The spread of COVID-19 around the world, along with subsequent lockdowns, border closures, and quarantining policies, had a catastrophic impact on international travel. According to the International Monetary Fund, tourist arrivals fell globally by over 65 percent in the first half of 2020, with a virtual standstill in April that year.
From Africa’s vast safari parks to the picture-perfect beaches of the Caribbean, countries all over the world grappled with luring visitors back while simultaneously protecting their citizens against new outbreaks and strains of COVID-19.
Before the arrival of COVID-19, travel and tourism was one of the most important sectors in the global economy, accounting for some 320 million jobs worldwide and approximately 10 percent of the global GDP. At the advent of the jet age in 1950, 25 million people traveled internationally. By 2019, that figure had snowballed to 1.5 billion, with the travel and tourism sector dominating the economies of many countries.
National vaccination programs have been a phenomenal success, potentially saving millions of lives and reducing pressure on domestic healthcare systems. With infection rates continuing to shrink in virtually every country, growing numbers of consumers are experiencing wanderlust. But as we venture from the shadow of COVID-19, the travel industry is witnessing the emergence of several new trends. From the soaring popularity of multigenerational family vacations to increased interest in sustainable tourism, we explore five strong travel trends we expect to see ahead.
1. Continued emphasis on public health
Even in the wake of highly successful vaccination programs, on the whole, consumers remain extremely safety conscious. According to a survey by PwC, 85 percent of travelers are already vaccinated or planning to be, while 70 percent favor vaccination verification when traveling.
PwC also reports that 56 percent of vacationers support policies preventing people from traveling unless they present proof of vaccination. Just 14 percent of respondents said they would object to being asked for proof of vaccination. In addition, 28 percent of travelers polled planned to stay at higher-end accommodations than they did pre-pandemic, associating premium properties with enhanced public health protocols.
2. Increased interest in staycations and alternative modes of travel
Domestic tourism surged during the pandemic, and travelers tended not to go too far even when they did venture outside their country. In June 2021, with national vaccination schemes well underway and infection rates falling all over the world, Visa analysis suggests that the top vacation destination among French travelers was France itself, followed by bordering countries like Spain and Italy.
In addition to vacationers tending to stay closer to home, there was also increased interest in alternative modes of travel such as train and car, with the market shifting away from air travel.
3. A rise in multigenerational vacations
COVID-19 lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, and social distancing guidelines resulted in family members having to spend extended periods apart. Moving forward, spending time with loved ones is likely to be a priority for many, with experts predicting significant interest in multigenerational travel as family members, particularly grandparents and grandchildren, come together to make new memories following two years of separation.
4. An uptick in sustainable travel
Taking advantage of the substantive pause in international travel, innovators have assessed the travel and tourism sector, seeking out new ways to make the industry more sustainable in this forever changed, post-COVID world.
Soon after border closures and lockdowns put the brakes on international travel, substantial ecological benefits soon became evident. In cities, air pollution fell dramatically. Fish were seen swimming in the canals of Venice after a decades-long absence.
In 2019 the global tourism industry accounted for around 5 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN World Tourism Organization. Even before COVID, increased emphasis was being placed on sustainability. Capitalizing on increased consumer consciousness, destinations like the Kawasaki King Skyfront Tokyu Rei Hotel are leading the way. Touted as the world’s first “hydrogen hotel,” the Tokyu Rei Hotel generates 100 percent of the energy it uses from waste food and plastic, making effective use of hydrogen energy to combat pollution.
5. New booking behaviors
Travel industry experts report that vacationers are becoming increasingly opportunistic, often waiting until the last minute to strike a better deal, particularly in the case of domestic travel. At the same time, lingering uncertainty regarding potential future outbreaks or the emergence of new strains of COVID-19 has made consumers reluctant to book vacations months or even years in advance, as was commonplace in the past.
Barclaycard vice president of product management Florian Bach reports that, in Germany, most travel bookings are currently being made less than a month in advance, compared with up to a year in advance before the pandemic, with a marked consumer preference for travel options offering high levels of security and flexibility.