At least 90% of the world’s population has been affected in one way or another by the current pandemic. Borders have shut down, social distancing has required citizens to isolate in their homes, and economies have been put on hiatus.
While many industries have been impacted, the travel and tourism industry has been particularly hard hit. Travel and quarantine restrictions coupled with tight budgets and fears of infection have significantly reduced tourism. By the end of 2020, international tourism is expected to decline by 80%, resulting in up to $1.2 trillion in lost revenues. Additionally, an estimated 100 million tourism and travel and 25 million aviation jobs are at risk.
This has left many industry experts, employees, and travelers unsure of what the future will hold for tourism. Currently, the travel industry and its providers are adapting day by day but some are now looking to post-COVID-19 recovery. This article explores expectations companies and tourists may have surrounding travel in the near future, and key travel technology trends that may change the face of travel in the long term.
In this article:
- How will tourism look in the near future?
- Tourism tech trends post COVID-19
- Looking to the future of tourism
How Will Tourism Look in the Near Future?
It is not yet clear when the pandemic will be over, however many governments are already trying to restore health to national economies. This means deciding which industries should go back to normal operations, and redefining what “normal” means for each industry, including tourism.
Focus on local tourism and hospitality
Post COVID-19, countries need to strike a balance between public safety and economic recovery. Many countries are trying to achieve this balance by restricting international tourism, setting their sights instead on domestic tourists.
An example of this can be seen in Airbnb rentals across Europe. In France, Denmark, and the Netherlands, rental rates are beginning to return to normal but with almost exclusively local residents. This also seems to be the trend going into the summer. This was after a near 90% drop created when borders were initially restricted.
This type of local-first tourism approach may diminish traditional tourism offerings, but it can also promote the following niches:
- Health tourism: As people become more health-oriented, many are expected to seek wellness, restoration, and healing vacations. Yoga retreats, spa treatments, and other pro-health activities should be particularly appealing for tourists.
- Heritage and culture tourism: When limited to nearby locations, heritage and cultural experiences can gain the spotlight. This means an increase in interest of museums, restaurants, history tours, and other local sites.
- Outdoors tourism: Without a vaccine, social distancing and isolation remain the main COVID-19 prevention method. This may lead to a rise in outdoor vacations, including camping, hiking, or watersports.
- Family and friends tourism: In places where lockdowns have been enforced, and families and friends have been kept separated, tourism packages focusing on day outings, might see an increase rather than week long excursions.
Remote or secluded locations
While remote locales have always been popular with certain tourists, these vacation options are sure to see more interest post-coronavirus. As flights return and border restrictions are lifted, isolated locations with limited access can provide an uncrowded vacation setting.
Such locations could include remote islands, mountain lodges, or even backcountry campsites. The actual location isn’t as important as the ability to enjoy the luxury of a vacation without fear of the virus due to an influx of tourists.
A focus on small groups
Whether it be accommodations with limited rooms (like bed and breakfasts) or private tour groups, tourism in the post-COVID world should start small. For instance, instead of cruises with thousands of people on a single ship, tourists may start seeking out charter boats. Or, rather than crowded theme parks, tourists may look for individual attractions.
Likewise, tourists will probably prefer private transportation over public and vacation rentals over hotels. Such private options provide tourists more control over who and how many people they interact with on their vacation, limiting the risk of infection and increasing peace of mind.
Controlled acceptance of international tourism
Once virus fear has decreased, companies and governments are going to start competing to draw international tourists back in. This will require careful filtering of who is allowed to come in and under what conditions, as freely allowing visitors could lead to new infections.
One possibility for managing this return is the use of screening certificates or immunity cards. These proofs of good health or immunity could be issued under internationally sanctioned conditions. For instance, some countries and airlines, such as Emirates, are conducting on-site rapid COVID-19 tests based on internal standards. Additionally, many countries also have quarantine restrictions in place, requiring multiple rounds of testing upon arrival or for visitors to remain in isolation for up to 14 days. At this time, most European countries are in the process of reopening borders and this is where the real test for measures will be seen.
Tourism Tech Trends Post COVID-19
As countries and travelers prepare for the future, many companies are also working to build and integrate tech to make the transition smoother. While there are many types of technology that can help, below are a few of the most promising areas.
