Every cloud has a silver lining - this is how the experts weigh the COVID pandemic impact on the tourism industry and travel preferences in the near future. Cities will be quieter, UNESCO World Heritage Sites won’t be over-crowded and the skies will be less polluted. The planet has had a breather, and although the tourism industry has been suffering massively, the pandemic has taught us a vital lesson - that travel is a privilege and not a right.
Certainly, many market players have suffered significant losses; according to the UN World Tourism Organization, the world tourism has lost over $1 trillion, but its structure has changed dramatically. An impetus was given to the development of previously underestimated destinations and, very importantly, a model of so-called sustainable or conscious tourism - very friendly to the environment - appeared among the priorities of many vacationers.
Changes in the travellers’ consciousness
Conscious travellers are those who are more discerning about their journeys, willing and able to be away from home for a long time thanks to remote working, more appreciative of the surroundings and local people, and less reckless in their spending. Now, increasingly more people realize that social prestige and Instagram “likes” should not be what motivates them travelling. They choose trips that really mean something to them and are worth the effort and the risk of catching the virus. After endless months of lockdowns, there is a universal hunger for wide-open spaces. All over the world, state and national parks are experiencing huge flow of visitors after lockdowns, and the trend is set to continue this year as time spent in the wilderness is a kind of an antidote to modern urban life. The point-to-point holiday, when travellers fly to a single location and then return home, will be rivalled by an emerging trend for trips in multiple locations and at a slower pace.
People think more carefully about travelling, they seek out hotels that are doing everything they can to minimise their impact on the planet, so wellness tourism will be increasingly popular. Beachgoers can be expected to be swapping sun and pina coladas for shade and coconut water. Engaging with local communities in a safe and respectful way will also be an important aspect of trips in the future, as tourists will be keen to learn and set up human relations. The wish to leave a positive footprint stimulates the volunteering.
The fact is obvious: the forced break in travelling made us think about its impact on the world around us. A survey by Booking.com proves this. More than 53% of its respondents plan to look for more sustainable travel options in the future, as well as to reduce the carbon footprint of travelling. Those who are going to travel now want to avoid the crowded places, so the interest in less popular destinations is growing day by day. And over half of the respondents said they would visit some other destinations to avoid overcrowded travel during the peak season and overcrowded hotels.
The global travel industry insiders told their opinions:
Brian Young, Managing Director, G Adventures:
“We are seeing travellers being optimistic about long-haul options, opting for destinations such as Peru, Ecuador, Thailand and Costa Rica in 2021. Having their freedom to travel taken away has driven a shift in people’s mentality to take on those more challenging trips, which they may have put off in recent years. Trips such as Everest Basecamp have been consistently popular for 2021 bookings, while other challenging trips such as climbing Kilimanjaro and the Inca Trail have also seen a boost.”
“With some travellers looking to minimise the number of tourists they come into contact with, we also anticipate an increase in demand for local, and smaller accommodation options. For many travellers, the opportunity to stay in one place through our Local Living tours, where the group stay in a traditional agriturismo in Italy or Croatia, or sleep aboard a catamaran for a week on a sailing trip, is a great alternative to big, busy hotels.”
Pablo Caspers, Chief Travel Officer, eDreams ODIGEO:
“The prolonged period at home during COVID-19 will continue to increase people’s sense of adventure and their search for escapism. Our global research shows that people have a strong desire to travel in 2021, with 70 per cent of people planning their break.”
“A key trend that has started to emerge is the importance of familiarity to a destination, and this has translated to an uplift in short-haul travel: out of the 10 most booked destinations for Europeans next year, 60 per cent are within Europe.”
Henry Cookson, founder, Cookson Adventures:
“There are many communities and conservation projects around the world that are completely reliant on tourism. Their income has completely halted due to the pandemic and many are concerned it will get to the point of no return. As a response, we’ve launched conservation-centric experiences for our clients, such as tracking previously undocumented elephant herds in Angola’s unspoilt wilderness and supporting safari rangers in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. These are also remarkable opportunities to be the first to see wildlife and landscapes that have been left undisturbed over the past few months.”
