Travel companies are fighting for their lives. Being at the bleeding edge of the storm has violently thrown us from a predictable risk environment into the deep uncertainty of uncharted waters.

Nobody has a playbook, and only with a clean-sheet mindset and the proverbial “out-of-box” thinking will we manage to find our path out of this mess. We might not come out stronger from it, but hopefully faster, leaner and a little wiser.

This piece aims to forward-engineer four possible scenarios for how the travel industry will emerge once this pivotal crisis is over.

A peek into the future

The potential scenarios that unfold are narratives of four plausible outcomes in travel of the current COVID-19 catastrophe. Each future substantially differs from one another, highlighting profound trends this crisis has unleashed and that might play out in very different ways.   

To bring the scenarios to life, I created a matrix that addresses the uncertainties around traveler behavior and economic recovery.

  • Y axis: “to which degree will travel behavior change after the pandemic?” This axis reflects a wide range of collective shifts in societal attitudes about the why and how we travel.
  • X axis: “how long will the economic crisis last and how fast will the world recover?” This axis illustrates the depth and length of the economic downturn and the degree that it will impact companies across the entire travel industry.

Depending on how the economic recovery and the changes in travel behavior play out, a very different travel industry landscape will emerge out of this crisis. The different outcomes can be distilled in four distinctive scenarios:

Game-changing trends that will dictate the outcome

Among all the moving pieces unfolding in the current seismic shock, a number of consumers, health protection, regulatory and macroeconomic trends stand out.

They will all shape either the economic recovery on the X-axis or the travel behavior on the Y-axis.

Let us look at these potential game-changers:

  • Consumer shifting towards online shopping and experiences
  • Virtual becomes business as usual
  • Health and hygiene standards go mainstream
  • Social distancing while traveling

Health and economic drivers impacting travel

With the entire world was brought to a crashing halt to help control the spread of the virus, there was simply no historical precedent on when and in which shape the economy will rebound. 

Economists traditionally sketch three broad possible recovery scenarios, which are described as V-U-L:

  • V-shaped
  • U-shaped 
  • L-shaped

How long it takes the world economy to get back on its feet will profoundly shape the future of our travel industry.

  • Virus severity and spread
  • Government economic policies
  • Border barriers and travel restrictions

The scenarios, beginning with the first below and in further articles, outline four ways the interplay between the economic crisis and travel behavior shifts might unfold and its ripple effects on the transport, accommodation and travel distribution sector.

Scenario 1:  Travel swings back to normal in 2021

If history is any lesson, recent epidemic outbreaks have enjoyed a classic V-shape GDP recovery, as these charts from a Harvard Business Review paper clearly illustrate:

Containment efforts in all countries made the outbreak peak in April 2020. The rapid drop in new cases and mortality from May onwards is allowing governments to gradually start relaxing social distance measures following the successful playbook of Asian nations. And now, it appears public sentiment and business confidence starts moving up again.

On the economic front, governments and central banks across the world opened up the financial floodgates, pumping a jaw-dropping $8 trillion of fiscal stimulus into the global economy.

This unprecedented effort in postwar history allows industries to absorb most the shock of the economical shutdown for both businesses and workers hit by the COVID-19 sledgehammer, preventing larger structural damages to the economy.

Looking forward, the fear of a second wave in the fall of 2021 does not materialize, thanks to a world much better prepared to selectively contain the virus.

In Q4, most of the world enjoys a strong economic rebound reaching pre-crisis metrics in early 2021 and triggering a new growth cycle for years to come. 

The miracle of traveling

Recent crises have shown us that travel is one of the world’s most resilient of sectors – and this time will be no different. The industry’s underlying demand economics of a growing global middle class, with the financial means and the desire to discover the world, remains untouched.

Glimmers of hope can already be spotted in China, where four months after the initial outbreak, with the easing of movement restrictions, traveler confidence bounced back.

In April 2020, Chinese airlines added approximately 600,000 seats back each week into scheduled services, mainly on domestic routes.

Even if the shock-recovery time takes longer in the Western world, travel bans are gradually being lifted from May onwards and consumer travel sentiment is starting to rise again.

The pent-up demand during the lockdown period, the eagerness to visit friends and family and millions of credit vouchers issued by airlines in exchange for cancelled bookings are strong drivers to bring travelers back to road. 

Most nations focus on bringing domestic travel back to life for the summer season to protect themselves from potential second-wave outbreaks from overseas and to support their local tourism infrastructure. 

Tourism levels during the summer peak season are still a long way from pre-crisis levels, but it sows the seeds for a progressive ramp-up of most of the worldwide transport and accommodation industry.

During fall and winter, with seasonal outbreaks under control thanks to laser-focused social distancing measures, travelers’ confidence keeps growing and business travel swings back to pre-crisis levels.

