To say this has been a rough year for the travel and tourism industry would be a gross understatement. Since January, the tourism industry has lost approximately $320 billion dollars in revenue with a projected total loss of 2.1 trillion. This severe decrease in revenue has resulted in the loss of 75 million travel related jobs, with experts predicting a delay in total recovery until 2024. For most travel related organizations, ranging from global airlines to local tour providers, the effects have been devastating.
It has been said that we cant solve our problems using the same thinking that inspired them. For the tourism industry, COVID-19 revealed a variety of dysfunctional processes and practices that ultimately led to devastating impacts, with little recovery plan. In order to prevail, tourism operators will need to change course, and implement innovative solutions and programming to capture the rapidly changing marketplace. By focusing on emerging trends, tourism operators can reorient their businesses in a new direction of growth. Most importantly, businesses that succeed will be integral to fostering a new culture of curiosity, problem solving, and risk taking within the broader tourism industry.
A variety of businesses, particularly those in the tour sector, have started to provide virtual travel experiences, which allow online audiences to view, hear, and even interact with distant settings. This trend is likely to remain after the pandemic, as it provides travel operators with a source of revenue in the off season, and a new source of entertainment for public audiences- whether frequent travellers or not. Popular virtual travel experiences include walking the Great Wall of China, tours of the Louvre Museum, or even watching a Broadway Show. Most interestingly, virtual tours now make the experience of travel accessible to everyone, creating greater inclusion and equality across the industry.
The slow travel movement emphasizes the importance of connection to people and culture, rather than manic sightseeing and country hoping that has come to define the modern tourism industry. The movement focuses on a triad of benefits- less stress for the traveller, greater impact on the local host economy, and a positive environmental impact. Due to the recent restrictions that federal governments have placed on international travel, including a two week quarantine period and closed borders, slow travel will become the default tourism option. Interestingly, experts are predicting a long-term growth in slow travel, as tourists become more accustomed to a leisurely travel experience.
Sanitation and Health
For many years unclean hotel rooms and dodgy buffets were accepted as an infrequent but inevitable aspect of the tourism industry, particularly for budget travellers. However, discussions regarding COVID-19 have placed a greater importance on the adherence to sanitation and hygiene protocol in our society. Moving forward, comprehensive sanitation procedures will become a basic requirement for participation in almost every aspect of the tourism industry- from airplanes to AirBnB. This will be mandated by governmental authorities, but also influenced by customer demand, compelling tourism operators to adhere to strict guidelines.
Did you know that domestic tourism is the key driver of tourism related growth? Governments rely on domestic tourism to eliminate local poverty, generate employment, increase economic growth, and upgrade infrastructure. As travellers remain grounded due to restrictions, domestic tourism will become more important to the economic and societal well-being of many diverse nations. In the years to come, it is likely that governmental authorities will focus on strengthening the domestic tourism sector, as a way to offset fluctuations in international travel. The memory of COVID-19 will likely influence consumer behaviour, with many tourists opting to stay closer to home over the next couple of years.
Recently, the economic ramifications of COVID-19 have been discussed in great detail throughout the media and by major stakeholders in the tourism industry. These discussions have focused on both systemic and context-dependent issues within the tourism sector, including high rates of unemployment, increasing poverty and marginalization, as well as a lack of labour rights and freedoms for workers. As the world returns to travel in the coming months, more tourists will be thinking about where they will visit and why, as their financial contribution in the next year will be one of extreme importance to communities around the world. For this reason, a greater interest in sustainable tourism is likely to emerge, as tourists recognize the importance of their role in the recovery from this unprecedented crisis.