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Published on Thursday, April 9, 2020

How will your clients travel after the pandemic?

While it's impossible to predict exactly when the coronavirus crisis will be over, what is clear is that our lives won't be the same. We asked experts in the industry to predict how travel will be different when we're out the other side. This is what they had to say.

James Thornton, CEO Intrepid Group
Travel has been so accessible to most of us for so long and it now feels like a luxury. We expect travellers will put a lot of thought into where they go next and how they travel on their post Covid-19 trips. We predict isolated, 'clean' destinations will recover fast. Whilst we've been confined to four walls, stunning landscapes like New Zealand's South Island feel like a world away. Places like Norway and some of its neighbours are leading the way with their management of Covid-19. They also offer some stunning and isolated destinations, where travellers can get away from it all. If 2020 proves to be a year we spend a lot of time indoors, then 2021 will be about getting outdoors and getting active so cycling and walking are likely to be popular. We predict there will be lots of people looking to fulfill BIG bucket list travel experience - with Antarctica being at the top of that list - and that people will be looking for reasons to celebrate in 2021, including trips that are focused around local festivals such as the Rio Carnival trips we run. Following the Covid-19 outbreak, we think that consumers will be much more aware of where they go and how this impacts the environment. Because of this, it's likely that travellers will consciously choose more under touristed destinations, such as Nicaragua or Greenland as well as opting for trips that involve low impact travel such as cycling, hiking and train trips. There may also be a rise in demand for community-based tourism, as travellers look for authentic travel experiences and the chance to see first-hand how tourism can benefit communities at grassroots level following the outbreak.

Julia Lo Bue-Said, CEO of The Advantage Travel Partnership
As social distancing measures relax, and the country returns to a degree of normality we will learn that the experience of living through a global pandemic will have fundamentally changed us forever. We are now beginning to realise that travel is no longer the right of the fortunate but a luxury to be protected and celebrated. Once we begin the slow re-entry into 'normal' life we will be changed travellers with different priorities. Whilst there will no doubt be a desire to travel in many of us, we will, I suspect, remain cautious. Our motivations will have profoundly changed and our choices will be influenced by different factors. Our economic circumstances may have significantly altered so understanding how the pipeline of monies are protected will be front of mind as well as the importance the role of a local, human travel agent plays - someone they can talk to and engage with; someone who cares, will be more important than ever before. Someone the post pandemic traveller can count on will be a critical factor as the experience they have faced during the crisis and how their booking agent dealt with them will without question place the human travel agent in the best possible position to service future bookings. The post-pandemic traveller will want more reassurance, more personal recommendations and we will weigh up the risk to our health and safety with more gravity than ever before. Travel agents are working so hard for their customers right now whether that's helping them with repatriation or trying to provide them with refunds. Their role to inspire us with holiday choices in the future will be even more important.

Chris Webber, head of marketplace at
The travel industry is well versed in dealing with challenges, ranging from terrorism and ash clouds to 'no deal' Brexit uncertainty - but we are living in unprecedented times. It is therefore reassuring that the Government is supporting the major airlines and cruise companies with funding. They are critical to the growth of the industry. While summer 2020 is optimistic, we believe that the nature and timing of holidays will change. Given the current school closures, it is probable that the school summer term may be extended. October half term, Winter Sun and Easter 2021 will all be significant. The timing and strength of the rebound will be based on how freely we can travel around the world. The UK may exit lockdown, but other countries may be on a different trajectory. Global Economic Forecasts from McKinsey, Moody's, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley all predict an economic recovery within 2-3 quarters and a rebound in 2021. Most cruise companies and Tour Operators expect a recovery by Sept/Oct 2020, suggesting that, when lockdown restrictions ease and the UK is through the peak, consumers will start to think about their travel plans again. We imagine that domestic travel will be the first sector to return. The scale of outbound travel will be dictated by the opening of other countries and how they deal with the virus.

Lynn Narraway, managing director UK and Ireland, Holland America Line
There is no doubt that recent events have hit the cruise industry particularly hard and we have been headline news for all the wrong reasons. However, throughout the past few weeks we have also been inundated with supportive comments from passengers who have recently sailed with us and who are looking forward to sailing with us again. We have been complimented on the unfailing service and care given to those on board during recent sailings and these are the things that help set the cruise industry apart and will continue to do so in the future. Our clients have told us they are really looking forward to travelling far and wide later this year and in 2021; booking iconic experiences that they can look forward and plan for - such as Alaska's glaciers and wildlife; the fascinating cultures of Canada & New England; the Caribbean's warm winter sun and beaches. 

Tom Jenkins, CEO of ETOA
The natural reaction is to assume that the future will be a product of the current situation. It won't. We are facing a unique crisis produced by government reaction to the threat posed to their health services. This will pass. Mass gathering will return. Theatres, cinemas and football matches will become crowded. Tourism will start again. We will be then be facing clients whose basic impulses will not have changed. They will still want to travel, to see the sights they have heard about, appreciate accommodation and enjoy the culture of a different location. Some will still want to increase their chances of melanoma by lying on a beach. So what the industry provides will not change. How it does so will be the product of the transition period. It is possible that consumers may develop a taste for under-visited domestic tourism locations. We may see a fashion for wearing face masks. Queues may look longer. There will be resistance to destinations and types of tourism that were associated with Covid-19. Some companies, crippled by the current crisis, will struggle to survive. We will undoubtedly see some spectacularly eye-catching prices to kick-start demand. It will be a golden period for the fast-moving entrepreneur.


