Lauren Mackiel
Lauren Mackiel

According to Tourism Economics, global travel spending experienced a 42 percent annual decline in 2020, and international travel dropped 76 percent. While the pandemic shook the travel industry to its core, many pivoted to meet the needs of a new reality. Tourism and hospitality providers leveraged the time by developing creative solves in hopes of capturing the hearts of travelers, inspiring them in the short term to visit in the long term.

Remote work becomes dream vacation

Remote work increased from 20 percent pre-COVID to 71 percent at its peak, according to Pew Research. We saw international destinations turn their eye from the absent leisure traveler to the “bleisure” traveler. Countries competed to lure remote workers touting gorgeous landscapes as the new “home office.”

For example, imagine taking conference calls or conducting board meetings just steps away from Seven Mile Beach in the Cayman Islands or brainstorming business solutions while paddling through its mangrove forests ... sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? The Cayman Islands turned those dreams into reality. With borders still closed, the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism and Ministry of Tourism launched the Global Citizen Concierge Program, allowing eligible professionals to embrace a remote lifestyle and immerse themselves fully in the luxury, adventure, culture and beauty of the Cayman Islands. Digital nomads can revive their work-life balance and apply to live and work remotely for up to two years at the bespoke, luxury destination. The GCCP provides extended stability as compared to other destinations, only offering a six-month stay or less. Since the initiative was launched in October 2020, more than 100 successful applications from families, couples and individuals have been received, with most entrants coming from the U.S. and Europe. Successful applicants still have this unique remote work opportunity.

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's July '21 Travel & Tourism PR Magazine
(view PDF version)

For consumers looking for a change of scenery while staying closer to home, Hilton created a new offering that allows remote workers to stay remote without worrying about barking dogs, the neighbor’s lawn mower or cats on keyboards. WorkSpaces by Hilton launched in the midst of the pandemic to give remote workers a chance to eliminate the distractions of home without heading back to the office. With WorkSpaces by Hilton, consumers can book a room at a local Hilton property for a day rate. The program comes with all the amenities we love about an office—a desk, comfortable office chair, lightning-fast Wi-Fi and plenty of free coffee and tea—without the construction project happening next door.

Guaranteeing a good time

National data indicates that most U.S. travelers daydream about visiting Hawaii more than any other destination; however, this amazing set of islands suffered huge setbacks as tourism plummeted more than 90 percent at the height of the pandemic (Associated Press). In an effort to inspire vacationers to its shores, Outrigger Hotels and Resorts launched the first-ever experiential promise made by a hospitality brand. Entitled “The Outrigger Promise,” it pledged that all guests will have a vacation of a lifetime, and if not, the brand will credit guests for a future stay to try again—on the house. The industry-first offer was so successful in bringing happiness to travelers that Outrigger extended the offer through June 2021, good for stays booked through Dec. 21, 2021.

In even better news, Hawaii recently announced that once it reaches a 60 percent vaccination rate, the state will lift pre-arrival testing and quarantine requirements for domestic U.S. travelers (Travel and Leisure). Paradise awaits.

The dock at Rum Point.
The dock at Rum Point
Photo: Will Burrard-Lucas

Virtual escapes

Another trend that erupted this past year was virtually escaping and connecting online. Destinations and hot tourist spots were quick to reimagine their experiences, bringing them right to consumers’ doors, or more literally, their screens.

Google Arts & Culture partnered with more than 2,500 museums and galleries around the world, including Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, London’s National Gallery and the Whitney Museum of American Art (Fast Company). For the first time, many of the world’s most awe-inspiring locations provided virtual access to travelers so they could get an up-close view of popular historical artwork.

Known as the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean, the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism hosted its first-ever intimate and immersive virtual “Cook-and-Sip” event for top-tier media and influencers. The unique press engagement featured on-island culinary and mixology talent and reinforced key destination messaging, keeping Cayman top of mind among media while borders remain closed.

With so many people missing travel, Hilton decided to offer a peek behind the curtain and allow guests to bring some of their favorite hotel experiences directly into their homes. The Hilton at Home series not only kept Hilton relevant during a time when travel wasn’t an option but also served up Hilton’s signature hospitality for those stuck at home. From free video backgrounds featuring fabulous Hilton destinations around the world to downloadable coloring pages and cocktail demonstrations, Hilton at Home touched on all elements of a virtual hotel stay. The program’s highlight was the release of the world-famous DoubleTree cookie recipe. Over the years, millions of travelers have enjoyed that warm, chewy cookie upon check-in. As baking increased in popularity during the pandemic, the timing was perfect for releasing the recipe and giving guests a sweet taste of Hilton, even if they couldn’t experience it in person. Hilton at Home helped remind consumers what they love about travel and what they had to look forward to once travel resumed.

Looking forward

TripAdvisor reports that nearly half (47 percent) of travelers surveyed globally are planning to travel internationally this year, including 45 percent of U.S. travelers. And they plan to spend more on those experiences to make up for lost time (Forbes). While the first quarter of 2021 was also challenging—international tourist arrivals were down 83 percent in the first quarter of 2021, according to The United Nations World Tourism Organization—there are signs of increased consumer confidence and plans to travel based on rising vaccination levels and the easing of lockdowns and travel restrictions. Only time will tell if these trends are here to stay. In the meantime, the industry and travelers have much to look forward to.


Lauren Mackiel is SVP at Coyne PR.