Travel has changed; its responsibilities have changed, too

Travel has changed; its responsibilities have changed, too
Photo Credit: Chainarong06/Shutterstock

From our long careers in global tourism, we have always known one thing to be true: travel may ebb and flow, but it always comes back. We’ve been confident that travel will endure. 

That is, until now. The current pandemic has shaken our sector to its core. We have seen nothing like it in our collective decades of experience. 

Governments have imposed lockdowns on their citizens, but few have planned a clear path ahead. It’s likely that on the other side of this immediate health crisis will be one of the deepest recessions the world has ever seen. This is a fierce one-two punch and threatens to keep travel suppressed for years to come.

David Scowsill
David Scowsill

That’s not to say that our sector is without hope. But we will no longer be able to simply rely on our historic staying power. Instead, it will be up to our industry to change the way we operate in order to meet the challenge, rather than, as with past crises, waiting for the rebound moment.

To our industry’s credit, we’re already beginning to evolve. The entire sector is taking a hard look at cleanliness and the future of person-to-person contact long inherent to our sector. Many are reassessing the affordability of travel and how to once again entice consumers to take a trip in the face of economic downturn.

It’s the right way to begin, but we’ll have to do more than redefine the shape of travel; we need to work across sectors to rebuild its very foundation. After the tragic events of 9/11, the world had to get used to new security processes in travel. After the arrival of Covid-19, we will have to get used to a new norm driven by health requirements, that is, until we discover the right vaccine. That, too, will become part of a traveler’s life in the same way other vaccines are needed for certain destinations.

Governments will be making judgment calls about people’s movements under increasingly difficult circumstances, complicated by limited available information. At the same time, our industry will be analyzing every step of a customer’s journey, developing the very strategic insights that governments need. Emerging travel patterns will be vital in forecasting consumer spending and public attitudes, which are essential to the full global recovery.

Taleb Rifai
Taleb Rifai

This presents a clear opportunity for our entire industry to share what we know with governments when we know it. Some businesses may shy away from sharing such competitive analyses, but Airbnb, with whom we both work as advisors, will be among those sharing data to help governments shape the future of travel. Governments have exercised their power to close borders, and it’s incumbent on our industry to provide critical information that can help them plan to reopen borders responsibly.  

In the case of Airbnb, they announced today that they’ll be releasing local data and trends to governments, non-governmental organizations and destination marketing organizations around the world in the hope That it will provide valuable guidance for those rebuilding local tourism from the ground up. They’ll convene meetings to share the latest findings from thought leaders on the future of travel as it comes into sharper focus. Airbnb has already begun to offer this support, offering collaboration with officials in places as varied as Denmark and Florida.

This work recognizes travel’s new reality that, going forward, it will no longer be able to stand alone and apart from government. We will be inextricably linked together in a new era of public-private partnership. For their part, governments must also recognize the role that tourism will play in economic recovery and give the entire sector a seat at the table. Never before has it been more important for public and private sectors to work cohesively together.

Underlying this remains the fundamental desire of people to travel, to do business and to experience new places. Nothing will replace this need for people to move around the planet. Tourism will remain resilient in the face of this pandemic, and with innovation and partnership, it will return as it has done in the past. The only question is at what speed. That will be up to all of us.

David Scowsill is the former CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council and Taleb Rifai is the former Secretary-General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization. Both are global tourism advisors to Airbnb.


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