Zina Bencheikh, Managing Director for Europe, Middle East and Africa, Intrepid Travel:
“In 2021, we know travellers around the world continue to be faced with varying levels of restrictions, and limited destinations they can visit. That’s why we’re focusing on how rather than where people will travel. We predict the rise of slow travel. The pandemic has forced us to slow down and many of us are not in a hurry to return to a fast-paced style of travel. This will often be closer to home, but we’re also seeing strong demand for all types of wilderness travel as people want to spend more time outdoors, from the Galapagos to Antarctica voyages.”
Rebecca Masri, founder, Little Emperors:
“Longer vacations will become more popular in 2021, we are already seeing the average length of stay doubled from 5 to 10 nights. We live in a world of digital nomads, where people are increasingly working remotely, they do not need to rush to the office. Right now we are faced with many “extensions” for hotel stays when visitors have already arrived.”
“There has also been a shift towards experience-driven travel. People who have been locked in their homes for months now want to discover new places, cultures, cuisines, landscapes, activities, and reconnect with nature. Hotels are more focused on wellness and include special programmes tailored for guests.”
For example, the world’s largest hotel operator Marriott International (the USA) in cooperation with Marriott Bonvoy launched a new programme in the beginning of the year called Good Travel that will embrace 15 hotels in the Asia-Pacific region.
The guests are encouraged to participate in the environmental protection activities including the mangrove restoration in Fiji and the coral transplantation in Okinawa and the Maldives. According to the company’s executives, as a result of lockdowns and reflection, people have become more conscious of the environment and the world in which they live.
The Russians are in trend
The research conducted by the NPO “Russia - Land of Opportunities” and the “Masters of Hospitality” competition with the participation of 576 tourism industry experts and professionals confirmed the global trends in tourism. The majority of respondents (62%) believe that the tourism sector will take the digitalization and ‘no-personal contacts’ approach, for example, in buying tours through applications or online consultations.
According to the respondents, the ecological tourism (63%) and the infrastructure for independent travels, including automobile travels (69%), will develop at an accelerated pace. Every second respondent in the survey believes that due to the pandemic and closed borders, the Russians will travel more often within the country.
The Russians, who preferred to travel abroad before the pandemic, are expected to spend their vacations within the country in the coming one or two years, and this resource must be used for the Russian tourism industry growth. The same opinion is also in the analytical note of the Higher School of Economics (HSE) “On the State of the Tourism Sector and its Response to the Crisis Caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
“The impact of the crisis on the tourism sector, the long suspension of the inbound and outbound segments of the tourism industry have shifted focus to the domestic tourism and created a unique opportunity for its development that must be effectively used. In the face of closed borders and restrictions on travelling between the countries due to the pandemic in the coming one or two years, the Russian tourists who traditionally went abroad will travel around the Russian Federation,” the experts say.
Tourism is important for the regional economies in terms of attracting additional money as the revenues from hotels, cafes and restaurants, transport, excursion services, sales of souvenirs, and etc. will increase, the authors of the study explain. Therefore, it is necessary to get the travel agencies and the tourists interested in travelling within Russia by creating such conditions so that they would be happy to spend money on their vacations in Russia and go back home with a desire to return to the places they visited, and also recommend the destinations to their friends, the analysts emphasize.
One of the undoubtedly important impulses that the current situation brought to the development of the tourism industry has become the orientation of the market players and the Russian tourists to the domestic tourism, according to Oleg Goshchansky, Chairman of the Board and Managing Partner of KPMG in Russia and the CIS. Many Russians have discovered new destinations within the country - not only the southern regions of Russia, but also Karelia, Baikal, Altai, Kamchatka, and other regions.
“Recently, the Russians have become more rational in terms of choosing a tour taking into account the value-for-money ratio in all segments of demand, from the low-end trips to the most expensive ones, and the processes of “becoming green”, digitalization, individualization of both demand and supply are taking place,” believes Sergey Shpilko, Honorary President of the Russian Union of Travel Industry.
As Zarina Doguzova, Head of Rostourism, notes, the lockdown allowed us to think outside the box about our daily life, in which the warmth of human communication, freedom of travelling have taken on particular importance.
“The restrictions imposed have also marked new travel trends - safe travelling has become an absolute priority. Travelling to health resorts, adventure travelling, outdoor activities in nature, and short weekend car trips will be very popular. I like to tell that discovering Russia is like discovering the whole world as the country has a unique cultural and historical heritage, stunning nature, distinctive ethnicity, traditions and customs of more than a hundred peoples ...,” she says.