The Post Pandemic World and A New Type of Travel Consumer
April 22, 2020
The UK look at travel in a post-pandemic world
It’s the question on the lips of every travel industry professional: “What will the travel industry landscape look like when the Covid-19 pandemic has passed?”
The subject of the post pandemic travel consumer; what they will be like, what they will want and where will they go, are the questions currently being contemplated in every sales and marketing department of every travel brand and destination.
Of course, the travel sector has become used to unexpected shocks to its system over the years.
In 2002, there was SARS; 2005 saw Avian influenza, better known as Bird Flu, then, in 2010, the eruptions of an Icelandic volcano by the name of Eyjafjallajökull brought the travel industry in the Northern Hampshire to a sudden shuddering halt.
2015 saw the MERS outbreak; Zika virus erupted in 2016. And then there has been the periodic outbreaks of Legionnaires disease and Ebola. And let’s not forget the numerous typhoons, tsunamis, earthquakes and hurricanes that have hit destinations over the years.
After each of those crises the travel industry recovered, and recovered relatively quickly, and strongly, compared to other market sectors.
But the Covid-19 pandemic is different. Very different.
Many travel brands are talking about “bounce back” marketing campaigns. The phrase “rebound” is widely used by travel leaders describing post Covid-19 pandemic business plans.
However, this bounce back, or rebound thinking, implies that the crisis the industry is experiencing will be “V” shaped; that the sector will merely reboot or reset itself the day the pandemic passes and everything will move back to where it was before the pandemic.
Yet the evidence is building that this will not be the case. The insightful data shows that the market will not “bounce back”. Rather, it will climb back and the climb back will be steady but slow.
Many travel brands, such as easyJet and Saga, have already publicly declared that they are planning for a slow steady return to travel by consumers. Tour operators, like Kuoni, are questioning how much product will be available to sell as the world comes back; destinations and regions will probably open up for business at different times and then with varying restrictions on overseas visitors.
Social distancing may well stay in place for some time after lockdowns are lifted, which will change how airlines, cruise brands, hotels and resorts will accommodate customers and guests.
And all this is without examining the post pandemic consumer themselves.
There is no doubt that Covid-19 has deeply scarred all of us. Most people know somebody impacted by it – be they famous or someone in our community. Knowledge and awareness of hygiene, the spread of germs and social distancing have been considerably heightened – which is bound to have a knock-on effect in people’s travel habits and consumption.
And the stories of cruise ships not allowed to dock in countries due to the health scare or holidaymakers and travelers struggling to be repatriated from long haul destinations, may have knocked confidence and made consumers think about safety and repatriation in a way that they didn’t prior to Covid-19.
It is clear, that when the time comes for people to think about travel once again the industry will have to change its approach to engagement. The sector will have to coax the consumer. Inspiration, subtle in sentiment and tone, will be important. Timing and the framing of messages vital.
The early indications are that when people do return to having holidays, domestic travel, the staycation, will be the strongest performing segment of the travel sector. Staying close to home will have a strong appeal. Familiarity and safety will be a strong selling points.
Venturing further afield will, it is widely acknowledged, be a slower process for the travel consumer and that will be influenced by age and outlook because of the Covid-19 experience.
Increasingly, travellers will be wary of mingling with strangers or indeed with crowds where social distancing is challenging. Journalist Juliet Kinsman in Condé Nast Traveller suggests that once travel starts again: “the race will be on to reserve the best exclusive-use cottages and villas”. She also suggests that the reputable luxury hotel brands, known for their highest standards of health and safety and service, may be the most appealing properties of all.
But one thing that will influence the post pandemic travel consumer is yet to be acknowledged by many travel brands, and that is the global economy.
With many global economies set to be in recessions and economic slumps after the pandemic, travel will no longer be a necessity but a luxury for many consumers. This will influence the choice of holiday, its duration and the spending in destination.
The aviation sector has been the first segment of the travel sector to give a glimpse of what a post pandemic, economic stressed, travel world will look like.
According to Simon Calder, Travel Editor of The Independent, the aviation sector is considering “social distancing” on board planes when mainstream travel recommences again. The basic idea being to keep the middle seat of three empty (or, in aviation-speak, “neutralised”).
But, “De-densifying” planes by one third could, commentators report, push up fares by 50 percent.
Many airlines will retrench, curbing or stopping previously planned expansion programmes. For example, easyJet, according to many analysts, may shrink by up to one-sixth because of the Covid-19 crisis. If it does then that too will add to pressure for higher prices.
Many other holiday types are set to be re-examined in the post pandemic world of travel. The “live like a local” sector, championed by the likes of AirBnB and others, will find it will need to establish formal hygiene accreditation standards to allay the fear of the new travel consumer.
There may well be an increase in demand for private travel by those who can afford it – be it by car or jet. While that once in a lifetime trip may do what it says on the label and be a once in a life time experience as travel decreases in a post pandemic world.
Whatever shape the post pandemic world takes, one thing is for sure. Travel consumers will have changed, in their outlook, desires and spending powers and it will be the brands and destinations most adaptable to change that will flourish in the brave new world post Covid-19.