Where is tourism headed now?

Hernan Passalacqua is CEO of Fitzroy, a tourism and real estate company headquartered in Santiago, Chile.

I was present at the 20th World Travel & Tourism Council Global Summit in Cancun last month, joining 600 in-person delegates and more than 20,000 who connected online. Listening to industry leaders, I felt I could see with clarity where we're headed -- or where we should be headed. Based on the comments from industry leaders and my own observations from here in Santiago, Chile, where my company is located, this is where I think we're headed:

• The way people travel will change. We must not look at 2019 figures as a benchmark.

• We have several challenges ahead, but first and foremost will be to reduce our carbon footprint. Reducing it will undoubtedly make travel more expensive.

• The overtourism crisis that has plagued travel and travelers over the past seven years -- facilitated by low-cost airlines, social media bragging rights and low-price accommodations -- has disrupted communities and created friction between visitors and hosts. It will return unless action is taken now to prevent it.

• Growth will return slowly, step by step, and we should be prepared to nurture the return of travel little by little. Initially, domestic tourism will recover strongly in countries that have a high level of vaccinations. This will occur most quickly in countries where health passports, with verified results, are widely adopted. Borders will open only where countries trust other countries.

• Initially, trips will be short, and flights will be nonstop. The longest routes -- those of more than seven hours by plane -- will not, for the time being, attract many tourists. If travelers do not feel that the pandemic is in retreat or under control and that the effect of the vaccines is reliable, connecting flights will not be chosen by most people.

• The consumer habits of post-Covid tourists have changed. Making the decision to travel will be more rational than emotional. Travelers will ask themselves why they are traveling and what they are traveling for, especially if they are concerned about the environment and their carbon footprint.

• Sustainable tourism will grow substantially. Travelers will look for destinations where they can coexist with local communities and enjoy their food, culture and activities. The ability to work remotely in an attractive destination will result in longer trips.

• Thanks to home-sharing options, the number of potential destinations will increase to more than 20,000, as suggested by Airbnb founder Brian Chesky at the WTTC Summit. But people will avoid crowds, with the exception of younger people going to festivals, who will be seeking camaraderie after a long period of confinement.

• There will be a greater demand for nature and national parks or for destinations where sporting activities are the main attraction.

• Digital channels will thrive for those searching for destinations, accommodations and tickets. Engaging in these channels will be essential to any marketing efforts.

• There will nonetheless be a resurgence of travel agencies, which may have lost ground to OTAs in the past 20 years. Tourists will opt to delegate and trust an expert to avoid setbacks and minimize risk on their trips.

• The way of work has changed. The two-, three- or four-week vacation will morph to longer stays, to the benefit of both popular and new destinations. A good internet connection and a similar time zone is all that will be required to work remotely. As a consequence, the seasonality curve will flatten.

• The segment that will be most negatively affected will be business travel. There will be a slow, gradual recovery. CEOs of global and regional companies have signaled that they will radically cut business travel budgets for 2021 and 2022, thanks to widespread adoption of virtual meetings technology. Conferences and conventions will recover, albeit initially with stringent health protocols and/or vaccine requirements. The hybrid face-to-face/virtual event will become the norm.

• To put the pandemic behind us, countries must put aside differences, unite and coordinate, both in the public and private sectors. The opening of borders can only be achieved through trust and bilateral relations.

• Mass vaccination, antigen testing and health protocols will be essential to facilitate the opening of borders in the medium term. It will likely take two years for normal border crossings to resume. Until then, the domestic market and "travel bubbles" between countries with similar approaches to health and safety will slowly but assuredly move us to a gradual but safe recovery.


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