The Road Ahead for Tourism Post-COVID-19
The global pandemic saw the contraction of many economies worldwide, with tourism taking a big hit due to travel restrictions and social distancing. Within recent months, domestic travel was a key supporter for many tourism-related and trail-down businesses such as cultural heritage sites, nature reserves, restaurants, and boutique shops. Jump to 2021, vaccines are being rolled out throughout the world bringing about hope for a return to normalcy. JPMorgan Chase reported that the amount of new infections worldwide is approximately 290,000, 67% lower than the reported 880,000 infections on January 7th, 2021.
Meanwhile, consumer sentiment towards potential international travel has skyrocketed with reports of rising bookings and stock investments in tourism-related companies. In the UK, airline company EasyJet saw a 337% increase in holiday bookings and the number of summer travel bookings from the UK increased by six times after the prime minister’s announcement of relaxed travel restrictions to be implemented by May 17th, 2021. Despite such improvements around the world, it is without a doubt that the future of travel will never be the same. So what are some of the things to know going forward? Let’s have quick a look.
Digital Vaccine Passports Required for Cross-border Travel
Experts predict international tourism to begin within the second half of this year if widespread herd immunity can be achieved. Governments and organizations are already taking action by crafting and launching their respective agendas to drive the recovery of the tourism industry. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) plans to launch a new application that can track a passenger’s COVID-19 screening and vaccination. The app, alongside government-issued digital vaccine passports, will become a key part of border entry and travel in the near future with an expected launch in the upcoming months. At the moment, at least 24 countries are looking to implement vaccine passports for travelers with China being the first to implement for its citizens through Tencent’s all-in-one mobile app, WeChat.
On the other hand, a debate is growing over the ethical and privacy concerns for the implementation of such travel passes. One major pitfall for such a system is the exclusion of certain groups of individuals that may not be able to get vaccinated due to medical reasons such as allergies and auto-immune disorders. Also, concerns over how much personal data needs to be shared still need to be clarified in legal terms. As for the already implemented digital passes like that of China, it is important to note that more agreements need to be made with other countries for the digital pass to be considered official. Although no efforts for a global digital vaccination passport have been made, implementation of such digital passes will certainly facilitate the health check process at various borders.
Digital & Tech Will Play a Bigger Role in Travel Industry
Traveler behavior has changed over the course of the pandemic. Since before the virus, travelers have been using digital tools to complete their travel plans. Destination choices, accommodation and flight booking, transportation as well as information-sourcing mostly happens online. With COVID-19, people, now more than ever, need the information to find better ways of having contactless and safer journeys. Also, the use of social media and digital services has gone up rapidly calling for the industry as a whole to reflect on the importance of digitalization. During this time, many hotels, airports, and train stations have already established their own mobile apps that allow customers to make digital payments, orders, and check-in. On top of that, many apps are equipped with customer service chat and call features that let customers avoid face-to-face interactions. For example, Hilton Hotels implemented a digital key that allows its guests to open their rooms through a mobile device. They focused their strategy on removing points of contact, which in effect also allows them to monitor customer behavior through the digital data the app provides.
But besides the no contact innovation and convenience, tourism-related businesses should note that having a digital presence is becoming more vital for their businesses. Many local businesses have a limited online presence and lack awareness. In the accommodation industry, only about 7% have real-time online booking, including those on several OTA platforms like Booking.com. This not only means that they have to rely on the local market while losing profits from last-minute and long-term bookings, but also that many potential customers won’t be able to discover or share them. Yet, it is important to note that there are many factors hindering this change such as cost, lack of digital understanding and marketing analysis know-how, as well as scalability issues. Furthermore, travel tech startups operate differently from the service-oriented travel industry indicating a gap between the two sectors. That is why going forward it will be important for tech companies and the traditional travel industry to have closer collaboration and communication to adapt to the growing needs of the growing segment of digitally-immersed consumers.
Sustainable Tourism and Social Impact
Improvements in air quality and local nature ecosystems as well as the reduction of waste was an unexpected surprise that the pandemic brought. As people become more conscious about their environmental footprint and social issues surrounding tourism, many are looking for better ways to travel. Smaller crowds and travel bubbles will be the first changes as countries negotiate travel access between borders. Restrictions on travel and social distancing will also mean that more time will be spent in locations with ecotourism, adventure tourism, and experience tourism being preferred over urban tourism.
Meanwhile, some locations are experiencing firsthand, the recovery from the over-tourism that inflicted a degradation of the natural environment and experience of other travelers. Developments in continued sustainable infrastructure and green initiatives will be a vital topic for locals and countries that heavily rely on tourism such as Greece or Spain. In fact, some countries like Bhutan are doing so by placing their focus on high-quality tourists and lower volumes of travelers coming into the country. Such trends of limiting visitors may also stick in the near-future with locations where mass-crowding occurs. In some countries, museums limited the number of visitors and time that could be spent there. As a result, some experienced a positive impact: For example, pre-COVID, the Louvre Museum in France would experience masses of people waiting up to 6 hours in line to enter. Due to the large volume of travelers, maintenance and repair work on exhibited works were difficult to schedule. Since the pandemic, restorers were able to start work on overdue restorations and refurbishments, while curators better-organized artifacts and inventory.
Chinese Tourists Still Relevant
Due to the restrictions, Chinese travelers have been looking more towards domestic travel allowing for the quick internal recovery of its tourism industry. While Chinese tourists are not expected to be traveling over long distances in the first half of the year, it is hard to ignore the impact the Chinese tourist has had on worldwide tourism consumption. According to the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute, there were 155 million outbound, Chinese travelers, in 2019, spending a collective $127.5 billion. This year, about 100 million Chinese travelers are expected to go abroad. About 91% of Chinese plan to travel again once the travel restrictions are eased and 46% wish to travel even more than before. This is largely fueled by the pent-up demand for international travel and a positive outlook of the vaccination news. Also, China’s longest national holiday, the Golden Week was withheld due to concerns over a resurgence of infections from the mass migration of Chinese returning to their hometowns leaving Chinese with more savings and less spending. During this holiday, approximately 660 million Chinese spent an estimated $84 billion, which is about 80% of 2019’s spending.
Since the pandemic, Chinese travelers’ preference for smaller groups has grown alongside concerns for safety and hygiene. Free independent and semi-independent travelers will be the first expected long-haul Chinese tourists that will go abroad. This segment includes younger generations of China including millennials and generation Z with a high purchasing power who have an affinity for unique experiences and learning local cultures, Shake to Win’s main target. With this in mind, some European cities have already begun targeting Chinese travelers by investing in localized Chinese content platforms to attract them. Using tools such as WeChat, the official promotion agency of Milan is positioning its content to become a must-visit destination for Chinese tourists. Meanwhile, other places are banking on the growth of China’s winter sports industry ahead of Beijing’s 2022 Winter Olympics. The Swiss ski resort, Laax is engaging Chinese consumers ahead of the travel period by inviting key opinion leaders and influencers to experience their resort in person.
While the road ahead for tourism is still not defined, a new wave of hope is sweeping the tourism industry. With the changes brought on by the pandemic, we hope that the industry as a whole can adapt and rise up once again.
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