Sourcing and Procurement

5 trends reshaping the future of travel amidst COVID-19

“I wish I had never gone traveling,” said no one, ever.

Travelling has been a common passion for many, for decades, be it for leisure or business. Even in a downturn, when the volumes might dip, the travel sector has seldom faced total lockdown of operations, let alone for months at a stretch. The COVID-19 crisis has conjured up one such rare situation for the travel industry and is probably the worst hit by the pandemic.

But never let a crisis go to waste. Surely, the COVID-19 crisis has a pandora’s box of important learnings that the travel industry can draw from. While experts are still evaluating the extent of the damage caused, the travel industry is preparing for a resurrection. Picturing the accurate scenario for travel in the post-COVID-19 era will be a farfetched assumption, but a few trends have already started to be adopted by incumbent players to build the future of travel in the New Normal.

A few of the prominent trends emerging in the travel industry are:

Touchless Service

Till just a few months ago, pre-departure recreation at airports, such as shopping, grabbing a bite at a restaurant, or just catching up over a drink, was the biggest draw for commercial air passengers. Retail concessions were one of the biggest sources of income for airports, accounting for nearly 30% of non-aviation revenue. Cut to today, and those recreation distractions are now a luxury. Safety and hygiene have replaced the unique selling points for a brand. As a result, incumbent organizations are quickly deploying digital tools such as biometrics, artificial intelligence (AI), and digital identity management to deliver seamless self-service, with minimal human interaction all through the processes. These are not necessarily innovations, but the pandemic has accelerated their adoption across the travel industry. Along with technology already in use for ticketing and airport check-ins, we are truly moving towards a touchless service for everything related to travel.

Redefined Structure

With airlines grounding their fleets, revenue generation has become a challenge for the travel and hospitality industry. This has compelled them to raise ticket and reservation costs making it heavy on the travelers’ pocket. Combine this with the growing need for social distancing, travelers are increasingly ditching air travel for road trips. The impact is evident in business travel, as well. While organizations across the world are conscious of planning their travel spends, the advent of virtual meetings has also rendered a part of business travel needs futile. As a result, organizations are increasingly adopting data analytics to optimize their fleet or room inventory. This allows companies to employ resources as per the demand. Going forward, a few airlines may consciously look at reducing the fleet to stay profitable. This could, in turn, increase collaboration between long-haul international players and short-haul domestic players. Meanwhile, the aerospace industry is also exploring new models to shore up its revenues. Air France, for instance, is prepping to invest in alternative technology, such as electric and hydrogen planes, to curb job losses and arrest plummeting revenues.

Local Before Global

In the wake of travel bans all across the world, with several countries yet to open borders for tourists, international travel has been stagnant. Combine this with the rising ticket costs and hotel rates, domestic, short-haul trips are now more attractive for travel enthusiasts. Passengers – for leisure or business – are likely to choose domestic destinations to ensure optimum safety and hygiene, while also avoiding differing quarantine rules between countries. Going forward, this trend is expected to create the need for cluster travel plans, such that Asians travel within Asia, Europeans travel within Europe, and so on. Governments are encouraging the trend of domestic travel as well, while the travel and hospitality companies are adapting by offering incentives and insurance in the travel policy.

Agility and Flexibility

One important lesson that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has taught us is to be flexible. The travel industry is no exception to it. Flexibility will allow the industry to adapt to changes demanded by the situation and could be the difference between businesses that go under and those who survive the calamity. Going forward, while airlines are expected to relax their usual rules and regulations circling cancelation, rescheduling, and refunds, hotels are also anticipated to follow suit, to improve user experience. The trend is anticipated to favour business travel that often requires real-time decision-making, ticket booking, cancellation, or rescheduling.

The Outdoors

Social distancing is imperative to contain the spread of COVID-19. While selecting a destination, travelers are likely to opt for outdoor, open spaces such as beaches, forests, national parks, wildlife reserves, and so on, where adherence to social distancing would be easier. As a result, reports have suggested that nearly 70% of the nature camps, hiking trails, adventure sports, national parks, and beaches have reopened for tourists, as compared with only 50% of indoor spaces like museums and heritage sites. These new-age hospitality players are also offering staycation or working holiday options with high-speed internet and dedicated workspaces for people looking to escape the mundanity of working from home for a prolonged period. This emerging trend is expected to give rise to new models of servicing guests in this New Normal, the one which will accommodate the altering dynamics at work and otherwise.

While there are a few countries that have already started to implement automation and analytics to be relevant in the New Normal, many others are pacing to scale up their infrastructural arrangements, skills, and costs to offer the new age travel experience. Regulations and policies related to travel are also likely to see amendments and alterations, such as in insurance. The onus of reviewing and analyzing the nuances of the new policies will fall on travel managers, as they are expected to not only invest in risk-free products, but also in off-site medical assistance to ensure safe business travel, with optimum adherence to guidelines of local authorities.

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