Wednesday 11 November 2020 3:01 am

Five ways the travel industry can save itself

Darren Savage is chief strategy officer at Tribal Worldwide

Covid-19 has absolutely hammered the travel industry.

The UN World Tourism Organisation predicts a fall in international travel spending of $910bn–1.2 trillion this year, and that arrivals will tumble by up to 80 per cent. 

This constitutes an extinction level threat for many businesses in the industry, and has prompted an array of existential reflections, reactions, and predictions about what will happen next.

Read more: Quarantine period for UK travel arrivals set to be reduced once lockdown eases, Shapps tells industry

The industry is some way from entering a recovery phase, as the more urgent priority is to survive in the short term. However, the immediacy of survival planning must be countered by longer-term strategy and innovation to reimagine and reinvent travel for the new reality on the ground. 

With that in mind, for travellers and businesses alike, what might the travel industry look like in 2025?

A technology transformation

The travel industry is already grappling with how to keep people moving but safe at the same time. This is where technology will play a major role in terms of both individual parts of the process (e.g. voice and other hands-free tech, health tracking and reporting) and how it all wires together to form the total experience. 

These new systems will be designed to be flexible to make adapting to changing rules and guidance possible — and most importantly form part of a universally agreed and shared protocol between all travel companies, so that people don’t have to learn and work within many variations.

The return of the grand tour 

Expect to see smaller, more individual travel experiences on offer. At one level, this could see a return to the days of the grand tour, where the British elite would set out on an epic journey around Europe, taken over weeks or even longer. At another, it could be something resembling a gap year that would appeal to younger people. There will be many variations in between that will see smaller groups of people, possibly travelling via their own or hired transport to a broader range of less populous locations, off the beaten tourist trail. A central component of any future holiday will be innovation around creating unique experiences.

More forward planning

Coinciding with the return of the grand tour, we will see consumers looking to plan holidays further in advance. Right now, holidaymakers are booking in the very short term in order to take advantage of offers and navigate the highly fluid nature of country-specific and local responses. But as the global circumstances stabilise, this is likely to change. 

The time between booking these bigger adventures — that offer something especially interesting, exclusive and unique — would then be used to create connecting experiences by preparing the traveller, making sure they get the most out of their trip. 

A reinvented travel experience

The nature of the holiday experience is going to be reinvented, so the way services are promoted to people will also require a similar level of innovation. This doesn’t just mean an advertising rethink, but more thought about the end-to-end journey people go through when deciding on a holiday, designing it, and then actually setting off. 

In the years to come, we should see travel and holiday businesses play a more collaborative — and at times consultative — role throughout the entire customer experience, through a smart combination of people, community, and technology.

More collaboration 

Perhaps the best way for travel businesses to survive is to work together and navigate through this disruption collectively. A key component will be bringing in new partners that can provide useful alternative perspectives, especially in the kind of technology that can offer new insights about the motivations and behaviour of audiences. This may be in the form of partnerships between travel providers and local businesses across the world, or technology companies working with the travel industry to innovate. Either way, expect to see much more “and” or “with” when it comes to travel in 2025 and beyond. 

While the immediate picture is certainly bleak, there is hope ahead. People still want to travel: some 29 per cent of UK adults said they had taken an overnight domestic trip since lockdown eased in July, while 39 per cent expect to take a domestic trip before March 2021. By 2025, we can expect to see numbers much nearer to what we have been used to in the early noughties, with international travel back on the agenda too.

The companies that can find a way to identify and understand emergent customer sensitivities and desires, that can form new partnerships and innovate together, will be the ones left standing. 

The challenge is momentous, but for those that meet it, the opportunity for the travel industry in the next five years is significant.

Read more: Airline stocks soar on Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine breakthrough

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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