The post-pandemic recovery of the global travel and tourism sector is gaining pace as the world’s pent-up desire for travel rekindles. The road to recovery remains long with $4.5 trillion in GDP and 62 million jobs lost in 2020 alone,
Travel restrictions, vaccination rates and health security changing market dynamics and consumer preferences, and the ability of businesses and destinations to adapt are a few factors that will greatly determine how the sector performs. At the same time, the sector will need to prepare for future shocks.
The World Economic Forum’s latest Travel & Tourism Development Index highlights many of these aspects, including the opportunity and need to rebuild the travel and tourism sector for the better by making it more inclusive, sustainable, and resilient. This will unleash its potential to drive future economic and social progress.
Despite the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the future looks bright for travel and tourism. Across the globe, people are already getting back on the road. Demand for travel is incredibly resilient and as vaccination rates have raised and restrictions eased, travel has rebounded quickly, often led by leisure.
The way many of us live and work has changed because of the pandemic and the way we travel has changed as well. New categories of travel have emerged. The rise of “bleisure” travel is one example – combining elements of business and leisure travel into a single trip. Newly flexible work arrangements, including the opportunity for many knowledge workers to work remotely, have created opportunities for extended travel, not limited to a Monday to Friday “9 to 5” workweek in the office.
To capitalize on this renewed and growing demand for new travel experiences, the industry must join governments and policymakers to ensure that the right conditions are in place to welcome travellers as they prepare to get back on the road again, particularly those who cross international borders. Thus far, much of the recovery has been led by domestic and leisure travel. The incremental recovery of business and international travel, however, will be significant for the broader industry and the millions who make their livelihoods through travel and tourism.
Looking ahead to future challenges to the sector, be they public health conditions, international crises, or climate impacts, global coordination will be the essential component in tackling difficult circumstances head-on. International agreement on common – or at least compatible – standards and decision-making frameworks around global travel is key. Leveraging existing organizations and processes to achieve consensus as challenges emerge will help reduce risk and improve collaboration while keeping borders open.
World Economic Forum asked four business leaders in the Tourism sector to reflect on the state of the sector’s recovery, lessons learned from the pandemic, and the conditions that are critical for the future success of travel and tourism businesses and destinations.
“The travel and tourism sector will not be able to survive unless it adapts to the virtual market and sustainability conscience travellers” says Shinya Katanozaka, Representative Director, Chairman, ANA Holdings Inc.
At a time when people’s movements are still being restricted by the pandemic, there is a strong, renewed sense that people want to travel and that they want to go places for business and leisure.
In that respect, the biggest change has been in the very concept of “travel.”
A prime example is the rapid expansion of the market for “virtual travel.” This trend has been accelerated not only by advances in digital technologies but also by the protracted pandemic. The travel and tourism sector will not be able to survive unless it adapts to this new market.
However, this is not as simple as a shift from “real” to “virtual.” Virtual experiences will flow back into a rediscovery of the value of real experiences and beyond that, to a pang of hunger for real experiences with clearer and more diverse purposes. The hope is that this meeting of virtual and actual will bring balance and synergy to the industry.
The pandemic has also seen the emergence of the “sustainability-conscious” traveller, which means that the aviation industry and others are now facing the challenge of adding decarbonization to their value proposition. This trend will force a re-examination of what travel itself should look like and how sustainable practices can be incorporated and communicated. Addressing this challenge will also require stronger collaboration across the entire industry and this will play an important role in the industry’s revitalization as it recovers from the pandemic.
“The tourism industry must advocate for better protection of small businesses” Gilda Perez-Alvarado, Global CEO, JLL Hotels & Hospitality
In the next few years, I think sustainability practices will become more prevalent as travellers become both more aware and interested in what countries, destinations and regions are doing in the sustainability space. Both core environmental pieces, such as water and air, and a general approach to sustainability are going to be important.
Additionally, I think conservation becomes more important in terms of how destinations and countries explain what they are doing, as the importance of climate change and natural resources are going to be critical and become top of mind for travellers.
The second part to this is we may see more interest in outdoor events going forward because it creates that sort of natural social distancing, if you will, or that natural safety piece. Doing outdoor activities such as outdoor dining, hiking and festivals may be a more appealing alternative to overcrowded events and spaces.
A lot of lessons were learned over the last few years, but one of the biggest ones was the importance of small business. As an industry, we must protect small businesses better. We need to have programmes outlined that successfully help small businesses get through challenging times.
Unfortunately, during the pandemic, many small businesses shut down and may never return. Small businesses are important to the travel and tourism sector because they bring uniqueness to destinations. People don’t travel to visit the same places they could visit at home; they prefer unique experiences that are only offered by specific businesses. If you were to remove all the small businesses from a destination, it would be a very different experience.
“Data shows that the majority of travellers want to explore destinations in a more immersive and experiential way” Steve Kaufer, Co-Founder & CEO, Tripadvisor
We’re on the verge of a travel renaissance. The pandemic might have interrupted the global travel experience, but people are slowly coming out of the bubble. Businesses need to acknowledge the continued desire to feel safe when travelling. A Tripadvisor survey revealed that three-quarters (76%) of travellers will still make destination choices based on low COVID-19 infection rates.
As such, efforts to showcase how businesses care for travellers – be it by deep cleaning their properties or making items like hand sanitiser readily available – need to be ingrained within tourism operations moving forward.
But travel will also evolve in other ways, and as an industry, we need to be prepared to think digitally and reimagine our use of physical space.
Hotels will become dynamic meeting places for teams to bond in our new hybrid work style. Lodgings near major corporate headquarters will benefit from an influx of bookings from employees convening for longer periods. They will also make way for the “bleisure” traveller who mixes business trips with leisure. Hotels in unique locales will become feasible workspaces. Employers should prepare for their workers to tag on a few extra days to get some rest and relaxation after on-location company gatherings.
Beyond the pandemic, travellers will also want to explore the world differently, see new places and do new things. Our data reveal that the majority want to explore destinations in a more immersive and experiential way and to feel more connected to the history and culture. While seeing the top of the Empire State building has been a typical excursion for tourists in New York City, visitors will become more drawn to intimate activities like taking a cooking class in Brooklyn with a family of pizza makers who go back generations. This will undoubtedly be a significant area of growth in the travel and tourism industry.
Governments would be smart to plan as well and to consider an international playbook that helps prepare us for the next public health crisis, inclusive of universal vaccine passports and policies that get us through borders faster.
Understanding these key trends – the ongoing need to feel safe and the growing desire to travel differently – and planning for the next crisis will be essential for governments, destinations, and tourism businesses to succeed in the efforts to keep the world travelling.
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