Remember that magic 8 ball that so many of us had as children? We would spend hours asking it questions and getting excited when the little die floated to the top of the murky blue water to reveal the answer we so desperately wanted. What I wouldn’t give to have a magic 8 ball now! Even if it was just for fun, I would love to have that feeling again of “knowing” something good was going to happen for next year. I think we all could use a little positivity regarding 2021. Now more than ever the entire world’s future is uncertain. Covid has taken the notion of planning ahead and thrown it so far out the window that I’m not sure it will ever return. While the pandemic has hit almost every industry particularly hard, none understand the consequences of a global pandemic quite like the travel and hospitality industry. From airlines and cruises to restaurants and hotels, we have seen massive layoffs, extended closures, and sudden bankruptcies. Will the travel industry ever fully recover? What exactly is in store for the future of travel in 2021 and beyond?
The Travel Industry Goes Beyond Just Travel
The World Tourism Organization shows figures of 1.4 billion international travelers in 2018 and 1.5 billion in 2019. American’s in particular shattered the previous years travel numbers with 93 million traveling abroad to Europe alone. The statistics are staggering when you start to add up exactly how much money is spent by travelers and the economies those funds support. In fact, in the US, both international and domestic travelers generated 1.1 trillion in revenue. (yes that is TRILLION)
In 2015 it was estimated that nearly 10% of global jobs were now supported by the travel industry. But in March of 2020 this all came to a crashing halt as governments around the world ordered their countries into a lockdown and restricted travel. With everyone assuming the virus would run its course by summer, most people were happy to do their part and stay home. However, we are inching ever closer to the year anniversary of the shutdown and there is still yet to be an end in sight.
The cruise industry has been decimated, with some wondering if it will ever make a comeback at all. Some smaller airlines have shut down and larger ones have furloughed employees or issued pay cuts. Governments within their own country can’t seem to agree on how best to fight the pandemic, let alone trying to work together with governments of other countries. And with a disjointed approach, it seems as if we may never get out of this mess. It’s scary and stressful, and the travel and hospitality industry in particular will have to adapt like it has never adapted before if we have any hope of travel in 2021.
So What Is The Future Of Travel?
First and foremost, the pandemic has actually taught us all a very valuable lesson. We all need to slow down. We need to enjoy the people and experiences right in front of us. So many of us were preoccupied with inconsequential things, that we took for granted the most important things. For the near future at least, I believe that this lesson will linger with us. That we will take the slower life to heart and bring it with us in our travels.
Slow travel started to become popular even before the pandemic hit, but the thought of it has been growing in popularity with travelers all around the world. The idea of it is simple. Slow down and fully experience where you are. Meet the local people, taste the local food, dance to the local music, learn the local culture. So many of us were satisfied with just ticking off a box and taking an instagram worthy photo that we forgot to look up from our phones and just be in the moment. How can we expect to teach our children about other cultures if we ourselves are unable to fully immerse ourselves in it? And that is the biggest change we see for the future of travel in 2021 and beyond. Tourists will become travelers in the truest sense of the word.
What remains to be seen is how this change in travel shapes the industry. Do places like Airbnb and Vacasa see an even larger influx of guests wanting to stay in more authentic places rather than hotels? Do cruise lines switch from the mammoth liners of today to more intimate, smaller ships? Do hotels offer discounts for longer stays in order to compete with the rental house sites?
Larger cities will most likely take a longer time to recover their visitors, while smaller cities and towns may see an influx. Immunity passports are now being widely discussed for travel in 2021 and as smaller areas tend to have less available medical services, we may see immunity passports become required in order to ensure those smaller health care systems do not become over run. While there is push-back from many people regarding immunity passports, it’s not unwarranted and we already have this when heading to a destination that requires yellow fever vaccinations.
Other options could be the availability of more rapid testing sites for travelers. Many airports have already begun administering them. In fact, in conjunction with Delta Airlines, Atlanta Hartsfield airport and Rome-Fiumicino will now be allowing US travelers provided they go through the necessary testing procedures at the airports. We will surely see this trend expand to other airlines and countries shortly.
Another interesting trend we are seeing is that train travel in 2021 will be making a comeback. Europe will be introducing a new night train that will link up 13 countries. This is a great opportunity for families to support that slow travel trend while also being able to relax on the journey. Even in the US, where train travel is not as popular as in Europe, we are starting to see more options pop up. The Rocky Mountaineer for example will start service from Denver to Moab, Utah connecting two popular outdoor destinations.
With all of these changes, hotels in particular will have to adapt quickly in order to stay on top of the travel game. So what exactly are these adaptations? Well for starters, many larger hotel chains have already started to switch to contactless check-in and mobile keys. Eventually this will become the norm in our already technologically advanced world and smaller hotels will also need to get on board if they want to compete. Guests will all but demand it once they realize how much easier it makes the process.
Many of the hotels that already have this in place do require you to become rewards members, so this becomes a great opportunity for hotels to entice guests to continue to stay with them. However, with the departure of face to face interactions such as with check-in, hotels will have to accommodate guests in other ways in order to keep the personal hospitality that so many have come to expect, especially from higher end chains. We could end up seeing video calling become commonplace to the front desk and concierge instead of in-person.
Large breakfast buffets may also be sent by the wayside as many of those are havens for germs. Hotels reticent to give this up, may need to look for other options such as the “conveyer belt sushi” approach and cover the dishes as they go around. Plexi-glass between tables will most likely be installed in hotels where it is harder to social distance and possibly a lower charge on room service in order to entice guests to stay in their own rooms.
Hotels have also upped their cleaning with UV lights, electrostatic sprays and the frequency in which the cleanings occur. As more and more travelers get used to this, it will eventually become the norm and new enhanced protocols and guidelines such as this one by the American Hotel and Lodging Association will stay. Rooms themselves have also become more basic with high touch items being removed entirely.
We will also most likely see an increase in using travel agents again as well as purchasing travel insurance. Before the majority of people hop back on a plane and cross the ocean, they are going to want to know that their trip is able to be cancelled in the event of some unforeseen event. We have seen travelers stranded around the world during this pandemic, with some unable to return to their home countries. People will not want to go through that again and will take precautions to prevent it from happening.
Of course, all of these are just guesses at how the industry will morph. Although, we have already seen many of these changes take place. One thing is for certain though, the travel industry isn’t going anywhere. Only time will tell what shape it will eventually take. Still, if only I could find that magic 8 ball…
What do you think the future of travel in 2021 holds? Leave us a comment below and let us know!
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