The massive impact the current pandemic has had on the travel industry is evident, upending global travel and essentially bringing the world to a standstill. For the first time in history, nearly 90% of the world’s population now lives in countries enforcing travel restrictions. In April of last year, more than 2 million travelers passed through U.S. airports each day. Today, air travel has dropped by more than 95%, with some days seeing less than 100,000 air travelers across the country. According to the World Economic Forum, between five and seven years’ worth of travel industry growth will potentially be lost.
A recent survey from Longwoods International, a market research firm focused on the travel industry, found that 82% of Americans have already changed their travel plans for the next six months as a result of the pandemic. Additionally, 50% said they would cancel trips, and 45% expected to reduce travel. While these numbers are drastic, the travel industry will surely recover. How and when exactly is still unknown, but the path to recovery depends on a multitude of factors, and will, inevitably, alter the travel industry forever.
The Travel Industry’s Recovery Will Largely Depend On Travelers’ Sense Of Safety
When and how quickly people begin traveling on a more regular basis will be, in large part, determined by how safe they feel doing so, as the perception of safety is currently the main factor driving the expectations of travelers down. MMGY Travel Intelligence’s latest TIPS survey shows that the percentage of travelers who are likely to travel domestically for leisure in the next six months (a survey that is regularly asked) dropped from 82% to 39% due to COVID-19.
According to a survey by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), measures such as visible sanitizing, screening and masks all increase passengers’ sense of safety when considering traveling post-pandemic. As a result, the travel industry will need to consider how they can embed health into every aspect of the traveler’s journey and provide constant reassurance toward consumers.
Leisure Travel Is Expected To Recover First, While The Timeline Of Corporate Travel Remains Unknown
Many predictions see leisure travel driving the industry’s earlier recovery, crediting travelers’ ability to be more resilient after experiencing events such as 9/11 and the financial crisis, as well as previous widespread medical emergencies, all of which had a significant impact on the travel industry.
Some leisure segments, however, will do better than others. According to MMGY’s TIPS survey, 47% of travelers stated they are more likely to travel by car post-pandemic, and 42% said they are more likely to travel to destinations close to home. The longer impacted travel options are those that require more expense and longer-term planning such as family vacations, flights, conferences and sporting and theatrical events.
Business travelers, on the other hand, have been forced to adapt to a new work-from-home lifestyle, embracing social-distancing and the new technology that has come with it (which will likely stick around in the long run). Online business tools like Zoom – which reported user growth from 10 million to 200 million in just the last few months – could very easily cut the need for business travel, but will have less of an impact on the leisure market, as the idea of “virtual vacations” hasn’t picked up quite as much steam as virtual meetings. Additionally, business travel has become less appealing for many people, with less than one-third of travelers stating they are eager to travel for business.
A Shift To Touchless & Digital Travel
Even with strict sanitizing protocols set in place, the frequent exchange of travel documents still exhibits a significant perceived risk for travelers and staff. As a result, the most immediate and most visible changes in travel may be the shift to touchless and digital-heavy experiences — from the airport all the way to hotel check in. Automation across the entire travel sector, including more widespread use of mobile devices and biometrics, are expected by many to quickly become the new norm. We could also see an increase in travel companies and airlines using consumer data, such as age, underlying health conditions and travel history, to create individual risk profiles for every traveler.
The World Economic Forum’s Known Traveller Digital Identity initiative is an example of a new digital identity solution, bringing together a global association to facilitate safe and seamless traveling. Through this initiative, association partners can draw on multiple data points to improve passenger processing and reduce risks in real time. In a post-pandemic world, a traveler would be able to obtain and store verifiable health credentials (like immunization records or health statuses) in their digital identity wallets.
Touchless, digital identity tools and biometrics technologies will shape the future of travel, restore trust and be embraced by consumers, so long as these innovations are transparent, seamless and create a sense of safety. Travel marketers must quickly adapt to these changed traveler expectations and behaviors across the globe in order to help their individual businesses and the greater travel industry recover. Today, the travel industry has a unique opportunity to redefine travel and create a more sustainable, resilient and nimble space.
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