The severe impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the tourism industry is not a secret. Many of us wonder what changes the situation will bring and what the tourism trends will be for the post-COVID-19 era. What will travel look like post-coronavirus? Making the most of what’s on our doorstep, planning dream trips and greater flexibility than ever before are likely to become part of our future as we try to support an industry that has been on its knees since the pandemic began in early 2020.
Thepandemic has hit many industries hard, and among the biggest to have been affected is the travel and tourism industry. Since the beginning of 2020, we’ve seen a huge decline in passenger travel; deserted hotels and tourist spots went viral; and some of the world’s biggest events were cancelled. But as with every adversity, the industry looks set to turn things around. With the dawn of 2021, many countries have reported a success in flattening the curve, and more are on the way to reopening their borders, while pockets of the world are slowly resuming holiday activities, starting domestically. With the further easing of border restrictions and lockdowns, travel and tourism leaders and business owners are creating new opportunities through change and are pushing new boundaries and strategies to bring the industry back to life. As we anticipate more good news from this front, let’s take a look at the travel and tourism trends to expect in a post COVID era, and signs of recovery in the industry.
The trying times has a double meaning in this unprecedented phase. Business may be struggling, but it has also opened up avenues for them to attempt new things and keep their service and offerings interesting for consumers. Restaurants step up with their takeout menu, hotels throwing staycation packages and culinary deals and airlines resorting to creative “flights to nowhere” are a few of the emerging travel trends. However, some of the widely noticed changes in tourism trends are as follows:
Perhaps one of the most significant changes in the local travel scene is the rise in popularity of staycations. Luxury hotels around the world are fully booked for their staycation offers, largely due to the special packages at an affordable price that appeals to the travel-starved population. Travelers get a holiday treat while being assured of the safety from the hotels’ rigorous sanitation processes. The same phenomenon is also observed at beach and island getaways where private villas are snapped up for more intimate, smaller parties.
- Grand Takeout Options
The renewed interest in domestic holiday locations such as local beaches, hiking trails, camping grounds, and parks not only attracted more customers to relevant businesses, but it also drew attention to “picnic basket” experiences, where restaurants cater wicker baskets filled with goodies to pleasure-seekers at selected destinations. To stay competitive and relevant, restaurants are coming up with interesting ways to get customers excited about eating from beyond their premises. From chefs for private hire, picnic takeout, to cocktail orders made fresh upon delivery and whole high-tea experiences packed up to go.
- Crowd Management
One trend that will likely gain favour is better crowd management. With many once-bustling tourist destinations reduced to minimal activities, people are seeing the positive effect on the environment and this has given authorities something to consider in terms of controlling the crowd in the future. This win-win move will help tourists enjoy a more pleasant visit to popular spots, while also keeping the environment in good shape.
- Border-Free Travel
Countries that have been successful in containing the pandemic have demonstrated how tourism can quickly pick up again. Some countries have championed the “Travel Bubble”, which is essentially partnerships that opens their borders and allows their citizens to travel freely within these countries without quarantines upon arrival. This free passage is not exclusively for tourism, but also to ramp up business activities and save their trade sectors. This quarantine-free travel is also opened between some countries and is expected to increase when more countries and their neighbors find consensus with their epidemiological situation.
This is probably the most immediate thing people will prioritize and may also be the most visible change in the travel and tourism industry. Even with the strict health and safety protocols, exchanging travel documents in the airport and hotels still present risk of infection. The same goes for touching surfaces by the check-in counter, security checks, border control, as well as hotel front desks. This means automation is expected to become a part of the new normal of travel trends in 2021. Biometrics including facial recognition, contactless fingerprint scan, etc. will replace physical fingerprint and hand scanners.
- Private Transport
In terms of tourism products, vacation rentals are looking to appeal to the masses in equal, if not more than hotel bookings, due to lesser capacity and greater privacy. The same is expected with car rentals, as tourists are more likely to shy away from public transport like buses and trains. Given the current situation, travel advisors and travel insurance will also be in demand for obvious reasons.
- Sustainability Issues and Debates
One of the few benefits of the pandemic has been the environmental bounce back, with global levels of nitrogen dioxide at record lows. The question now is whether travel brands will scramble to return to normality as restrictions are lifted or be galvanized by this breather to maintain the environmental and social commitments. The unpolluted blue skies and birdsong are likely to have struck a chord with many, and it could be a promising moment for companies advocating a more considered approach to travel.
- Seeking Wilderness
In the era of technology, nature breaks are becoming more and more appealing. Travelers craving wide open spaces and inspiring views are longing for the great outdoors, and holidays are attracting new devotees looking to truly immerse themselves in the wilderness. Rewinding and conservation holidays, where travelers play an active part in helping an ecosystem return to its natural state, are also becoming more prevalent.
