Hikers overlooking green mountain scenery

As the lockdown lifts, travelers are likely to seek out small group experiences. | Photo by Drew Farwell on Unsplash

April 28, 2020

There is no denying what we already know to be true: Travel as we know it has changed.

The “new normal” will be in flux for months. Despite our greatest attempts to predict the future, it’s hard to say what tourism will look like in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

There is no denying what we already know to be true: Travel as we know it has changed.

That said, would-be travelers have indicated what they want. And, more importantly, behavioral experts can point to previous actions as an indicator of future behavior. The hypothetical needs and scenarios these provide help paint a picture of what tourism’s future could look like.

With that in mind, here are several solutions addressing tomorrow’s trends that could shape the next generation of travel.

Trend: Hygiene and cleanliness are of the utmost importance.

Without a COVID-19 vaccination on the horizon, travelers will be exceptionally cautious about hygiene and cleanliness. A cursory wipe down in accommodations and half-baked attempts to keep fresh air on flights won’t fly anymore. Contactless products and services used to be a novelty; now, they will be non-negotiable.

Contactless products and services used to be a novelty; now, they will be non-negotiable.

Starting with the booking process and integrated throughout the entire supply chain, travelers will be far more mindful of their health and safety. What does this look like?

  • No-touch hotel operations (such as those at Four Seasons’ properties) including virtual check-in and check-out options, no room service, and suspended bar, restaurant, and coffee station services. Guests can conduct their own housekeeping and can pick up pre-made boxed meals in the lobby.
  • Extensive accommodation cleaning and a buffer time between guests. Airbnb is considering a 72-hour cleaning block.
  • Simpliflying has proposed an entirely contactless flight experience, parts of which could serve as a model for aviation.
  • Though it’s not a reality yet, expect to see branded face masks alongside refrigerator magnets in souvenir shops.

Trend: Virtual experiences become increasingly relevant.

Given the uncertainty of future travel restrictions, a concern about going too far from home, and a likely recession, travelers may not be able or willing to actually visit destinations. This, obviously, poses a problem for destinations hoping to draw out-of-town travelers.

Virtual reality has done a decent job of replacing the real deal during the pandemic. Some destinations and service providers, in particular, have embraced this opportunity to entirely rethink what role virtual visitation could play.

Trend: A desire for social situations without large groups.

In the weeks leading up to the pandemic, overtourism was on everyone’s minds. Now, instead of heaving under the weight of too many travelers, destinations are desperate to get them back.

Without trying to scratch out a silver lining from COVID-19, the fact remains that people aren’t going to tolerate crowded spaces — a key characteristic of overtourism and an awesome opportunity for destinations.

  • Milan is fond of the clean air that’s resulted from its lockdown. Its goal to permanently reduce car use in the city also means there’s more room for people to spread out.
  • After being stuck inside for so many days, people may head for national parks and other wilderness areas. Destinations: Take note of what Hawaii state officials did when they recently reopened their parks after a natural disaster.
  • The days of massive bus tours may be over. Though I haven’t seen any information about the kinds of trips people are booking right now, something tells me that people will seek out small-group and private tours.

Trend: Care and compassion as key core values.

The actions people and companies take now are sure to be remembered when this is over. The website Did They Help? is a repository for how they acted during the pandemic. For better or worse, a handful of travel brands have made the list.

The actions people and companies take now are sure to be remembered when this is over.

Even once everyone is finally free to roam around the world, the human condition will be changed. Many people will have been sick or known someone who contracted or died from COVID-19. After being contained in close quarters and having their lives upended, everyone has frayed nerves.

Service providers will need to be mindful of this when interacting with travelers. However, travelers also need to remember they aren’t the only ones in need of compassion during this transition period and beyond by showing care for accommodation owners, tour guides, and other service providers. Everyone needs to embrace the golden rule of “do unto others” as you they interact with others on their travels.

Trend: Interest in supporting community-focused projects.

For the last couple of months, people have rallied around their own communities by ordering takeout from local restaurants, buying gift cards from local stores, and supporting local business owners in general. While people might be itching to get out of their homes and immediate neighborhoods, they’ve also recently been through a truly traumatic and meaningful event with immediate community members.

How could this play out in the “new” tourism model?

  • Lots of people have predicted that many tourists will stay close to home when they travel. Continue to support businesses in your own neighborhood. With a possible surge in local travel, we could see incentives from these businesses for local residents.
  • Travelers showed a greater interest in responsible tourism before the pandemic hit. Companies may need to respond to questions about how they supported these communities even as their operations were restricted. Global Himalayan Expeditions provides a great example of what a social impact report looks like.

What travel trends to you anticipate seeing in the weeks ahead? Have you encountered innovative solutions to address them?


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