ revenue at all ends of the budget spectrum expected to decline 60-to-65 percent in 2020 from the same time in 2019.
While this widespread unemployment, the multiple businesses folding under economic pressure, and governments keeping borders closed and stringent controls in place paints the picture of a heavily fractured travel future, this isn’t necessarily the case. With any challenge comes change, and there’s already evidence that the future of travel could potentially be much brighter, safer and more efficient than the systems we already know.
A Shifting Travel Industry
Whether it’s the desire to explore, socialize, and relax, or an opportunity to experience new cultures, cuisines, or activities with family and friends, there are many reasons why people love to travel, and this need isn’t changing despite COVID-19. Instead, the way people travel is pivoting to provide them with the opportunity to satisfy their travel needs while still adhering to health guidelines and maintaining a high level of safety.
Following the global financial crisis in 2008, a huge rise was recorded in the number of people trading out their international vacations for ‘staycations’. Similarly, with our fractured economy and travel restrictions, we’re likely to see more and more people opt to explore the holiday options closer to home so they can scratch their travel itch without breaking the bank or having to go through mandatory quarantine periods. This switch is also likely to cause travel companies and tour operators to pivot similarly, and focus on new initiatives to enable and encourage more people to make the most of exploring their home country.
Other factors – like the confined space of a plane or boat – are sure to act as barriers to international travel well into the future, but that doesn’t mean it will stop altogether. In fact, a number of countries are already working to identify travel guidelines to ensure passengers can travel safely between countries while minimizing the risk of infection. Baltic countries like Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have already opened their borders, allowing citizens to travel freely between them. Trans-Tasman travel has been announced between Australia and New Zealand, and countries within the EU have released guidelines on travel between countries with comparable health situations. It’s likely that as time goes on, and as containment measures are identified and implemented, we will start to see travel open up between more and more countries with similar health situations.
Unfortunately, the United States has been left out of many of these discussions thanks to the high number of confirmed infection cases and deaths. That doesn’t mean that citizens are confined to their own country, however, with air-travel options to Mexico, and a small handful of other countries still available. If these destinations are to remain the only international travel options for Americans, it’s likely that they will become the vacation hotspots for American travelers of all budgets. This shift may last much further than the end of the pandemic as too, as those who usually vacation in other destinations abroad – like in Europe – will likely realize the time and cost saving benefits of vacationing closer to home while still enjoying a high level of luxury.
Is Touch-Free the New Travel Norm?
So, what exactly will the new travel normal look like? While the pandemic rages on, it’s likely that the new normal will become increasingly touch-free. This makes sense too, considering that when it comes to upholding distance and cleanliness measures while the vaccine is under development, the amount of touch and shared tools and spaces should be kept to a minimum. As such, a range of integrated digital tools will become necessary, and nearly every interaction, from the airport to accommodation, will need to be re-thought to be made as safe as possible.
A number of providers are already ahead of the curve, with hotels like Le Bijou in Switzerland already offering contactless check-in and concierge services via a digital butler. Airlines have got in on this too, by beefing-up their contactless check-in capabilities and reducing the amount of face-to-face contact with staff and other passengers during the flight. The touch-free transformation won’t stop there with airlines, either. Temporary measures being put in place now will likely inform the airplane interiors of the future to protect airlines from the next pandemic. We might expect to see seating distributed more evenly, built-in protective screens that pull out of armrests, and even flight attendants whose uniform has been re-designed with built-in PPE.
A Glimmer of Hope
The travel and tourism industry have been especially hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. While it’s difficult to predict how long it will take for these businesses to find their ‘new normal’, we do know that the return to travel won’t be dependent on the creation of a vaccine. Instead, travel will be conducted according to new standards that ensure health and safety is maintained. Ultimately, this means that while travel won’t look the same as before, we may be witnessing the dawn of a bright, new travel future where providers and businesses emerge more resilient and prepared to weather another disaster of this scale.
Valentino Danchev is the founder and president of luxury travel firm, Fidelis Marketing Group, curating the highest quality tours and attractions of the locations in which we have presence.
This article has been published in accordance with Socialnomics’s disclosure policy.