Travel and hospitality look to a new reality

Tourism is an important part of most economies. How will the travel industry respond to changes in tourism demand post-COVID-19?

Three competencies companies need right now for an uncertain post-COVID-19 future

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Jenny Southan

Editor, founder, and CEOGlobetrender, the UK’s leading travel trend forecasting agency and online magazine dedicated to the future of travel.

The health of the tourism industry is inexorably linked to the health of humanity. It’s somewhat dystopian to see we are now living in a world where countries (such as the UK) are imposing hotel quarantines on visitors from “red list” destinations, or offering vaccines to those who come on vacation as an incentive (in the case of the  Maldives). To prevent the free movement of the coronavirus, people have had to curtail their freedom. The fortunate thing is, unlike this time last year, there is now a panacea available, and as the worldwide inoculation drive continues at speed, international travel will soon be back on the agenda.

Pre-pandemic, the World Travel and Tourism Council  estimated that about one in ten people globally worked in the sector. By March 2021, about 62millionof these had been lost, the organization said, along with close to a US$4.5 trillion revenue decrease due to a 70% drop in spending. It’s hard to fathom the implications of these numbers and just how serious the task ahead is in terms of recovery. Butin spite ofall the challenges, people want – and need, desperately – to travel again. Collectively, we are highly resilient and innovative. For every problem faced, ingenious solutions are being developed.

一个很好的例子就是数字“免疫护照”being rolled out by airlines and governments around the world, which will be key to getting people across borders again with minimal interventions in terms of COVID-19 testing and periods of confinement (atGlobetrender, we call them “Vaccine VIPs”). The  IATA Travel Pass  (fromthe International Air Transport Association) will likely have the greatest uptake – the idea is that it provides a globally recognized and approved certification for travelers who have been vaccinated, as well as displaying PCR test statuses, making it quicker and easier for authorities to process passengers at border control.

Queues, of course, are going to be a very serious problem unless immigration is urgently streamlined – just look at the seven-hour waits being endured at  London Heathrowairport in the UK. One passenger told the  BBC: “I felt really unsafe. It was really disorganized. One mother had to feed her baby on the floor. It’s not humane.” By mid-April 2021, the IATA Travel Pass was being trialed by almost 30 major airlines including Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways, Virgin Atlantic, and SWISS, so the hope is that this situation will improve. If not, it will be extremely off-putting to travelers.

VeriFLY is another health passport provider, in this case teaming up with carriers such as British Airways, American Airlines, and Alaska Airlines, which are all part of theOneworldalliance.“我们一直在寻找方法使旅行easier and simpler for ourcustomers, andnavigating testing requirements and validation is a big piece of that,” said Julie Rath, vice president of customer experience for American Airlines. “All of our airports will now accept customers’ testing verification via theVeriFLYapp.”

What will be interesting to see is how attitudes to having the vaccine will evolve. While some countries and even airlines (such as Australia’s Qantas)havesaid they won’t admit people who haven’t had the jab, other destinations such as  Turkey  and  Greece  that rely heavily on tourism will be more lenient. Instead, they will rely on testing protocols. When it comes to cruises, on the other hand, operators will be taking a strict approach – everyone on board will have to have been inoculated. It’s easy to see how there will be a division in freedom enjoyed between thosewho have had the vaccine and those who haven’t. Politics will also play a very big part in the privileges citizens from other countries are given.

Normally it takes at least ten years to develop a vaccine, but scientists around the globe have managed to bring seven COVID-19 vaccines to market in a matter of months. Not only that but more than 880 million doses  have now been administered – with 200 million given in the US alone, giving a quarter of the population full protection and over 60% of the population given at least one jab. Although decisions are still being made about how much freedom fully vaccinated persons can have, the expectation is that they should be able to resume living as they once did – and that includes traveling internationally.

After a poor start to 2021, which saw an 87% fall in global tourist arrivals in January compared with the same period in 2020 (according to the  United Nations World Tourism Organization), the UNWTO forecasts two possible scenarios for quarters three and four. If all goes well, a global upswing could begin in July, in line with travel restrictions being lifted and consumer confidence returning. In this case, the UNWTO projects a 66% increase in international arrivals for 2021 compared with the lowest points in 2020 (although this would still be 55% below the levels recorded in 2019).

Alternatively, recovery will start later in the year, in September, with a more modest, 22% increase in overall arrivals for the year (although still equating to 67% fewer than 2019). UNWTO secretary-generalZurabPololikashvilisaid in a statement: “2020 was the worst year on record for tourism. The international community needs to take strong and urgent action to ensure a brighter 2021. Improved coordination between countries and harmonized travel and health protocols are essential to restore confidence in tourism and allow international travel to resume safely ahead of the peak summer season in the northern hemisphere.”

In the lead-up to the rebuilding of international flight networks, airlines are focusing on expanding domestic and regional routes first, anticipating demand for short-haul rather than long-haul journeys, initially, and leisure over business travel. According to a report published inDecember by global aviation data firmCirium, 77% of all flights taken in 2020 were domestic and 30% of commercial aircraft fleets were grounded. In May 2021, Chicago-based airline United will launch 26 new nonstop domestic routes between Midwest US cities such as Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee to summer vacation destinations such as Hilton Head (South Carolina), Portland (Maine), Pensacola (Florida), and Savannah (Georgia).

The approach is slightly different in Europe, where train services and roads provide adequate access to domestic tourism hotspots such as Devon and Cornwall in the UK, where the G7 climate summit will take place in June. Instead, airlines such as EasyJet are placing their bets on short-haul overseas destinations, particularly in the Mediterranean. For example, at the end of June it will be flying from Birmingham to Alicante, Malaga, and Palma in Spain, plus Faro in Portugal and Corfu in Greece. AliGayward,Easyjet’sUK country manager, said in a statement: “We’ve kept our fleet in a flight-ready mode so we are ready and able to ramp up our services quickly and increase our capacity where we see increased demand for the summer.”

Looking further ahead, aviation experts don’t predict long-haul traffic to return to 2019 levels until at least 2023 or 2024, as there will be continued concern about third and fourth waves of the pandemic, new (possibly vaccine-resistant) variants of the virus, and continual revisions to country-specific travel rules and regulations. Also, while many people will feel okay about doing a short flight, they may have more anxiety about traveling long-haul. The best strategy is planning for uncertainty – it’s something thathas tobe lived with – and looking for windows of opportunity.

When it comes to business travel, there will be a long-term reduction. Bill Gates  predicts a permanent 50% drop. This might be a worst-case scenario, but on the plus side atGlobetrenderwe anticipate a significant rise in “worksations,” where travelers stay for longer periods of time in one place and combine work with leisure. Single-purpose trips will become less common. It’s a logical continuation of the “working from home” trend, which will see companies willing and even encouraging of “working from anywhere” (we already have evidence of this with the flurry of new “digital nomad” visas being offered by destinations such as Barbados, Dubai, andCroatia). Whether it’s professional life, family life, or personal life, the future is hybrid. And the same goes for travel.

“In many ways, the past year or so has felt agonizingly slow, but the progress being made at overcoming the virus has been phenomenal.”

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