- Seclusion Holidays
Plenty of us will be dreaming of breaks in places devoid of crowds. Popular beaches, home-share rentals, large hotels and busy cities might be low on the wish-list while boats and boutique hotels, as well as quiet coastal, lakeside, mountain and rural locations will be scoring high. Not to mention helicopter transfers, hotel takeovers and island buy-outs for those who can afford them. Setting the trend for quarantine hideouts was a hotel in Switzerland, which started offering smart apartments with Covid-19 service, including food delivery, meals cooked by a personal chef (ordered remotely via iPad), around-the-clock health monitoring and even in-room coronavirus testing. Some tourist spots are offering ultimate seclusion that has to be taking over an entire island for 15 days and up to 50 guests. At the lower end of the price scale, innovative bird-box cabins host just two people and can be placed in a pristine natural environment with minimal footprint.
- Trip Planning
Travelers who can afford to go all out to book separate islands for themselves and their families, will be plotting epic, once-in-a-lifetime trips over the next few years, reflecting huge pent-up demand for travel after drawn-out restrictions. Living through a pandemic has sparked a re-evaluation of people’s priorities and attitudes. For many of those confined to their homes during lockdown, it has been a time to make plans. Travelers will probably stay abroad for longer periods and even take exotic sabbaticals, and modest mini-breaks will be swapped for blowout bonanzas. People are using this time to dream up the kind of big bucket-list trips they never normally get around to planning. Travel specialists are claiming to seeing this reflected in recent bookings for winter travels, safari trips etc.
- Local Travel
The prohibitions on international travel and the feeling of insecurity associated with flights and airports will make tourism gear towards the domestic market. Unknown national locations will probably increase exposure to more people, and less frequently visited tourist destinations may benefit from the demand for less crowded places.
- Social Distancing
Travel privacy will be much more important from now on. The fear of proximity between people and the need to avoid crowded spaces will play an important role. Museums, festivals, shows, bars and nightclubs will predictably be affected by this new reality.
- Nature Tourism
If tourists opt for destinations in nature, this will not be surprising, as this form of tourism will allow them to put together social distancing and discovery and contact with nature, which in recent times many travelers have been unable to benefit from.
- Mini Holidays
The concept of micro-holidays will probably also be more common. Taking into account the impossibility to make long-distance trips, which usually have a longer duration, the typical big annual trip will be replaced by small ones, closer to home, throughout the year.
- Long Road Trips
The concept of a road trip will become more common, as it conciliates the other trends already mentioned above. Whether by car, motorcycle, motorhome, or other means, discovering the country with total autonomy and flexibility may be a growing option after the restrictions are lifted.
- Recovery of the Travel Industry
Borders and airports’ re-opening show signs of potential recovery in travel industry. In 2021, airline companies are starting to increase flight frequencies and while it is still a fraction of their pre-pandemic schedules, passenger activities are starting to pick up a little bit more in the airports. Currently, the whole world is stepping up in their border entry guidelines to welcome back travel and tourism activities. Some countries have opened their borders to allow their citizens to move freely. In EU, many countries reopened their international borders with emphasis to their non-discriminatory guidelines. Some countries will conduct tests for tourists at the airport and some have started allowing essential travel for passengers who have tested negative from the virus. Passengers now use contact-tracing apps and can go about freely as long as they do not deviate from their itineraries. Some countries have reopened their doors for tourism and are leading the way to ease up lockdowns and reopen their countries for business. While some countries have given the green light for tourist entries from select lower-risk locations, countries with a good track record of the pandemic control, healthcare system, and governance are definitely more likely to be in a traveler’s top consideration of places to visit. It is worthy to note that with some destinations may have a period of isolation upon entry so travelers are likely to take fewer trips but embark in longer stays.
After the pandemic, people are already starting to think about their next vacation. Many just want to jump on plane or book a flight with no specific destination in mind. It is too early to say, but airlines could expect significant bounce back as desire for an escape, anywhere, will lead to heightened demand. Some people are already booking trips, giving them something to look forward to. Though travel is off the table for much of the global population at the moment, travel professionals worldwide are looking forward to the future with a spirit of optimism and perseverance. From far-flung islands to the nearby bolt holes, the travel pros are dreaming of visiting the places on their wish list as soon as it is safe to hit the road again. Tourists are already aching to travel again, to meet people in shops and museums, to feel the comforting buzz of a hotel lobby, to feel opportunity and adventure at an airport and to enjoy dinners at a local restaurants of their desired places. If there is one thing these emerging trends are showing us, it is that people can turn challenges to chances and evolve to create opportunities that will well survive the pandemic. With the full recovery of the travel and tourism sector on the horizon, the world will look forward to the new ways to travel.