While still in the midst of attempting to navigate one of the most profound crises to hit global markets, many within the travel and hospitality industries are already beginning to look ahead to determine what the long-term future may hold for their businesses. According to current forecasts, statistics fortunately indicate a rapid economic turnaround between 2021 and 2022. Yet beyond performance expectations, questions still remain over what ultimate shape the global travel and hospitality industries will take in terms of operating procedures, consumer trends and service offerings once the COVID-19 pandemic becomes a part of history.
Certainly some pre-pandemic behaviors and practices may ultimately return as consumer and business confidence inevitably rebounds. One day, we will be able to venture out without the compulsory face mask or need to remind ourselves to stay socially distanced. However, and in light of efforts to prevent a similar crisis occurring again, many processes and habits will have been irreversibly altered for years to come, and truly represent the definition of a “New Normal” in the way that we conduct business and carry out certain aspects of daily life. What follows is a look beyond the present to determine how travel and hospitality markets may evolve to meet consumer needs of the future while not repeating mistakes of the past.
Enhanced Collaboration Between Industries and Government
Since its onset, much of the current health and market crisis has been marked by unilateral actions taken with limited dialog and coordination between governments, representative groups or businesses. While many such organizations may have initially been simply taken by surprise as the pandemic rapidly spread and acted in haste, this varied approach is frequently identified as prolonging and exacerbating the current situation.
Moving forward, we may likely see strategies and programs put in place that will address this deficiency in order to strengthen greater intergovernmental and organizational collaboration to minimize the impact of any future potential health threat the moment it arises. Within the tourism sector for example, suggestions are now being presented for providers and health officials to create a strong communications strategy, including ensuring that travelers are provided with up-to-date health facts on their destination and what to do in order to prevent the spread of infection to themselves and others. With international tourism expected to eventually rise to 1.8 billion by 2030, the risk of new pandemics spreading likewise increases, and the need for cooperation and information sharing therefore becomes all the more vital to the future wellbeing of the industry.
The Changing Face of Travel Routines, Services & Regulations
As we have already seen, what currently remains of air travel has been drastically altered as a result of the pandemic. Now, almost as routine as handing over identification and tickets, many airports and airlines around the world have introduced the requirement of masks and temperature checks to reduce the risk of virus exposure within closed terminal and airplane spaces. Yet while certainly assisting with efforts to contain COVID-19, such practices will likely be reexamined to determine if more effective long term measures exist to maximize the protection of travelers and those at arriving destinations.
To provide a more efficient, streamlined and contactless process, some ideas are already beginning to surface that personal records used to validate travel eligibility could be provided digitally via technology such as Blockchain. Other technological advancements are also now emerging that may become a familiar sight within the next couple of years, including the development of specialized breathalyzers able to detect virus particles within air droplets regardless of whether an individual demonstrates symptoms or is asymptomatic.
With much of what happens within the travel and hospitality industries often causing a mirror effect within each market, the need to present vaccination records or submit to a virus detecting breathalyzer may even one day become a procedure used within hotels and other types of travel destinations to safeguard current guests, staff and local communities. Such mirroring can already be seen with the mass adoption of contactless technology and services within both markets. Within airports for instance, while travelers have for some time been able to check-in and board flights using just their personal devices, they are now and will increasingly be able to use devices to perform a range of tasks using contactless means. Examples include implementing mobile-friendly garages that allow travelers to enter and pay for parking using personal devices or the ability to drop off bags and fill out customs forms without needing to come into close contact with others or with shared surfaces. Such services not only serve to protect the health of travelers but can also be viewed as a convenience-enhancing factor, likely ensuring wide-spread adoption in the long run.
Likewise within hotels, contactless services have experienced massive adoption rates with more and more properties offering alternatives to many traditional services. Options include the ability to use personal devices to check-in digitally without coming into close contact with others as well as the ability to gain entry to guestrooms and other hotel areas using smart devices as a digital key. Instead of physically communicating requests for services or seeking out information directly from hotel staff, hotels are also increasingly providing AI chatbots that can instantly provide guests with insight or can direct tasks to the appropriate departments without ever requiring direct physical contact. As with their airport counterparts, these contactless services can work to not only protect guest health but can also provide them with faster, more convenient and personalized service that will ultimately lead to their continued and growing presence in the years to come.
Evolving Guest Preferences, Priorities and Expectations
While there will no doubt be several long term changes to how the travel and hospitality industries will function and interact moving forward, another key aspect to consider is how travelers and guests themselves will ultimately evolve with regards to their behaviors, expectations and preferences. Certainly for a considerable length of time, many consumers will opt to avoid international travel, with a recent survey conducted on travelers across nine countries indicating that most are planning their first trip to be domestic regardless of any lifting of travel restrictions. In the same study, 56 percent of travelers also stated that they believe the health crisis will affect their choice of travel destination even after two or more years have passed. Such statistics ultimately point to a need for travel and hospitality industries to focus more on obtaining revenue from more regional demographic sources.
Another trend that while existing prior to the health crisis but that is nonetheless expected to continue as consumers consider the impact of personal decisions in light of COVID-19, is the need to conform to the growing socially and environmentally aware expectations of future travelers. From how mass tourism may impact the ecology of local beaches to issues related to food, water and energy waste, travel and hospitality businesses will increasingly need to examine virtually every aspect of how they run their operations and what effect they have on their surroundings and the overall environment. Fortunately, the industry has for some time been attempting to provide solutions to these types of challenges, with the pandemic now offering an opportunity to revise and restructure operations. Some industry strategists for instance, support the adoption of a “slower” type of tourism where travelers in smaller numbers are encouraged to stay for longer. With food waste identified as a leading type of waste for the hospitality industry, IHG and technology providers are also partnering with a goal to reduce hotel food waste by 30 percent.
Preparing for the Future by Examining Where the Present Will Likely Lead
While the travel and hospitality industries have previously been recognized as subject to sudden change and shifts in market needs, the ongoing pandemic crisis has certainly represented one of the biggest challenges in determining what the future of both markets will ultimately look like. Yet although in initial stages, we at least can begin to identify what that future may hold by analyzing currently forming strategies to eliminate the present threat and prevent a similar one from one day recurring. We can also look to contemporary guest and traveler trends to attempt to establish how a growing focus on health and the safety of others will shape long term behaviors and needs when it comes to service expectations. Ultimately whatever may be in store for hospitality and travel in 2021 and beyond, it is likely to result in safer, more responsible businesses that ultimately seek the wellbeing and satisfaction of customers to ensure continued market growth and profit in the years to come.