One year ago this week, on March 11, something happened that quickly changed the face of travel as we know it:
“The WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction. We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.”
A single phrase stood out then, and stands out now: “the alarming levels of inaction.”
In the spirit of looking back and pressing ahead, I’ve analyzed 10 Shared Learnings for Travel & Tourism from the dark 12 months that we’ve all just experienced.
- No-one was Prepared. “Pandemic” is a scary word, made more sinister by the fact that we only previously encountered its impact by watching disaster movies. Governments and corporates that read the pre-Covid-19 real-life risk reports placed them back in a drawer.
- Vaccines ARE/AREN’T the Only Tool in the Box. The travel industry — aware that vaccine rollouts in many countries will take most of 2021 — wants unified international collaboration on pre-/post-flight testing to open up the skies.
- Islands are in the Hot Seat. Island locations are likely to dominate the early-phase reopening roster in Asia Pacific. Free of border constraints, isolated from land-locked populations and with their own infrastructures and (fragile) ecosystems, islands are desirable and manageable destinations in the current era.
- The Quest for “Comeback Markets.” Recent case studies highly the importance of securing connectivity with comeback markets. Reopening is one thing; ensuring people are able to visit is another.
- DON’T Ditch Domestic. The enforced pandemic-era shifting of the inbound-outbound-domestic travel equation is up for revision. Governments and tourism boards have implored citizens to travel and spend at home almost as part of a national duty to support toiling economies.
- Everyone is Rethinking the “Meaning of Travel.” Covid-19 has united everyone who travels or is involved with the business of travel to take stock of our human vulnerability, personal wellbeing and our taken-for-granted mobility. Consumers understand the post-pandemic sacrifices they may need to make, and expect travel providers to do likewise.
- Economic Realism WILL Apply. Across Asia Pacific, the pandemic dislocated economic systems. Travel and tourism infrastructures have also been damaged. An initial travel rebound later this year is likely across parts of the region, but it won’t mask the deeper structural issues that travel economies must confront.
- Ancillary. Ancillary. Ancillary. Low-cost carriers made travelers more comfortable with additional costs. That’s a fact. The scale and scope of add-on fees will become more apparent when travel restarts
- Journeys in a Contact-Free World. “High Touch, Low Touch, No Touch” was a prominent hotel industry hashtag when China reopened domestic travel last year. Having spent 12 months social distancing, scanning health-check QR codes and spending via cashless wallets, contact-free travel will be expected rather than hoped-for.
- The Environmental Crisis is Next. A cursory glance at consumer purchasing trends in Asian online markets shows that up-cycled and plastic-free packaging and biodegradable items are gaining popularity. People have had a year to consider the perilous state in which the planet finds itself. They are unimpressed. Sustainable, responsible, and regenerative travel are terms that need reworking, because the tourism sector will be in the eco-cross hairs.
This is an edited excerpt from an article by Gary Bowerman, originally published by Skift.