Debbie Hindle, chief executive travel Four Communications
After any crisis people initially look to the reassurance of the familiar and the known. So once people can start travelling again we expect strong domestic and regional travel to neighbouring countries. But we're also expected a strong surge of repeat travel to longer-haul destinations as people look to go back to places that have good memories, friends or family.  So past guests will be a very important target audience for all travel organisations. In the short-term we know that holiday search interest was 40% down in March and we expect those deferred travel searches will be pushed into summer. We're also seeing a clear current rise in 2021 related travel searches as people look to escape next year, so long-term advance planning could become much more important for brands and destinations in the future.


Carrie Kwik, executive director Europe for the Singapore Tourism Board
We expect that the initial travel sentiment after Covid-19 will be one of caution. However, there will also be pent-up demand for travel and a keenness to explore the world again once things settle down and travellers feel safe. Hence, destinations like Singapore, which can show how we are keeping our community and visitors safe will help to instil confidence in travelling amongst our future visitors. In Singapore, we have always valued our reputation as a safe destination with a high level of cleanliness. We recently launched SG Clean, a certification programme to rally business establishments across Singapore - including our tourism and lifestyle establishments - to take all the necessary precautions to get certified as 'SG Clean'. This will also be a signal to future visitors that our attractions, hotels, restaurants and bars are providing a safe environment for all to enjoy. The urge to reconnect with friends and loved ones after a long separation is also a strong motivator for travel. We will continue to welcome both new and repeat visitors to ignite their passion for exploration and come together to celebrate life's important moments in Singapore.


Amanda Hills, president MMGY Hills Balfour Europe and Middle East
Given the unique nature of COVID-19, it is an interesting process to predict the longer term future impact on consumer behaviour and sentiment towards travel. What we do know from previous crisis experience is that the UK and Europe house some of the world's most resilient~markets, with consumers who both bounce-back quickly, and are long accustomed to travelling overseas for both leisure and business travel. We see opportunities across the sector for brands and destinations that are brave now and continue the conversation with their customers in this important planning and inspiration phase of the consumer booking process - we see further growth potential for the wellness sector and nature breaks as a result of consumers both needing a holiday after a period of intense stress, but also as a result of pausing and resetting, reconsidering and recalibrating as to what is important in their lives. Consumers will emerge from this having redefined their comfort zones, and this could lead to a surge for off the beaten track, final frontier travel and 'YOLO' type adventures, as travellers seek braver, life affirming trips. The industry needs to be ready with value added offers and packages that can launch as soon as the travel pause is safely lifted.


Avi Meir, TravelPerk co-founder & CEO

Even when lockdowns in Europe are over and we start to travel again, countries will test [for Covid-19] at the border. Some countries will not even take the chance of testing at the border. Especially if you're coming from an outbreak hotspot. Entrance will be refused unless you have a certificate of immunity due to the fact that you've recovered from an infection or because you've been vaccinated (once there's vaccines available). Wristbands with barcodes like those in the movie Contagion are a very real prospect. 

"Certainly in the short-term, travel will become more defined by purpose. Any business travel will need to be strictly validated as an economic activity, with companies tightening the numbers of employees who travel for them. This may mean temporary visas and more documentation that you'll need to take with you when travelling. 

A very influential paper from Imperial College London speculates that governments will need to turn lockdown measures on and off in order to keep demands on healthcare systems at a manageable level. This means there will be windows of opportunity to travel that last only weeks or even days. Even with airlines desperate to get airborne again, seats will be limited and we could see dramatic increases in pricing during those windows.

Along with hand sanitizer travel packs, it's a pretty easy prediction to make that a lot more people will travel with masks. In the same way that companies like Away have made luxury, fashionable travel baggage, we will most likely see 'desirable' travel masks worn by Instagram influencers. 

Even those who have recovered from Covid-19, and have built up immunity (if the virus doesn't mutate too much) won't want to travel with a cold. The current situation and the conviction with which the world is adopting social distancing will make it socially unacceptable to travel with a cold or any symptoms. The looks you will get if you cough or sneeze at an airport or on a plane will be scathing. I predict that social stigma will put a lot of people off, resulting in the potential for more no-shows on travel days.

Domestic travel will recover first (there's no border control) and for most countries that means taking a train. Not only will we be able to get back on tracks (ha, a pun) first, we'll also be more secure about it. Trains are less crowded, have windows that open, and also are much more environmentally friendly. Once the lockdowns we see in Europe now are lifted, I predict people will rush to take a train, just because they can. 

Once we're flying again, airlines will start boasting about their filtration systems. Some have already started emailing customers about their current systems in a bid to stop people cancelling. By the end of the year, it'll be a question many people will be asking—how safe is the air onboard?


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