Travel, hospitality and experiential tourism has come a long way in the last decade, particularly in the last few years through a mix of creativity, passion, innovation and technology. In some ways, it feels like COVID-19 has put these advances on hold, most notably in the world of travel and hospitality. Sustainability is a prime example. Single-use plastics, once publicly shamed, are coming back into use as a health and safety measure. Mini bathroom amenity bottles, which were being replaced by larger multi-use containers, are now stocked on shelves and disposed of following each use. While we’ll continue to see some of the industry’s most exciting initiatives take a back seat for a bit, we’ll also see scores of others brought to the forefront of the travel experience—and the potential to innovate in the “new normal” travel world is significant.
These current travel norms and expectations naturally create a very unique and exciting position for marketers. There are new stories to be told and different ways to tell them. There are new meanings and experiences to be shared. Through our work with hotels, destinations and leading travel experts, we have the power to help shape the future of the industry together and guide our clients to introduce programming and experiences that meet the demands of future travelers. We’re able to share stories that shine the spotlight and encourage travelers to hit the open road to explore new destinations or perhaps more deeply explore nearby regions and dig beyond the surface to seek out those authentic moments. We have to smartly and sensitively navigate new marketing practices in order to support business growth and sustain the health and safety of guests and staff.
|This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Jul. '20 Travel & Int'l PR Magazine.|
Global tourism will see seismic shifts in the post-pandemic era. Expect to become a more sustainable, mindful traveler, expect a gained appreciation for supporting small, local businesses and an understanding of how that support directly translates into impactful travel experiences. Expect travelers to seek out smaller crowds, hyper local destinations and giving back to the planet and the environment. There will be a surge of travelers who purposefully seek out journeys and experiences that put an emphasis on mindful, slow travel—travel that changes, that redefines. Travelers will naturally steer away from cookie-cutter experiences—or, traveling for the ’gram—as traveling itself once again becomes more of a luxury, more studied and well thought-out. We’ll see more sustainable and ethical travel experiences take shape and become available for explorers. As travelers rethink how they travel and how frequently they do so, there will be more desire to travel with purpose.
People have taken for granted the genuine connections they have with others; the pandemic really brought this to light, and many have been devoid of meaningful, intimate, personable interactions throughout the global health crisis. It will take time to bring those connections back. But what better idea than to begin with travel? The power of the place is such a tempting call. The places that we’ve never thought of, never heard of, never discovered call to us. The small cities, state parks, landmarks, remote and off-the-beaten-path locales and the coveted, once-in-a-lifetime bucket list trips that show up on our vision boards year after year will become a priority. The call to action that COVID-19 has created is that once it’s safe to do so, we should seize the day and turn those travel dreams into reality.
While exploring, future travelers are seeking open spaces, privacy and spots that fewer people seek, allowing more room to explore and experience diversified cultures, and the opportunity to explore the unknown. The power of discovery and adventure will fuel the travel industry. It will ignite and inspire us to pack our bags and get back on the road. Yes, the great “American Road Trip” is making a comeback in 2020, and that’s certainly no surprise. The safety of our own cars, filled with friends, loved ones and our pets, has never been more appealing. For the luxury travel sector, privacy is the new must-have amenity and the ultimate value-add, and we’re seeing a surge of interest in buyouts, villas, residences and exclusive stay experiences at hotels and resorts.
One certainty that’s emerged from the pandemic is the exhaustive impact of mass tourism: the effects on the environment, the planet, the people. The viral contrast of the “before-and-after” pictures that have surfaced throughout the pandemic has forced us to see the undeniable effects of mass tourism. We want to do better. We want to preserve. And we want to help—not just today, but for future generations. It will naturally take time for international travel to come back. Places like Venice and Santorini that have been suffering under the crush of scores of international tourists for such a long time, are now on-track to welcome tourists back more responsibly and better than ever. There’s a renewed appreciation for local culture and supporting small, local businesses. Smaller, historic, landmark cities will benefit greatly from this.
The pandemic hasn’t only greatly impacted the economy, but has had a huge impact on our collective mental health. Throughout the pandemic, people have been isolated in more ways than one. In the absence of face-to-face connections, people have sought new ways to bond, mainly in the virtual space. Despite the isolation, individuals are finding new and unique ways to remain connected to travel and their communities. Travelers are taking advantage of the new industry norm of carefree cancellation policies, allowing us to book with confidence, knowing that if our plans change, they’ll take care of us. The anticipation of a trip, speaking to travel advisors, planning ahead and ultimately booking a trip can be nearly as satisfying as the trip itself, providing an immediate, positive mental health experience. Once travelers arrive at their destinations in the future, many hotels, resorts and spas will be there to welcome visitors with new programming and experiences centered around mindfulness and wellness to combat the mental and physical toll that the pandemic has had on so many. Wellness and fitness will merge with nature and the outdoors more than ever, spa treatments will focus on recovery and expect to see an uptick in immune boosting therapies.
As we prepare for the future of travel, the importance of telling creative, inspiring and credible stories comes squarely into view. As new travel behaviors form, the industry will continue to come together to shape the new ways in which travelers inevitably see the world. As storytellers, we have the power to influence what our clients are doing and shape what travelers can expect and, most importantly, need. We’re honored to be at the helm of a concerted industry effort to create that new form. The thrill of a new adventure, the powerful transformation a trip can offer, a new way forward for sustainable travel—and the genuine connection to people and place—will redefine how we travel and how we will want to travel in the future.
Ali Lundberg is Executive VP at J Public Relations.