The outlook for the tourism industry remains massively uncertain since the wake of COVID-19. The coronavirus catastrophe continues to hit hard, with international travel decreasing by about 80 percent in 2020.
In 2021, domestic tourism is shown to soften the knock-back effect, at least to some extent, with governments taking imposing measures to re-activate and restore the industry to protect jobs and businesses.
But, new strings of the virus are increasingly making things highly indeterminate. The new variants raise the question: will the COVID-19 vaccines still work? Are people more at risk of getting sick? What will the future look like? Should people prepare to live with the virus?
These scenarios for the travel industry indicate that the international tourist numbers could decline further, which will also translate into a drop in visitor spend. This will also continue to place millions of direct tourism jobs at risk.
This brief read probes into the current state of the travel industry amidst the COVID-19 pandemic while also providing a foretaste of how the future will look like.
What’s the State of the Travel Industry Today?
The impact of the coronavirus outbreak has decimated the hospitality, tourism, and travel sectors. The industrial revolution that had brought us closer together by making travel and tourism affordable – a revolution that fueled one billion trips annually – is up the creek!
Taking a snapshot of tourism losses is challenging, as the data changes as the virus quickly spread and new variants emerge. In the first half of last year, tourism fell globally by more than 65 percent, with a near halt since April.
Coming off the worst year in travel history, there’s little sense of optimism in 2021. Most travel experts are now very cautious in their perspectives, with most not expecting a return to pre-pandemic levels no sooner than 2023.
Tourism-dependent countries, such as Australia, New Zealand, Kenya, Tanzania, and others, will probably continue to feel the negative impacts of the pandemic for much longer than other economies. This is because contact-intensive services fundamental to travel, tourism, and hospitality sectors are disproportionately affected by the epidemic and will continue to suffer until people feel safe to travel en masse again.
What Does the Future Look Like?
As mentioned prior, most governments are making strides to ensure safe international travel, but we must remain aware that this crisis is far from over. The digitization, coordination, and harmonization of COVID-19 travel-related risk reduction measures, including testing, tracing, and vaccination certificates, are vital practicalities for ensuring safe travel.
Despite the turmoil, some travel connoisseurs are forecasting blue skies going into the future. Bruce Poop Tip, the founder of G Adventures and author of travel-related books, says that not only will we travel again, but we will also do it better.
“This pause gives us the gift of time to take into consideration how we can travel better and more consciously,” he says.
The tourism and travel sectors will continue to adapt and adjust to changes that will appear in the wake of the contagion, which will present opportunities and challenges for outdoor recreation in equal measure.
Analysts say that most travel enthusiasts will experience ‘off-the-beaten-path nature, safaris, and outdoor destinations such as Masai Mara, then crowded amusement parks and public beaches.
It will be much more about adventure tourism with good wine, delicious food, comfortable nights, and experience than silk sheets and humongous bottles of champagne.
Trust, safety, and health will be integral in this new age. Concerns for social distancing, fears of being stuck in a foreign country, and personal experiences will spearhead consumer behavior. Business firms will also pool resources even more meticulously with their extended value chains to warrant readiness.
Travelers will seek quality over quantity, allowing them the freedom to travel for passion and experiences rather than just ticking the bucket list.
“The pandemic has prompted me to rethink why and how I travel,” says Erick Prince of The Minority Nomad.
The pandemic has allowed people to reassess the core of travel – wonder, exposure to newness, curiosity – a perspective, not just about the destination.
The Role of Digitization in this New Era
This devastation is proving to be an unlikely catalyst in the tourism and travel sectors’ quest for innovation and the integration of new technologies. Amid the travel restrictions, digital adoption and consumption in the industry are on the rise.
Travel adherents will expect contactless technologies et al. to be the essential prerequisite for seamless and safe travel experiences upon resumption. Tourists will look to decrease their contact with high-touch points across their journey, from booking to viewing menus and using mobile check-in systems to access aspects of their hotel rooms via their mobile devices.
Studies indicate that more than 50 percent of travelers will look to ditch their paper passports for digital identifiers. Consistently, the industry will build on and existing aggregate solutions for e-gates and biometric verifications at airports and other touchpoints to enhance the consumer experience.