The Future of Travel
July 2021 | By David R. Harris | 7 minute read
As the world finally starts to reopen and we emerge from the pandemic, there are so many things that have been altered or impacted by COVID-19. For us in the travel industry, we were among the first industries that had to adapt and introduce all the sweeping changes or measures to be COVID-19 safe. While we all look to returning to normal, there are several measures that will likely be long lasting and permanent, and even – dare I say - welcomed ones.
The Long Lasting and Even Surprisingly Welcome Changes Following COVID-19
Much like the security standards for travel following 9/11, and which remain in effect today nearly twenty years later, so too, is the next iteration of change for the health and safety of a global population. I think we can all agree that cleaner is better. Now that hotels and airlines have adopted enhanced measures, there is going to be increased expectation that those will continue. As a result, consumers are likely going to gravitate to those companies that will continue to put increased emphasis on cleaning and safety protocols permanently. At the same time, travelers will want the services and amenities they loved pre-COVID but with the new adjustments.
It is also worth noting how the cruise lines – which took the brunt of attacks during the pandemic - had a lot of these protocols in place before the pandemic. Cruise ship passengers have long been accustomed to seeing hand sanitizers placed throughout the ship with crew regularly encouraging/requiring passengers to use whenever returning to the ship, going to the restaurants and other public areas. Furthermore, to my knowledge there aren’t medical staff and facilities in every hotel which of course are standard operating procedures for ships.
Say goodbye to self-serve buffets
Whether it’s the midnight buffet on a cruise ship or all you can eat breakfast at your hotel, travelers have had a long-lasting love affair with self-serve buffets. Now that the buffet line is behind plexiglass with an employee as a designated server, it will feel different – but now that we all think about that from a different perspective, I think we can all agree that it’s probably better that way. It’s a small change that won’t really impact the overall experience and will set a standard that is probably better for overall health even without a global pandemic.
Flexible booking/refund policies
If there is one thing travelers loved during the pandemic, it has been the ability to book no-risk travel. Refund and rebooking policies are now more flexible. It’s going to be tough to turn the clock back on this, but perhaps our industry can find a compromise that encourages consumers to book a trip without having to suffer such significant costs if they need or want to move their dates.
Every traveler should have it – full stop. While we all hope another global pandemic won’t occur for another century, travelers have really come to appreciate the importance of having a CFAR (Cancel for Any Reason) policy as we all learned that you never know what is going to happen. While many consumers may push back thinking that a once in a generation pandemic isn’t likely to repeat itself anytime soon, the lesson learned is that nobody can predict the future and just as consumers have insurance to protect other investments, having it to protect their vacation is just as important.
Reservations and limited capacity for tourist attractions
Travelers embraced the concept of attractions and museums requiring reservations and limiting capacity. While it was needed for safety and social distancing concerns, I don’t think anybody wants to go back to the days of waiting in line for hours only to have several hundred people all trying to view the Mona Lisa at the same time. New technology combined with consumer demand will likely expedite the inevitable movement to virtual lines and a more efficient and enjoyable experience for everyone.
Smaller less populated destinations will remain popular
Small ships, small group tours and boutique properties were already growing in popularity before the pandemic. And while travelers may have chosen smaller, more remote destinations offering more natural social distancing during the pandemic, the interest in getting off the grid, visiting national parks remains in high demand. While this may be partially due to the global challenges faced by some of the most “exotics” whose recovery has taken longer, bookings for well into 2022 and 2023 reflect that this trend is here to stay at least in the near term.
At Ensemble, we have seen increased demand for domestic travel as well as for experiences that reflect these trends and have adapted by introducing new suppliers that focus on these types of small group, small ship experiences as well as tour operators specializing in destinations that take travelers a little off the grid.
Travel is a critical economic generator
While there may be a perception by some that travel or taking a vacation is a luxury or self-indulgent, the reality is and was demonstrably proven during the pandemic, travel is a critical economic driver. In addition to the number of people employed directly by travel, the impact on local economies was critically affected when the world basically closed down. That meant that entire communities which are dependent on travel as the main source for their economy– particularly in developing countries – had little or no money for critical services. Many were unemployed causing a ripple effect that translated into a startling demand to provide basic care for communities around the world. It will take years for these areas to rebuild and recover. It also put a spotlight on how critical it is to support local businesses when traveling and how our vacation can translate into someone else’s economic stability.
At the same time and in the current phase of the pandemic, it can also translate into someone else’s overall health and wellness and is something we must also be mindful of. While wealthier countries such as the European Union, the U.S. and Canada have been able to achieve relatively high vaccination rates and access to vaccines for citizens to provide a higher level of protection and in many cases, some form of herd immunity, these countries that have already taken an economic hit are also seeing spikes in cases and mortality rates. The reality here is that residents who work in the travel/hospitality industry in these less fortunate countries must return to work as they have little or no money and rely on tourism as the primary source for their income. Many of these workers likely don’t have access to vaccinations and our travel has the potential to put them – and their families – at risk for contracting the disease, spreading it or worse. As citizens of the world, we must also consider if traveling to these destinations may pose more of a risk to the health and safety of these populations and if it is more responsible to NOT promote certain travel until we can do so for their safety as well.
One thing is certain and that is that travel is going to look and feel different from the impact left by COVID-19. But that doesn’t mean that it will be reflected in a negative way. In fact, I think that many of these changes will serve to enhance the traveler’s experience while making it safer and more enjoyable. Travel has always evolved, and it always will. Travelers have evolved, too, and I think we’ve all learned that we are more adaptable than we ever imagined we could be.
As we welcome the reopening of the world, I believe and hope that we will all embrace these changes. Perhaps even more importantly, I think that the perception of travel will be different with a newfound and deeper appreciation for the freedom and ability to travel as well as for all the people who make it possible.
David R. Harris
Chief Executive Officer
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