Industry Insiders Forecast Post-Pandemic Travel

The following is a contributed piece to Hotel Business.

The impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the travel and tourism industry is undeniable. That said, a recent TripScout survey found that even though 77% of travelers had to cancel or reschedule travel plans, 90% still plan on traveling this year. However, health and safety will be a top priority.

We’ve rounded up some thought-leaders to provide expert predictions on what the travel industry’s bounce back will look like:

James Henderson, CEO, Exclusive Resorts: “There will be an uptick in private travel via members-only vacation and aviation clubs because they provide added security, offer flexibility and treat you like family. COVID-19 has brought family, friends and loved ones closer together and once things go ‘back to normal,’ people will have an emotional need to travel with people they know and trust. As a close-knit, members-only vacation club, Exclusive Resorts is already planning group bonding activities and adventures; people will be hungry for human connection and fun.”

Paul McGowan, founder, Study Hotels: “We should remain hopeful for the bounce back while also preparing for a more conservative flow of travelers far before a major influx. There will be businesses and industries that will come back sooner than others. For instance, we are fortunate to operate in university markets—which typically stick to a cyclical schedule we can count on—and, as we emerge from this crisis, we expect an accelerated ramp up of occupancy as students and staff address unfinished business on campus, and another as we get closer to their return in the fall. Above all, we must remember that travel is an antidote to all this, providing positive, aspirational feelings in the wake of our current confinement.”

Phil Hospod, owner, The Wayfinder Hotel, Newport, RI: “I’ve always loved the freedom of the road trip. It feels familiar, nostalgic and very American. Now, more than ever, when we are allowed to travel again, we expect to see families, friends and couples jumping into their cars and hitting the open road. We also predict we’ll see more travelers choosing convenient, nostalgic vacation destinations—like Newport, RI—that hold meaning, a sense of familiarity and positive associations. When that does happen, we plan on welcoming them—cocktail in hand—at The Wayfinder Hotel.”

Michael Cady, VP of marketing, Charlestowne Hotels: “Being homebound for so many weeks has sparked a renewed desire for adventure, but it will come with some caution. We anticipate that travelers will gravitate toward the smaller, boutique hotel experience, staying closer to home where they have the option of driving. Enhanced cleaning procedures are here to stay, and travelers will benefit from a hotel’s commitment to earn their loyalty after this hiatus.”

Lisa Burns, executive director of the Finger Lakes Regional Tourism Council, Pittsford, NY: “We’re all eagerly awaiting the warmer months and hopeful that the industry will find its footing in time for summer travel. However, it is important that we understand behaviors will be changed, and we’re already beginning to see new trends take shape. For example, travelers will be wary of public transportation and plane travel, choosing to drive via their own cars to explore nearby destinations. We also predict there will be a larger emphasis on outdoor, open-air attractions and destinations as social distancing phases out slowly. For us, we’ll see an uptick in travelers visiting our hiking trails at places such as Letchworth State Park, the 100-plus waterfalls of Ithaca and water activities on our 11 pristine lakes and Lake Ontario. Lastly, private, stand-alone accommodations and entire home rentals, such as the 10-person Williamson Estates on Lake Ontario, will be preferred over hotels.”

Dan Yates, managing director, “’Shorter, closer, later’ is how we’ve characterized booking trends for years now, but this summer may embody it more than ever. Even if the government gives the green light before summer, many will be reluctant to travel and will choose remote, domestic locations like campgrounds over densely populated areas, certainly avoiding transport hubs like international airports. Staycations are likely to be top of mind, and we predict these will be booked at the last minute. Limited time to plan and a desire to ‘test the water’ may mean a succession of short trips instead of an immediate long vacation. We also anticipate an increased interest in low-cost travel given the economic impact the coronavirus has inflicted on so many.”

Mitch Whitten, EVP, marketing and strategy, Visit Fort Worth: “We anticipate that drive markets and Fort Worth, TX’s free activities will be big parts of the destination’s story when people are ready to travel. Fort Worth is at one of the busiest crossroads in the country and, with many free attractions such as the Kimbell Art Museum and the world’s only twice-daily cattle drive, we’re a great value for people who need an easy escape.”

