The first part of this series outlined the background to the disastrous set of circumstances that the travel, tourism and hospitality industry finds itself in.
It also outlined the first of four scenarios: Travel swings back to normal in 2021.
We continue with the next theory…
Scenario 2: The end of mass tourism as we know it
In this future, the economic recovery plays out in similar fashion to the scenario described before. However, the emotional and social impact this crisis has on humanity is too deep for people to get back to the old normal.
Months of lockdown and new patterns in social distancing, bio-surveillance and our digital consumption will change travel at its core. Spending more time at home, a higher focus on hygiene and health and shunning away from crowded places will be the new normal.
These attitudinal shifts will also be reflected in policy changes in our daily life, such as health and safety regulations, data privacy and border controls. All of these trends have huge consequences on the travel industry
Urban-based crowded tourism will decrease in favor of outdoor and natural environments and long-haul destinations will be perceived as high risk compared to closer-to-home locations.
Tourist destinations will experience different fates. Countries that have traditionally been net tourist flow senders (Northern Europe, U.S., Japan, etc.) will win, while countries that enjoyed positive inbound numbers (Southern Europe, Thailand, Mauritius, etc.) will be on the losing side.
Beyond washing hands
In a rush to build confidence among travelers, hygiene protocols and labels have started being implemented across all destinations and companies from the early days of the outbreak.
Singapore was a pioneer in its announcing of a nationwide hotel audit scheme branded as the “SG Clean” label, regulating measures like temperature screening intensity at hotel entrances and disinfection frequency rates in common areas and guest rooms.
Hong Kong quickly turned its airport into its first line of COVID-19 defense by sending all incoming travelers to the AsiaWorld-Expo upon arrival for throat saliva samples, as well as providing tracking bracelets for visitors tied to a smartphone app.
Elsewhere, Emirates has launched on-site rapid coronavirus tests that take 10 minutes for passengers landing in Dubai. The city of Madrid, badly hit by the virus, has launched its own “Hotels COVID-Free” quality stamp.
In this scenario, this patchwork of protocols and certificates all over the world generates confusion and mistrust across travelers. In a coordinated effort by governments, international tourism organizations and major industry associations, a new universally accepted health certificate label will be established in 2021 for air transport and hotel accommodation ensuring consistent standards worldwide.
In aviation, discussions around the end of the loathed middle seat on aircraft will turn into reality, food services onboard becomes a distant souvenir of another era, indicators like cabin air recirculation rates will emerge and face masks will be a part of new standard safety measures on planes.
Hotels will focus marketing efforts away from the beautiful pool landscape towards features like disinfection standards, touchless technology for all types of physical interactions and larger spaces between sunbeds. Hotels will switch to room-only food services, transforming breakfast and other food-related spaces into spacious lounges.
What will hurt a hotel’s balance sheet is the need to keep hotel occupancy rates low, with a health buffer of over three nights between guest stays in the same room to eradicate any risk of contaminated surfaces.
The alternative accommodation industry will enjoy the advantage of being perceived as a less-crowded lodging option but will have a harder time building travelers’ confidence around hygiene and health standards.
Industry leader Airbnb will push hard amongst its hosts to establish a new set of cleanliness and disinfection protocols, but certain travelers will steer away from private accommodation for good.
The travel industry faces a soul-searching moment
All these measures will have a dramatic impact on the industry economy. In a world where maximizing occupancy rates or load factor has been turned upside down, travel companies will have to take a hard look at their cost structure and their pricing strategies.
Some companies will feel the punch more than others. Low-cost carriers will be forced to rethink their business model. Their strategy of squeezing as many passengers as possible on aircraft, which in turn stay as in the air as much as possible, will become unsustainable.
Network mega-carriers relying mostly on long-haul flights channeled through massive hubs will also face a gloomy future. Fewer long-haul trips and travelers shunning crowded places will trigger a significant downsizing of airlines with sky-high airplane orders and iconic airport projects coming to a screeching halt.
Short-haul flights, already under attack pre-coronavirus from the flight-shaming movement, will see the shift of travelers towards lower-carbon-emitting transport means like high-speed trains.
Corporate travel apocalypse
One of the most radical transformations in societal attitude will be around business travel, fueled by virtual meeting practices adopted during the lockdown period and new corporate travel policies implemented to curb expenses during the cash crunch.
The irreversible decrease in business travel, by any measure the most profitable clients of the travel industry, will hit the balance sheets of travel companies like a sledgehammer.
The implosion of meetings and events activity during the crisis was a watershed moment for the industry. The unstoppable rise of virtual conferences and webinars during the lockdown period and the perceived danger of large crowd gatherings will transform major convention centers into indoor leisure spaces or city landmarks of a past golden era.
The rise of a new distribution landscape
Two types of travel intermediaries will suffer a Darwinian process of natural selection.
- Traditional offline travel agencies that were behind the digital curve will slowly fade into extinction in this hyper-connected world.
- The few travel management company survivors will be the ones rapidly adapting to a significantly smaller market and to a change in paradigm in servicing and duty of care.
On the online travel agency front, there will also be major changes in play:
- Servicing and connecting with customers during the darkest moments of the crisis will turn out to be the most powerful loyalty program any marketer could conceive. Speedy refunds for cancelled bookings, transport and lodging rebooking alternatives for clients stranded overseas and an ongoing and candid communication strategy will win the hearts and pockets of customers.
- Deploying bots and machine-learning algorithms, allowing for automation of back-office processes and customer service interfaces, will make the most successful players future-proof for disruption in the years ahead.
- Many will integrate a traveler’s health data across the entire industry’s service chain, in an ecosystem where health information will become a mandatory data field for all actors.
Faced with our rapidly increasing digital life, where tech giants try to keep users locked into their ecosystem, the most successful travel players will start to integrate daily users’ services like inter-urban mobility, local entertainment booking facilities and food delivery services, in order to remain relevant in the customer’s mind.
This trend towards Asia-like super apps in the Western World will spark a frenzy post-crisis, with merger activity between travel tech giants and mobility and food delivery tech players, whose valuations suffered a massive downward correction during the economic deadlock due to their weak balance sheet.
* Check scenario 1 here, then 3 and 4 when they are published next week.About the author…