What back in the darkest moment of the global lockdown looked more like a miracle than a credible reality, has happened: travel is back, and the scars left by the downturn have healed in record time.  

Some coronavirus side effects will certainly stick around for some time, mostly around hygiene and safety concerns. Health screening and stricter vaccination controls translate into longer queues in airports and at border checks. 

Green shoots everywhere

Across the travel landscape, all sectors see green shoots emerge between Q3 and Q4. Players with a weak balance sheet before the virus outbreak stumble and fall, but most transport, accommodation and distribution players, heavily backed by financial aid during the crisis, manage to get out of the dark tunnel in reasonably good shape.

Ground transportation, notably high-speed trains, enjoy a strong boost from early Q3 thanks to the rapid increase in domestic travel. 

Similar to previous crises, online travel agencies take the lead on the recovery front by capturing the rising online demand thanks to their edge on search engine marketing and metasearch traffic. 

But airlines and hotel chains are not willing to repeat the 9/11 errors, where a new breed of tech travel distributors, such as Expedia and Booking.com, capitalized on the huge distressed inventory from suppliers and the online shift of consumers to become the new travel giants in today’s world. 

They are now stronger, faster and smarter on the digital front and will fight for their share of the direct business. As a result, 2021’s growth momentum in travel will be evenly shared between suppliers and OTAs.

Google Travel, which in the pre-coronavirus world already dominated the travel sector like no other thanks to its market-crushing search engine and neatly integrated travel ecosystem, sits in the front row of the recovery phase, harnessing the ever-increasing shift towards hyper-connected consumer behavior.

* Check scenarios 2, 3 and 4 when they are published in the coming days and next week.About the author…

Mario Gavira is a tech executive, angel investor and board adviser

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After the recent round of short interviews with hospitality leaders in the Maldives, Mauritius, and Sri Lanka, these were the key messages that will win customers back. 

MALDIVES – No social distancing, but a rather physical distancing in the Maldives.

One month ago the Maldives reopened the country borders to international travelers and since then, welcomed nearly 4500 tourists mainly from the UK, USA, UAE, Germany, Swiss, and Russia. With strict health and safety standard procedures implemented across the country, starting from the airport to the resort islands, the ‘new travelers’ have already voiced their appreciation for the level of care and hygiene on various social media and forums. But if being welcomed by the resort representatives wrapped in PPE and armed with face shield, gloves, and masks might not feel like the most relaxing start of a much-needed holiday, Afeef Hussain, Regional Director at LUX* Resorts in the Maldives, reassures that guests do love the feeling of safety 

“Being able to arrive at the resort and start enjoying their vacation right away not having to worry about anything, is what our guests want”

Together with high levels of hygiene, another key element to restoring travel confidence is the value of the experience. Afeef Hussain shares that the ‘new travelers’ are not going to spend the same amount of money they used to. Therefore, the value of the vacation is under great scrutiny and determines whether your customer might decide to return to your hotel or to travel somewhere else. 

“There is no such thing of ‘new normal’, but rather a ‘new mindset’”

To ensure that each action taken to uphold the hygiene standards at the resorts is mutually beneficial, Afeef says that whatever is done for the guests, is also done for the team members. This ensures their wellbeing and wellness and translates the Company’s core message of ‘care’ into action.

SRI LANKA – Borders are closed, but our resorts are not.

Sri Lanka has recently delayed the opening of the country borders, but hotels and resorts across the island are back in business with the local market. The execution of health and safety standards at each property has been instrumental to restore a domestic travel confidence, says Arjuna Perera – Sales Manager at Theme Resorts & SPA based in Colombo. To start with, Arjuna Perera and his team produced a video message to show all the procedures and reassure their customer base. 

‘We immediately created a survey, to help understand what are our customers’ priorities at this critical time’ 

But, as we know, the local market demand alone does not cover it. A voucher system propelled by Arjuna’s sales team successfully generated over 1000 room nights. This shows that flexibility is another key factor to encourage travel demand. Flights can be canceled or delayed, quarantine systems are changing by the day. ‘All we need is a bit of flexibility’ says Arjuna ‘and the results are showing us that people are keen to travel, they just want to feel safe’. 

But how do we ensure social distancing in Sri Lanka? For Theme Resorts & Spa, more than distancing, we talk about isolation, but in a good way. The nature experience of some of their properties is guaranteed to the point that to reach some of their glamping sites, you will have to be picked up by the hotel concierge somewhere in the jungle.

MAURITIUS – A contactless experience and smart use of technology.

As Mauritius prepares to reopen borders next month, the health & safety checklist of the destination seems to grow longer.

The use of technology, however, plays a key role in the destination, currently undergoing a digital transformation with a brand new website, a travel platform in the making and a range of digital solutions for tourists. Airline and travel industry expert Youvraj Seeam, based in Mauritius, shares that to pick up on travel confidence, we first have to observe the consumers’ changing behaviors and thereafter understand the new demands.