Hans Pfister, president/co-owner, Cayuga Collection: “Following this period of social distancing, hoteliers need to take into account that travelers’ behaviors will be forever changed, and I expect consumers to seek out more off-the-beaten-path experiences, private accommodations and adventure activities where they are able to be outdoors and surrounded by open air. We’ll be keeping that in mind when planning out summer programming to ensure we can give our guests the most well-deserved vacation of their lives once we’re on the other side of this.”

Mary Quinn Ramer, president, VisitLex, Lexington, KY: “While our world and the way people travel will forever be changed, we believe the industry will bounce back. Following this long period of social distancing, we’ll find many people revisiting the places and experiences that fill them with joy. We anticipate many travelers will still play it relatively safe by traveling in smaller groups and choosing closer-to-home, more-familiar domestic travel after restrictions are lifted. However, after being cooped up, people will start to put plans in place for destinations that have always been on their bucket list, and they may even be more apt to try adventure-filled experiences with their renewed sense of freedom. We’re preparing for the many ways travelers may choose to travel moving forward and are putting our efforts and initiatives together that beckon them back here to Kentucky.”

Tomohiro Murakami and Mika White, founders, Tourism Exchange Japan: “While we anticipate Japan remaining a top destination to visit, especially with the Tokyo Olympics postponed to 2021, we can expect more travelers heading to less-dense cities. Japan-bound travelers will likely venture out of overpopulated cities like Tokyo and Osaka and seek smaller, lesser known areas and prefectures, a trend that has slowly increased in the last few years. Instead of spending the majority of a travel trip in dense cities, we foresee the reverse, and travelers will spend the majority of their trips in off-the-beaten-path communities and locales. We also anticipate greater shoulder-season travel where travelers can still enjoy all that a country can offer without the crowds.”

Edward Donaldson, director of sales & marketing, Alaia Belize: “We predict that there will be a very enormous pent-up demand that people will want to travel. However, there will be consideration about one’s health safety, which will extend past what the industry has seen in other pandemics. This will also extend to airlines and hotels, but destinations will play a large part in the recovery: What they did, how involved they are in making it safer for their staff/locals, and even the rates of infections [will be] a part of the overall calculation of consumers selecting destinations. If we can assuage people’s fears, it won’t matter if it is individual or group related, people will travel again.”

Larry Korman, president/co-CEO, AKA: “We predict traditional business and planned leisure travel will make a comeback sooner than frivolous travel, therefore creating more opportunities for the extended-stay sector. Our feeling is that travelers will now be more selective and think more carefully about details in service, cleanliness, space, size and security—whereas in the past, price may have driven a traveler to sacrifice on some of these key elements. For our brand, which specializes in longer stays with apartment-style amenities, we feel there will be more of a demand for a better work environment within the residence. From the furniture to the need for small printers and other work supplies, we will ensure it’s implemented. Most of our AKA locations are under 100 residences with amenities that are private to residents (guests), which we hope will continue to provide an extra level of comfort.”

Kevin Kelly, CEO, Sensei: “In a time of crisis, people’s instincts are to come together, yet the immediate solution for COVID-19 is social distancing. As our nation adjusts to a new normal, reconnecting safely and in a meaningful way with family, friends and self will be paramount. Sensei and our Sensei Retreat on the island of Lānaʻi provides an environment and programs to optimize health and greater well-being. Given the superfluous information adding confusion to uncertainty, people will search out brands that have authority they can trust. Sensei’s founders are two of the world’s leading experts in technology and health. Sensei is applying this knowledge in its dynamic, principled approach to healthier living within the luxury wellness travel space.”

Ian Moore, chief commercial officer, VistaJet: “We expect that frequency of business travel will bounce back first, with leisure travel to follow. We also anticipate a shift in travelers’ behavior; with more consumers wary of returning to crowded commercial flights, we’re predicting an uptick in first- or business-class flyers shifting to flying private. We’re also going to see a shorter booking window since people will be planning for the short term over booking trips far into the future. VistaJet’s model is well-suited for this since we offer guaranteed availability with as little as 24 hours’ notice, globally, on our fleet of over 70-plus branded jets, and a flexible cancellation policy.”