This past year has been a remarkable examination of how our world responds to crisis. Each and every one of us, wherever we are in the world, has had to face the unexpected, unprecedented trauma of COVID-19. From the beginning of this year, the pandemic crept across the world, grounding each and every one of us.
It is now nine months since we were forced to stand still. What a long, demanding year it has been. COVID-19 has not just pummelled the global economy, it has deeply wounded the global community both emotionally and physically, and shaken the travel industry to its core.
As I look back at 2020, I am still astounded by the speed at which the pandemic first started and then subsequently spread. Overnight, borders were closed, skies blocked, fears unlocked. We were all left stranded to where we were in those moments. News coverage of those early days remain indelibly imprinted in my mind: a single lone cyclist on what would have been bustling Geneva roads, a vacuum of humanity in Piazza Umberto in Capri, the timeless image of absolute emptiness in ever-bustling Times Square in New York City, the lines of Parisian cafes and endless rows of retail stores all shuttered. And indicative of what was ahead, the mass of stockpiled, idle aircrafts parked in airports around the world.
Yet now, we are beginning to see tangible green shoots appearing all around us. The biggest of these is the positive vaccine news. I believe that we are entering the beginning of the end of this difficult period.
We cannot predict exactly when travel will resume but with the approval and the commencement of administering the Pfizer / BioNTech, vaccine and the pending approvals of both the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines, certainty is growing that we will be able to boldly step out of our bubbles.
This joined with the emerging reduction of quarantine requirements, significant progress in rapid testing and the trials of a digital ‘health passport’ under way to aid the reopening of borders will collectively build confidence of an imminently brighter future. Yes, we will soon escape our cabin fever and begin exploring the world again in 2021.
There is light on the horizon. We can once again begin to look forward. To look forward however, we frequently need to begin by looking back, to analyse the patterns of the year that was. From 2020 however, there are no trends. We should not put value on what trends have been established in 2020, as these are all too often simply a reflection of short-term behaviour. In times of crisis, using these behaviours as a compass for future momentum is to institutionalise damage. Instead, what we want to look at is truths – fundamental forces of thought that inspire action and change.
Throughout the interminable last nine months of 2020, we have been given plenty of time for reflection, learning and strategy as regards the future of travel. This pause has offered us the chance to re-evaluate where we go from here, to do a proper reset and define how our industry will change after the pandemic.
It is not just about how travel has changed. It is about how travellers have changed.
If 2020 has taught us one thing, it is that there is no crystal ball. But still, I would like to share with you here my nine personally defined, globally inspired perspectives on the changes we will see in our industry and the new traveller in 2021 and beyond.
1. WANDERMUST. Our wanderlust is at an all-time high. Our time at home has made us crave the world outside more than ever. The pent-up travel demand grows daily. We are aching to explore again and reconnect with the joy that travel brings. Many would travel today, if only planes were flying and borders not closed. This remains an insurmountable challenge. However, we know that when borders and skies are re-opened, so will the floodgates for travel. I believe once we can go again, we will see an unprecedented surge in demand for travel. Travel is no longer something we lust for – it is instead a fundamental necessity. We must travel again.
2. WELLBEING. Even with the vaccine, we know the creation of safer travel experiences will now be an essential, a given, and a fundamental to protecting the privilege that is travel. For everyone in our industry, wellbeing will be a reflection of brand trust. How we approach protocols to ensure travellers feel comfortable and well taken care of will become a lever for brand choice. Those that do it well will flourish. Those that don’t bother to care about caring, will struggle.
3. THE JOY IN TRAVEL. Travellers will be looking for assurance that travel brands have the know-how to ensure the magic of travel is not diluted in exchange for new protocols. They need to know that their chosen brands have the seamless ability to pivot to new requirements while still delivering the rich deep experiences they are dreaming of. At TTC, we have taken an industry’s first leap and added a specific Wellbeing Director on trip, so that our Travel Directors can remain 100% focused on customer satisfaction and delivering trips of a lifetime.
4. A GREATER VALUE PROPOSITION. Price has been the historic driving force far too often in travel. In the year ahead, what we get for our money in terms of safety, enrichment, education, inspiration and protection will become of greater importance than just the price we pay.
5. THE GREAT OUTDOORS. We are already seeing that 2021’s travellers, not surprisingly, want nature, the outdoors – places that deliver on wide open spaces, fresh air, a chance to get into nature, and a way of avoiding crowds. When borders lift, I am confident we will see a resurgence in destinations such as New Zealand and Switzerland that will shoot to the top of the ‘must visit now’ lists.
6. CONSCIOUS AND MEANINGFUL TRAVEL. This year has shown that the issue is not over-tourism. The world needs tourism for all of its social, cultural, economic and environmental benefit. The issue is rather of irresponsible crowding as a result of bad management and bad manners. We will see more companies focus on the integration of both conscious and meaningful travel experiences into their DNA. This is what true ‘sustainability’ is all about. Here at Trafalgar and as part of TTC, we have always looked to make a difference to people, places and the planet, ensuring the destinations we are so privileged to visit are there for generations to come. I am filled with hope and certainty that when we travel again, we will continue to be a driver of real change. It is through what we do as an industry that we can regenerate and restore our world’s natural and cultural treasures through travel itself. I believe that travellers themselves will want to ensure that their travel dollars and decisions directly, responsibly and sustainably impact the communities they visit.
7. FAMILY AND FRIENDS TRAVEL. After stressful times – 2020 being exactly that – multi- generational travel, and family and friends travel as a whole, will see a significant rise. Why? Because the importance of travelling together will be something we will see continue as loved ones recognise and appreciate their value as units – essential ‘bubbles’. Respecting this shift in social connection, we have extended our offering and created our own private groups and ‘travel bubbles’ so as to provide travellers with even more options to suit their wishes and wants.
8. TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION. The post-COVID19 world will be far more digital. Reason being, the pandemic has compressed years’ worth of transformation into months, accelerating ideation and investment, bringing on dramatic shake-up in how people research, buy and interact with their travel experiences. Greater use of tech for touchless and low touch experiences have become a basis for infrastructure enhancement. Despite limited travel, in the last year we have already seen electronic devices become more critical to our safe existence. The use of biometrics will be the new normal. Bravely, TTC has removed paper travel documentation and on trip paper touchpoints from our vacations and switched purely to digital communication. Touchless interactions are both instantaneous and sustainable. The use of less paper is the way of the future.
9. THE ROLE OF THE BOOKING AGENT. At a time when travellers are innately nervous around the unknown of a destination at a health and safely level, the expertise, knowledge and support of a skilled Booking Agent is vital for clients returning to travel. Travellers will be looking to those booking channels that offer the personal touch, and who take the time to reconnect and understand inherently the needs of the customer, and what they can offer them for ultimate reassurance.
Travel in the year ahead will look different, no question about it. And this can and will be a good thing. The richness of our experiences, and the feelings we get from travel, have intensified. The opportunity is now to turn inspiration and aspiration into action.
One must never take for granted the impact and freedom of being able to pack a bag, hit the skies or the open road, and fulfil that dream, be it one of leisure or business. Never again should we cast aside as a ‘given’ the concept of travel as an expectation and entitlement. It is truly one of the greatest gifts of our lives for so many reasons beyond being simply a vacation.
The new year awaits. We will soon begin a new, infinitely better year. But we are not there yet. We must remain strict, patient, diligent, staying the course until the pandemic is over. There is no ‘going back to normal’ as there is no going back, and no normal, to return to.
2021 has the power to be one of the most meaningful of our lives, for our industry, and for people and places across the globe. We look forward to a year of good health, great success, and the gift to travel restored, richly.