“For this to be truly successful, we need collaboration with all the stakeholders across the industry”

Youvraj shares that tools like the Travel Recovery Insights Portal of ARC & Boston Consulting, the McKinsey Travel Pulse, or the Traveller Trends Tracker by Adara must be on top of today’s agenda for the modern marketer. This would enable industry leaders to have more visibility and start making progress along the way.

Based on his experience in the airline industry, the key message needs to revolve around hygiene standards and procedures from the moment the traveler checks-in, boards the plane and reaches the destination. Once arrived, says Youvraj, a contactless experience needs to be in place to ensure a safe transit until the guest ultimately reaches the hotel.

 About the author:

Dolores Semeraro is a multilingual professional speaker and trainer, fluent in the Chinese language. She provides strategic direction and training courses to companies and tourism institutions helping them to speak today’s digital language of their audience. Her vision is to create a sustainable digital connection between travel industry stakeholders and their desired customers.


IT’S NOW OR NEVER, I am only tired, as the song goes and so says mother Earth after years and years of succumbing to the filth that are being spilled into her bosom by the 7 billion of us.

 We are at a crossroad and an eye-opening moment that have to be reckoned with. The changes to the way we live, the way we do business and the way we conduct ourselves in this world will happen whether we like it or not. It will be subtle and forcing us to be the architect of this change – it’s another industrial revolution enabling humans to evolve into a more conscientious being for the benefit of all and mother nature. And it’s worth mentioning here the abrupt change we are witnessing in the hospitality industry. 

Being reliant on large number of human capitals, the hospitality industry has been the most affected by the global pandemic, like no other. Think about it, its an industry that needs an intensive labour force to serve its consumers, it needs the use of fossil fuel to allow its consumers to travel and at the core of the travel industry there is the need for the Oil & Gas producers to power the planes and run the establishment that serves the hospitality industry. So, it’s an industry that at the core, survives and becomes profitable on the demands and supply within the Petroleum Market – for instance, when we see a low cost of crude, the demand rises, consumption rises and tourist travels. On the other hand, as the demand for Petroleum products rises, we see a rise in production which accompanies the rise in crude price. At the same time industrial catering contracts are signed in numbers around the Middle Eastern oil producing countries to support the crude majors, like BP or Total, and their service partners.

Then sometime in March 2020 the world stopped…

As every human activity came to a standstill, the price of crude oil stumbled and crashed as the demands crumbled. Unfortunately, we have made crude oil the center of our existential activities; that businesses linked to its production, whether directly or indirectly, are struggling to keep afloat during this pandemic period. This is a true portrait of our vulnerability as humans who have become too dependent on fossil fuel – the only matter that is damaging our beloved mother Earth.

In light of the new normal as we fashionably call it these days, the only way forward for the hospitality industry, but more certainly for the industrial catering sector, is automation and robotics with a change in attitude within the concept by all stakeholders and consumers. This in turn will reduce the heavy reliance on large manpower thereby improving profitability which has hit the industry since the fall of crude price. Although change is a pill hardly accepted by people entrenched within a certain framework and mindset, and unless changes are actuated, the hospitality industry may lose the precious backing of the investors. 

How can we forge this sudden change then…? One aspect with the labour intensive hospitality industry is to use automation and robotics wherever possible but still remain within the framework of good practice. For instance, within the kitchen we have already started using automation when it comes to the processing of veggies, washing up of cutleries, pots and pans. What we need now would be the autonomous self-cleaning equipment – in the domestic market we already have self-cleaning oven – with a bit of imagination we can have self-cleaning combo oven and cooking plates inserted on a stainless free stove where every debris or liquids drops into an underlying tray from where they are sucked into garbage cannisters. The idea here is to reduce the manpower wherever possible and keep only the chef and a small brigade to assist him in the mass production. 

The other crucial change within the industrial catering facility, most appropriately, would be the implementation of self-service as a general rule of the game. This will limit human contact and adheres to the on-going rule of distancing as applied in the pandemic situation. The onus will then be on the catering team to properly and intelligently prepare the plated layout which is then collected by the consumers. This process will help on portion control amongst other things, which is important in controlling the cost. 

Obviously, the arguments for change and innovation within the hospitality industry is a hot subject at the moment and should be for quite some time. After all we do not know when the pandemic will subside nor when will a real cure be found! However, we have already engaged in a new way of living and a new way of doing business, which in the industrial catering sector it means finding innovative ways to reduce the reliance on large manpower and engaging strategic actions to reduce the cost of doing business in order to be more profitable.

Let’s hope at the end of the day, the right course of action is taken with the interest of all the stakeholders considered and enough investments are made to meet up the challenge of considerable change.