It was great to attend the IPW this year, the largest tourism conference in the US. I also was impressed by the US Travel Association and how they managed the safety precautions every day. This successful event demonstrated that meetings and conventions can be safely and responsibly conducted. And of course, meeting face-to-face now has a whole new dynamic, but it remains a premier value for reuniting the people’s industry.
For those of us who attended the conference, the highlight was certainly the announcement by the US State Department to reopen borders for EU and UK citizens, allowing them to meet families, conduct business travel, and—of course— resume highly popular leisure travel.
I was amazed and thrilled to see industry partners from overseas again, and it has shown us once again just how strong, connected, and united the global travel industry has been since the beginning of the pandemic. As a tourism entrepreneur, I thrive on the terms “never give up”, and “it is good to look back, but always look forward”. And as an industry, I think we have done that pretty well. So, on the topic of looking forward, here are a few things that I learned at the 2021 IPW and why I see an even brighter future for global travel in the next few years.
Global travel will rebound faster than you think…and travel agencies are the catalyst.
According to tourism experts, recovery to pre-pandemic volumes is currently anticipated in 2024, via a steady growth over the next few years. While tour operators are primarily planning and booking for 2023, I think that 2022 can still be a good year to welcome international travelers to the US again. I anticipate we will see many travelers eager to apply travel credit from previous cancellations soon. There are still challenges with airline capacity, tourism workforce shortage, and availability of rental cars; however, I anticipate that this will normalize in mid-2022. The enthusiasm and desire to travel to the US from Europe has been at a record high, especially in the UK market, and people will find ways to act on it.
The new traveler will be younger, more digital, and active.
The first travelers we will see traveling to the US will be across all ages, but we will probably see a slight shift to younger generations, specifically Generations X, Y and Z, as they have less fear of long-distance travel and lower risk of health complications if they do contract COVID. They are explorers with more spontaneous tendencies. Though they appreciate traditional itineraries, they tend to make variations on existing itineraries and are open to take detours and discover places, especially places that are lesser known and less crowded. From a travel planning perspective, the new traveler will have a shorter timeline to book and will be more inclined to change bookings and itineraries more frequently. These bookings—and changes are often conducted entirely via mobile devices. With this drop in traveler age and increase in spontaneity, we will see travelers become more active and adventurous, more outdoors-oriented, more desirous of experiences that are good for health and soul. Destination marketers will be smart to highlight road tripping, hiking, biking, sightseeing, camping, RV travel, and culinary experiences, as these will be top choices for travelers while reuniting with friends and families.
Extended stays and workation are the best off-season opportunities.
We have been behind in Europe with regard to digitalization, and for a long time European employers have offered only a traditional workplace culture wherein employees work in an office and take a lot of time off for their vacations and worldwide travels. The younger workforce has a different mindset: travel has a much higher value than building careers or having a regular workweek. Of course, the pandemic accelerated Europe’s embracing of remote work and flex time. As a result, I expect that global travelers from Europe will stay longer and combine more leisure time with remote work; the combination has the benefit of enabling them to extend their vacations. And of course, major desires remain to avoid crowded areas, so off-season travel will become more frequent and accepted by employers who have developed new office policies for remote work recently. Who knows if schools will apply similar protocols with remote learning post-pandemic, but it could be a game-changer for the global travel industry.
The “wish” for sustainable travel is strong, but how can they make a difference?
Based on the negative impacts from the pandemic and the conversations about the next world challenge to combat climate change, the travel industry is tasked with becoming more green. And this is not an easy accomplishment—reducing carbon emissions while flying across the globe is daunting. Nevertheless, the wish and demand for green travel is here and global travelers are more willing to pay a premium price if the travel experience is more environmentally sustainable. We see this with airlines like United Airlines announcing plans to become carbon neutral by 2050 and the fast adaptation of electric cars. Is this perfect? No, but I think it is moving in a direction where the global travel industry can develop a blueprint for #greentravel.
From transaction to transformation.
The days of global travel as a pure recreation and business transaction are gone. Consumers today want more. They want to communicate directly with travel agents, one-on-one, building trusting relationships that add value they are willing to pay more for. And while we were all in the marketing business to provide information, we now have to provide education. Global travelers want to look more behind the scenes, understand different cultures, and support communities in need. What they expect from visiting the United States is to make this a “life changing experience” for themselves, connect with people, processes and receive a superior experience they can take home. Conversations that occur among friends and with tourism stakeholders are more meaningful, especially with the conversations about how we can become better stewards in global travel. Social and digital belonging is now the new word of mouth for how global consumers embrace travel destinations and tell the world about it.