Since the Covid-19 pandemic hit, travel has grounded to a complete halt. Critical client meetings have been moved to Zoom, frequent-flier cards have gathered dust and we communicate with colleagues, friends and family around the world without jumping on a plane.
Uncertain is a buzzword making its way into most conversations at the moment, on travel specifically or when speaking about the future in general.
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, in 2019, travel and tourism’s direct, indirect and induced impact accounts for 10.3 percent of the global GDP and 330 million jobs around the world (that is 1 in 10 jobs).
The damage done by the pandemic is yet to be completely accounted for and not only in terms of revenue lost, but also from the loss of jobs and more importantly livelihood, for the multitude of people working in the travel, tourism and hospitality industries. The crisis has left the industry at rock bottom. With many airlines going under, it seems likely that many of those jobs aren’t coming back anytime soon — if ever.
Prior to the pandemic, with the economy on solid ground, investment in the travel industry boomed. Now, this massive engine of growth has been thrown into reverse as Covid-19 continues to ping-pong around the globe.
But alas that was the economy we once knew.
We’re all struggling to understand how quickly travel will recover in terms of the magnitude of the impact the pandemic has caused. Recovery from past events like 9/11 or the global financial crisis generally took two to three years, but even then these events did not entail the months-long shutdown of virtually all of global travel.
And health concerns also were not an issue in either of the events. And that makes it even harder to predict how soon fliers may feel comfortable exposing themselves to strangers once again, or fellow passengers not wearing masks and a general discomfort around flying. The scars inflicted on travel and tourism look to be permanent as most tourism related companies shift away from massive travel budgets and experiential living becomes a memory.
The former strength of the travel and leisure sector was a convergence of demographic and economic factors such as lifestyle changes among the middle class who had been bitten by the ‘flying bug’ and were eager to see the world beyond the local tourism segments, availability of resources to spend freely on leisure and business travel, and millennial and solo travellers who lived to taste the bigger chunk of travel related experiences.
This massive pullback in both business and leisure travel is apt to inflict the deepest economic pain on both the airline as well as the hospitality sectors. According to IATA the industry is unlikely to come back on its feet as it were to pre-covid days, until the 2024 or even later, provided the vaccine is available soon.
All over the globe with countries most dependant on tourism such as Mexico, Spain, Italy, China and Australia, are struggling to find an answer to the crises as cases show a resurgence of a second wave.
And that is the case of just the developed world, many emerging markets that are highly dependent on travel and tourism will be devastated if the pandemic continues to spread over time.
Travel is a massive services export for many countries. As the recession caused by the pandemic becomes apparent, the task to rebuild and renew the travel and hospitality industry once again will be a long and ongoing process for years to come.
So how does the future of travel look like?
Well travelling will make a come-back again, that’s for sure. But it will be a privilege with people making considered choices about not only how and where they travel but also why they want to travel.
After being cooped up for so long, travellers will more responsible and conscientious as they seek out serene holiday spots, which will give them peace, simplicity and a desire to reconnect with nature.
People are likely to take fewer holidays, with the journey and experience being just as important as the destination.
The travel corridors which have recently been created by many countries are a great first step in rebooting the travel industry. In the immediate future, both staycations and trips which offer greater connection with local communities, and supporting travel brands that prioritize and implement environmentally sustainable tourism will lead the way.
Of course the truly deciding factor will be safety – moving forward travellers will want clear and transparent communication from the tourism councils, government, destinations, tour operators and other travel providers reassuring them that it is safe to travel.
The situation that we are currently experiencing is universal. And although is a time none of us ever wanted to see in our lifetime, what makes me hopeful is that this situation has somehow generated the opportunity for people to feel united again. This challenging period made people more sensitive and connected to each other, more concerned about their health and well-being, keener to find their real selves, and also to look for balance and meaning in their lives.
It was also a chance for nature to take a break and breathe, as well as to remind us of the importance of living in simplicity and purity.
As Ancient Greeks used to say, “All in good measure.”
OS- Bloomberg Opinion;BBC News;Forbes