Reducing points of shared touch and face-to-face interactions is a primary concern for travelers and tourism providers. To reduce these issues, many organizations are looking for ways to incorporate contactless technologies.
For example, some airports are investigating alternatives to handling tickets, passports, and other travel documents during check-in and boarding. A number are considering the use of biometrics, such as IATA’s ONE ID. Biometrics can include contactless fingerprinting, iris scanning, or facial recognition. Other options include touchless entry, including gesture controls, document scanning, or voice commands.
Another area that is gaining popularity, especially with hotels and accommodations, is the use of mobile applications. These applications can enable guests to check-in or out of rooms, unlock doors, or pay for services. Applications can also be used to replace information cards or room service menus, remotes, or environmental controls all of which have the potential to spread the virus via their surfaces.
Enhanced cleaning technologies
Cleaning and sanitation are another main focus for both travel providers and customers. Travelers expect companies to take precautions to ensure clean environments and employees want to be reassured that they can work safely.
To address these concerns, providers are implementing stricter standards. For example, Marriott hotel chain recently created the Marriott Global Cleanliness Council.This council is focused on creating a standard for global hospitality, including best practices for minimizing risk for visitors and staff. It includes the use of electrostatic sprayers with hospital grade disinfectants, enabling a more thorough disinfection of difficult to clean surfaces such as lobbies or gyms. It also incorporates ultraviolet light technologies to help make sterilization more effective. This article on how hotels can get ready for business post-COVID-19, provides useful guidance on steps to help meet customer expectations alongside the new requirements.
Airports are too using a variety of technologies to improve sterilization. In Hong Kong, this includes full-body disinfection booths, antimicrobial coatings on high touch surfaces, and cleaning robots. According to reports, the booths can disinfect a person and their clothing in 40 seconds and incorporate photocatalysts or “nano needle” technology, designed to kill pathogens. Meanwhile, the robots are equipped with ultraviolet light and air sterilizers making cleaning efforts more efficient.
Learn more about the technologies advancing travel in our article on airport technology.
With many providers struggling to meet revenue goals or expenses, companies are likely to have less staff available to help customers. To work around this, incorporation of automation is a possible solution.
In addition to the self-service that customers can access through the mobile apps mentioned previously, some stores may begin implementing automated checkout processes for easier and interaction free purchasing. For example, by incorporating Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology, airports and hotels could switch to self-service gift shops or cafeterias. Airports are also likely to include additional automationed processes. For example, incorporating thermal cameras into security monitoring to detect fevers. Or, integrating data from contact or symptom tracing databases to help screen passengers.
Another option is to adopt universal identity documents, such as that proposed by the Known Traveller Digital Identity initiative. This initiative suggests creating a coalition between individuals, governments, authorities, and the travel industry to enable providers to share data and resources. This would significantly speed screening times and health verifications.
Smart door-to-door transportation
Another trend expected to increase in popularity is door-to-door transportation services. With many travelers concerned over the safety of public transport, they are seeking alternative ways to get around. Smart transportation services help travelers to find the transport solution that best meets their needs, in terms of safety, budget, and convenience.
For example, smart transportation services can be integrated into a hotel or online travel agency website. Such as in the recent partnership with HERE Mobility and Booking.com, which sees HERE Mobility's smart transportation technology integrated into the Booking.com platform. Through the collaboration, Booking.com users have more possibilities to order their rides from the airport or their hotel, at the same time they make their travel reservation.
Looking to the Future of Tourism
Although the present may seem challenging for tourism, most experts expect the industry to recover in 2021. While this recovery may look different from the industry pre-COVID, people’s desire to travel is unlikely to disappear. In particular, experts foresee an increase in leisure travel and visits to friends and family as citizens seek to unwind and reconnect socially after prolonged periods of isolation.
However, to enable this recovery, the industry and destinations need to take steps to safeguard travelers and workers. Companies will have to operate with tight budgets but be willing to invest in new processes and technologies, and to be flexible to changing needs and requirements. Assuming they are able to do so, they should be equipped to effectively adapt to the post-COVID-19 world and its “new normal.”