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The Covid-19 pandemic will reshape travel as we know it

Opinion

Published by:

8 April 2020

Author: Holly Friend

Image: Garden Home, Airbnb

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Travel has become meaningless. Now, the Covid-19 pandemic has granted travel brands an opportunity to contemplate – and moralise – their existence.

Travel has come to a standstill. In 2020, the number of airline passengers was expected to reach 4.72bn, according to the International Air Transport Association. Now, with airlines grounding their planes and air traffic in vast decline, passenger numbers on European airlines are projected to be 46% below those of 2019. For travel and hospitality brands – who are arguably bearing the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic – the future looks bleak.

However, as The Future Laboratory's senior futures analyst Victoria Buchanan notes, this global crisis has come at a surprisingly fitting time. After all, it’s the dawn of a new decade, and consumers and brands are in a state of reflection, introspection and contemplation. And while it may be challenging for those in the travel and hospitality sector to see this pandemic as a much-needed societal reset, it’s important that they do.

For the foreseeable future, recreational travel has been plucked from consumer consciousness. Operators, understandably, are caught in a state of apprehension and bracing for huge economic loss. Many are faced with an option to unashamedly market fantasy trips of a lifetime – now hauntingly dystopian in their approach ­– or scale back on brand communications.

Some are taking the crisis as an opportunity to voice a hopeful message, such as VisitPortugal’s calming and instructive film Can’t Skip Hope. Launched just as Europe fell into lockdown, the campaign is optimistic, identifying this period as a time to reset, re-centre and recalibrate mankind. ‘Nature, landscapes, beaches and monuments aren’t going anywhere,’ states the voiceover, which was recorded remotely using a smartphone. ‘They’ll still be there, waiting for a better time to be lived.’

Stay Home by Jennifer Baer
'The mass accessibility of travel has transformed our annual summer holiday into a year-round lifestyle, which has gradually chipped away its meaning'

While other organisations can learn from this Brandstanding approach to marketing, the film’s sentiment also echoes one of the emerging mindsets we’ve seen gain traction over the last year: the rise of anti-travelling. With consumers increasingly concerned about their carbon emissions, 2019 was the year that the flygskam (flying shame) movement drove early adopter travellers to snub far-flung destinations in favour of guilt-free staycations. In fact, 62% of UK consumers took one or more staycations last year, compared to 50% who holidayed abroad (source: YouGov).

The pandemic is also fast-tracking a greater examination of why we travel at all. Consumers are aware of the positive impacts of Covid-19 on the climate, having witnessed China’s lesser-polluted cities, wildlife wandering into Welsh villages and seabirds returning to Venice’s cleaner canals. They will be cautious to undo such groundbreaking environmental benefits. Rather than being seduced by the draw of budget flights, many will have had the time and space to contemplate their unethical travel behaviour.

After all, mass accessibility has arguably transformed travel from an annual summer holiday into a year-round lifestyle, which has gradually chipped away its meaning. To put this in perspective, in 2018 the number of flights per year rose by 280m globally (source: Airbus).

No one knows when this period of isolation will end. But when we come through it, let’s hope that humankind will nurture a greater appreciation of the travel experience, stripping back their holidays to basic, slower, more meaningful, purposeful trips that empower the local economy. For brands, the Covid-19 pandemic will become a game of survival of the fittest, requiring businesses to react, adapt and use this period of liminality to reconsider their part in people's lives.

Our Covid-19 Report examines and analyses the pandemic's cross-sector impact and outlines key opportunities for brands and businesses in the year ahead.

For more on Covid-19, watch our 30-minute webinar hosted by senior futures analyst Victoria Buchanan, examining Covid-19’s impact across key sectors, and the steps to future-proof strategies for your organisation, employees and clients.

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