Earlier this year I posed the question, How Will Coronavirus Change Our Travel Habits?, and a number of travel bloggers contributed their views. But now, four months on, I have been listening to the opinions of the travel industry at World Travel Market (a major global gathering of travel professionals, held online this year). There was no shortage of discussion about travel in 2021 and beyond, and several clear themes emerged.
Time To Reflect
One clear outcome of lockdowns and restrictions on travel is that we have all had the opportunity to step back and think. Individuals have had time to consider what travel means to them, and why it is important. Travel providers and destinations have been obliged to think about adapting their offerings to a post-Covid world. A world which is likely to be more regulated, and in which consumer expectations may have changed.
The travel industry has been talking about sustainability and responsible tourism for some time now. But now that there has been a pause for reflection, will there be any long term changes to travel? Or will the industry eventually bounce back to where it was in 2019?
The Importance Of Travel
There is no doubt that tourism is a significant component of the world’s economies. Pre-pandemic travel represented 10% of global GDP and was a major source of employment. Some communities were almost entirely dependent upon tourists.
There are intangible benefits too. Travel facilitates the exchange of ideas and helps to foster international understanding. For individuals there is a curiosity about the world, and the need for novelty and external stimulation. It is clear that there is a pent-up demand for travel, a demand that the industry is trying to keep alive through virtual offerings and inspiration for the future.
The Need For Change
Of course there are also downsides to travel. One unexpected side-effect of the pandemic is the positive (if potentially short-term) effect upon the environment. We have seen fewer cars on the roads and planes in the sky, and the water is reported to be running clear in Venice.
Then there is the effect of tourism on local communities. This is not just about places like Barcelona and Italy’s Cinque Terre which have suffered from overtourism. Elsewhere it is often the case that destinations have been commodified, providing amenities to tourists who give little in return.
The paradox is that it has been while largely homebound that we have become more conscious of the world around us. This is not just an increased concern for the environment. The devastating effects of the pandemic have inspired more community action. And the raised profile of Black Lives Matter has forced everyone – no matter what group they belong to – to be more globally aware.
Everyone seems to agree on the need for change. But will it happen? And, if so, how?
Some changes will be imposed upon the travel industry. Most obviously, increased hygiene measures and social distancing are likely to be with us for some time. And we are already seeing innovations such as contactless check-in, to make travel safer for everyone.
But there are likely to be other changes. Elizabeth Booker (author of Overbooked) told World Travel Market that the consumer may have to change. She said that since the fall of the Berlin Wall we have become accustomed to travelling freely to most places. However, geopolitical changes may make travel more difficult. At the same time, the economic impact of the pandemic may raise prices and reduce spending power. We will not have the choices we have been used to.
A Focus On Domestic Travel
In the UK overseas visitor numbers are not expected to recover fully until 2025, and similar projections can be seen elsewhere. The trend in 2020 has been for people to holiday within their own country. In some cases government restrictions have prevented them from going abroad; in others practical considerations and worries about safety have dictated their choices.
This has caused tourist boards to look at their domestic market, and in many cases to adjust their offerings. They have had to offer more immersive experiences for visitors who are already familiar with a destination.
This focus on domestic tourism has encouraged people to see their own country in a different way, and there have been some unexpected benefits for visitors. At WTM we were told that in Rwanda entrance fees to national parks had been substantially reduced, allowing many locals to see the mountain gorillas for the first time. And here in the UK social distancing and crowd control measures have made visits to normally very crowded places more enjoyable (did you notice my picture of Stonehenge at the top of the page… without all the people?).
More Conscious Travel
The trend that seems to be filling people with optimism is “more conscious” travel. This is the idea that people will make more deliberate choices about where, why and how they will travel. Partly stimulated by time to think, and partly by the likelihood of travel becoming more expensive and more regulated.
It is hoped that a more conscious approach will lead to a more reciprocal relationship between tourists and destinations, and an appreciation of the costs as well as the benefits of travel. However, only time will tell.
Predictions For 2021
Finally, a few predictions that WTM attendees made for 2021:
- Tourists will avoid overcrowded places, and they will favour countryside over cities.
- Road trips – perceived as a “safer” form of travel – will be popular.
- People will prioritise taking a few longer trips over several shorter ones.
- Some business meetings will continue to be held via Zoom, but there will remain a demand for some business travel.
- There will be more demand for package trips, with their associated levels of protection.
- The emphasis on domestic travel will continue.
Do you agree with these predictions? Do you think your travel habits will change in the long term? Let me know in the comments below.