The technological revolution has positively impacted the field of tourism. It has brought people together and connected individuals from all over the world thanks to the easier modes of traveling and, most of the times, the affordable prices. Unfortunately, due to the current pandemic, COVID-19, the travel industry has experienced devastating consequences (Becker, 2020). For instance, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has estimated that the worldwide revenue could fall as much as 20% this year (Perez, 2020). It is an unprecedented time in which the negative impact on the travel industry strongly resemble the consequences of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. However, after the 9/11 attacks, the airline revenues fell only by 7%, a small number compared to the 20% that is expected this year (Perez, 2020).
The negative impact on the travel industry is already visible as airlines have flown almost empty planes and dropped flight prices just to stay alive. However, the repercussions will be even more critical in the next year as the health consciousness, arose in these months, will dramatically impact people’s willingness to travel.
Travel has always been associated with positive emotions and individual satisfaction. People travel for several reasons and, among these, there is the willingness to escape from the everyday life or search for new experiences (Gnoth et al., 2000). As previously reported, the technological revolution allowed us to travel in the easiest way, but things will change in the future. Due to the health and safety restrictions, people will not be able to travel to certain locations and most of all, they will be afraid to do so. The fear provoked by the current pandemic has already elicited a change of attitudes in people and such change will also impact the way in which they will travel. For instance, it is expected that travelling will mostly occur in locations within the home country with a new interest and enthusiasm towards those places obscured by the previous ease of international travel (Bull, 2020). People will also have to regain confidence before they start travelling abroad (Malleret, 2020). In addition to this, it is important to consider the economic impact of the coronavirus which will potentially affect people’s lives for the next years, leading to great levels of unemployment (Bull, 2020). Due to this, people will be more likely to travel within their own country also to save money. For all these reasons, therefore, a strong regionalism and localism in travel will be expected in the future months. As also reported by Robert Lundgren Jones, the founder of Londgren tours: “Until a vaccine is made and distributed to the public, many travellers will be hesitant to travel abroad, particularly given that airports are thought to be so central to the spread of the virus” (Crowcroft, 2020).
The impact of the pandemic on the way in which people behave and make decisions is already visible and these behavioural changes will stay in the post-lockdown future. Following this, therefore, a new obsession with cleanliness will be tangible as a possible diffidence about sharing space with strangers (Malleret, 2020). These new attitudes will definitely impact the travel industry which will have to deeply change to stay afloat and provide a positive experience to its customers. To reassure and fulfil customers’ desires, the travel industry will have to implement a meticulous approach to sanitation. In this context, experts believe that technology will be fundamental in the future months in order to fulfil consumers’ needs. In fact, it is expected that electronic passports and IDs will be utilised along with medical screenings and robot cleaners in order to limit the physical contact as much as possible (Khan, 2020). In addition to this, the travel industry will have to find a way so that consumers can regain the control they have lost in the previous months. To give back control to the consumers, the travel industry should assure the necessary distances on the different means of transport so that customers can fulfil their desire of personal space (Khan, 2020). To stay afloat and, more importantly, to be successful the travel industry will have to employ specific tactics to ensure consumers’ a positive travel experience. The travel industry will have to greatly consider costumers’ need for safety by providing all those necessary elements fundamental for the future people’s wellbeing. The industry will be positively impacted by a transparent strategy that put the customer and its health first.
In the meantime, however, consumers are still trying to satisfy their need for travelling by employing virtual reality, a tool already adopted by the travel industry in order to provide to prospective customers a virtual travel experience. In doing so, consumers can actually have a taste of what the hotel look like alongside with the main attractions of the destination (Revfine, 2020). Due to the current situation, the travel and tourism industry are largely utilising the virtual reality. Hotels, museums or popular landmarks are offering virtual experiences to online visitors who are now able to take a virtual tour from the streets of Puerto Rico to the relaxing pristine beaches of Patong Beach in Thailand (Humphries, 2020). Such experiences don’t necessarily come close to the reality but can still fulfil the need for escapism and new experiences to some degree. Human brain is still a mystery, but science has shown that imagining experiences has a power to activate brain is pretty much the same way and intensity as actually experiencing it IRL. People are obviously aware that they are not really sunbathing on a beach in Thailand but nevertheless their emotional connection and engagement with the place is being build. Memories are formed infused with unique meanings which can further drive customers to actually purchase their holidays in this location once feeling confident enough to travel.
How different these IRL experiences will have to be considering the build up of expectations created by VR is something travel industry needs to think about. Health and safety considerations need to be implemented but it can be done in a way that counteracts negative emotions, like fear or lack of control, and therefore enhances the overall experience. Customers are aware that travel won’t look and feel the same as it used to, and they are prepared to accept some level of pain and discomfort while travelling. The balance between such unpleasantness and incredible new experiences is something that will have to be controlled on a daily basis.
Considerations of social intimacy while maintaining physical distance, ability to control how you experience your time on the airport, being able to go to a restaurant without waiting 1 hour in a queue as you would rather sightsee then… How you deliver health and safety restrictions, so they still enhance customer experience and build your brand is going to be crucial to sustaining strong relationships with your customers.
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Becker, E. (2020). How hard will the coronavirus hit the travel industry? https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/2020/04/how-coronavirus-is-impacting-the-travel-industry/
Bull, M. (2020). 9 ways coronavirus will change the way we travel after lockdown is lifted. https://www.hellomagazine.com/travel/2020042188357/how-coronavirus-will-change-the-way-we-travel/
Crowcroft, O. (2020). Life after lockdown: will COVID-19 change the way we travel forever? https://www.euronews.com/2020/04/18/life-after-lockdown-will-covid-19-change-the-way-we-travel-forever
Gnoth, J., Zins, A.H., Lengmueller, R., & Boshoff, C. (2000). Emotions, mood, flow and motivations to travel. Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing, 9(3), 23-34.
Humphries, M. (2020). Virtual Egyptian tombs, livestreamed ghost tours, and 27 other places around the world to visit without leaving your home. https://www.insider.com/virtual-ways-to-travel-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic-2020-3
Khan, S. (2020). The era of peak travel is over. https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/2020/4/16/21216676/coronavirus-covid-19-travel-vacation-tourism-overtourism
Malleret, T. (2020). Post-COVID features: from localism rising in travel to an ongoing obsession with cleanliness. https://globalwellnessinstitute.org/global-wellness-institute-blog/2020/04/07/post-covid-futures-from-localism-rising-in-travel-to-an-ongoing-obsession-with-cleanliness/
Perez, Y.B. (2020). How travel tech companies aim to survive the coronavirus pandemic. https://thenextweb.com/growth-quarters/2020/04/09/how-travel-tech-companies-aim-to-survive-the-coronavirus-pandemic/
Revfine (2020). https://www.revfine.com/virtual-reality-travel-industry/