The further we get into the crisis and the more I read, the more I realise that the recovery is going to be complicated and prolonged or gradual. The travel industry comprises many different interconnected service providers that work together to provide a holiday experience for clients.
COVID-19 infections in the outbound and inbound markets will need to be under control before people consider travel as a viable activity. It is not just a matter of turning it all back on – it is going to be slow and tedious.
Major issues and problems identified:
- Infections under control: Before we will be able to travel both the region you are coming from and the region you are going to need to have the virus under control. It is not just a case of opening up these regions to travel. It needs to be approached with due caution, and incrementally at that.
- Social distancing: Until we have a vaccine, cure or have developed herd immunity, physical distancing will be very much in place. It is not going to be fun travelling, worrying about the people around you. Many people will prefer to delay their travels.
- Flights: Airlines are suffering, and many will not make it through the crisis. Those that make it will have financial constraints and will open routes where there is demand. There are no guarantees that they will fly to the regions in which you operate. In principle, travel requires you to hop on a network of airlines (international, regional, domestic), and these routes and viable connections will need to be in place for a full recovery.
- Fear: People are going to be wary of crowds and are going to avoid them until they feel safe – this is going to be a process.
- Uncertainty: If I book a holiday in six months, will it happen and will I get my money back if not?
- Managing supply and demand: Matching supply and demand are going to be complicated. As we emerge from this crisis, we will be unable to open all accommodations, activities in a region as the market will be deficient. If every facility opens, then they will all be running at low occupancies.
It seems commonly accepted that recovery will happen locally before the transport networks and providers open up. Once this happens, then a country will slowly open up domestic travel once more. Neighbouring countries will follow suit and open up borders, and regional travel will start to take place. This course of events will mirror internationally. The recovery will be a gradual process and will only happen when this has all happened with things starting to normalise.
Your recovery will depend on your geographic location and on what you do. It would help if you positioned yourself to take advantage of the domestic rebound before benefiting from the global uptick.
If you are in a remote place that may be more difficult to launch your recovery strategy. It will look very different from that of a product in proximity a large domestic market with access to excellent transport networks and tourism infrastructure, for example.
There are many interesting articles and conflicting opinions about what the travel industry will look like post-pandemic. I believe we will learn valuable lessons and improve the way the industry works. Confidence will return, and although the recovery will be slower than from other crises, the industry will claw itself back to where we were before. We have a unique opportunity to do things differently this time around, which may place us above and beyond our previous status quo. My thoughts about this are saved for another article on another day.
These are draining times for all involved in tourism. Please stay healthy; we need to look after ourselves and our team's mental health, get support from others in the industry and try to stay optimistic. Always remember that the urge to travel and explore runs deep within our souls. The travel industry will return. Our focus now needs to be on survival, remaining confident, and taking on whatever needs doing to prepare our businesses for the recovery.
Paul de Waal, CEO Wetu