Even as the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to pause travel around the world, it has not stopped people from dreaming about where they want to take their next, somewhat off-schedule, vacation.
While UNWTO’s Panel of Experts foresees a rebound in international tourism in the latter half of this year, what awaits on the other end of this static period is a more prudent traveller in a far more evolved travel ecosystem.
For travellers, the aftermath of COVID-19 lockdowns will cause a significant shift in perception of holiday destinations, caution around air travel, increase in preference for ‘safe and trusted’ destinations, and hygiene concerns.
At the other end, the travel industry will continue to adopt an increasingly digital ‘contact-less’ approach for most things – from travel planning to customer engagement, with greater assurance for sanitation standards, and possibly expanding terms of travel insurance. With all these nuances in play now, here are a few ways that people could start planning travel differently:
- Meticulous planning
Impromptu trips to short-haul destinations, backpacking across a country with no concrete plans –those whimsical travel plans that were earlier an appealing thought may soon lose a chunk of their audience. Travellers are now expected to be more wary of where they stay, travel, and eat, and will prefer planning their vacations down to the last detail. They will try to ensure that in no case do they have to settle for any accommodation or transport that they haven’t had the time to carefully vet.
- Making it an exclusive experience
Budget trips that involve cheap flights, hostels and homestays, group tours, public transport, and more have long been the hallmarks of millennial travel. However, with all human interaction now under the lens of physical distancing, travel is set to become a more exclusive experience. We expect to see an increase in solo/small group trips, well-researched and exclusive accommodation that allows you to check the health and sanitation standards beforehand, private transport (cabs, cycles, walking) – anything that helps one avoid sharing space with too many people and strangers.
- Second City Travel
Every country is known for its most popular destination – one of the key cities, thronging with tourists, crowded with local businesses, trying to capitalize on the vacationers. However, in an effort to keep a safe distance from crowds, travellers are anticipated to give such popular destinations a miss in the post-COVID travel season, and rather indulge in “second-city travel” – probably exploring a lesser-known destination in the same country. This not only helps reduce over-tourism and environmental impact, but will also mean travellers can explore without coming into contact with too many people.
- Digitalised Travel Planning
The travel industry is now expected to pay even more attention to digitalising business operations. From travel planning to visa applications and airports to hotels – the industry is at the cusp of evolution towards end-to-end digital solutions. Travellers, on their part, will seek out companies that provide them the luxury of completing their planning and booking processes from the comfort of their homes, or serviced remotely by their trusted travel agent, and without the stress of being in crowded public spaces avoiding too many human touch-points. Online travel planners, ‘doorstep’ visa services, eVisa services, courier for passport return, self-check-in kiosks at airports will now become a common sight. Travel companies will now focus on creating digital touchpoints to create a customer experience that lasts much longer than their holiday.
- A new travel-peak
The summer holidays account for 60-65% of the yearly business for travel companies and tourism boards – which is a travel peak period across the globe. Having missed that window in 2020, however, we are likely to witness a similar peak period when international borders open for long-haul travel and people deem it safe to travel again. For all those last-minute travel planners, this would mean making sure they have all their bookings and documents applied for much more in advance, to make sure air-tickets and hotel bookings are not snapped up by the sea of people who may step out altogether, itching to get to their next travel adventure.
Even with the uncertainty currently clouding our travel dreams, the world will definitely resume travel. However, the face of travel will inevitably change here on. Public health, evolved digital and sustainability standards are going to be the new wheels that the travel industry runs on – towards a smarter, safer and more sustainable future.
-Jiten Vyas is the Regional Group Chief Operating Officer – Australasia, China, Africa and Europe & CIS, VFS Global