2021: Ushering in the Era of Responsible Travel

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It is time to set our sights on a new year; a year in which we will hopefully welcome a move towards a much anticipated “return to normal,” particularly as the delivery of a COVID-19 vaccine lends some light to the end of a dark tunnel.

The return to our old familiar ways will take time, however, and in many respects these ways may have changed for good. I do believe that travel, tourism and hospitality will ultimately come back stronger than ever – and that we should look forward with positivity as players across the tourism industry increase work to regain the trust of customers and show that travel and hospitality can, and indeed will, be safe.

One thing is certain: the tourism of tomorrow will be rooted in responsibility.

As the industry rekindles, responsible travel will also go hand-in-hand with sustainabity. New practices and protocols will encourage increased health and safety measures, minimising environmental impact and waste, ‘slower’ and more personalised travel, increasing support of local communities and learning and engaging with other cultures.

The above points are an overall view of what future business and leisure travellers can anticipate, and I’ll touch further on a few of these below:

Raising the bar on health precautions

Sanitisation is the new security. Expect hotels and businesses to implement mainstream mask requirements in the near future. These and other health protocols will address what an SAP Concur study identified as global employees’ top concerns: infecting their families (55%) and getting sick themselves (53%) during a business trip. With travellers able to practice the health and safety habits they’ve adopted in their daily lives, business travel will feel more feasible.

Travel providers, including hotels, airlines, rail providers, ride-sharing and car rental services, may require travellers to disclose their COVID-19 health status, perhaps until a vaccine is more widely adopted worldwide. This could range from COVID-19 or antibody test results, including rapid testing right at the gate or rental car pickup, to providing proof of vaccination once it is broadly available.

In previous articles I’ve discussed the implementation of new and extensive health and safety standards (built upon WTTC guidelines) by all the major international hotel groups. These new protocols will include the broader use of AI and machine learning, which will add greater intelligence to applications and minimise physical touchpoints and manual processes in hotel and tourism offerings.

Increased sustainability practices 

At the centre of tourism industry transformation will not only be safety but sustainability. It will continue to be a requirement, an expectation of the travel industry; and that is an exciting opportunity that spans many areas of practice.

For example, by highlighting how implementing new technologies positively impacts their sustainability strategies and practices, hotels will further enhance their branding throughout their post-pandemic recovery – and extend their appeal to a growing portion of environmentally-conscious guests and travellers.

Other sustainability practices, such as increased local sourcing, will benefit both hotels and travellers alike in the long run by providing strong supplier relationships that ensure consistent quality, availability, and price for the goods and services which are essential or at least relevant to the hotel’s long-term business objectives.

Businesses too, will prioritise sustainability in corporate travel, with more and more initiatives led by the multinationals with big sway. For example, Microsoft’s purchase of sustainable aviation fuel to reduce pollution from commercial flights most frequented by its employees. These efforts will inspire the 69% of travellers who rank sustainability as important to them, to feel more comfortable and encouraged about returning to travel.

Slow, personalised business travel

A potentially positive outcome of the COVID-19 crisis is that people are becoming more attuned to the values of personal wellness, social good and sustainability. As a result, travellers will consciously seek more meaningful and value-driven experiences that go beyond safe, clean accommodations and rewards points.

The increased ability to work from anywhere will allow people to take longer and more immersive trips, deeply exploring single destinations and engaging in a more enriching and sustainable way of travel, whether it be for business or domestic purposes. Balancing sustainability and economic recovery will therefore be key for hotels and tourism providers post C-19.

Travellers can expect hotels to ‘cultivate calm’ by creating ‘havens’ (albeit it with scaled-back looks and less soft-furnishings – for cleanliness reasons) of comfort. Personalised experiences will cater to individual needs and wants. Apps will provide personalisation, immediateness, and control to allow guests to reserve a table at a restaurant or to book a working pod. Hotels will incorporate more room automation, delivery of room service will be more frequent, and the guests will demand better quality Internet connectivity.

Diversity, equity and inclusion progress 

It is clear too that 2021 will bring a new wave of policy makeovers beyond HR departments. The full economic impacts of COVID-19 are not yet clear but, with entire industries being brought to their knees (aviation, hotels, and restaurants among them), companies more able to reimagine their businesses in the new post-crisis environment will win. Inclusion will be critical for fostering innovation and agility both in the business and in the hospitality and tourism sector.

This means hotels and travellers alike may also notice important cultural experience shifts; new ways of working, new services, or even entirely new business models. People with new ideas, from diverse backgrounds, will be crucial to these efforts.

The pause in travel has allowed us all, as industry stakeholders to re-evaluate where we go from here, and to take greater charge of travel and hospitality’s sustainable comeback. Tomorrow’s business traveller will be navigating a changed world. It’s a world that requires us to be more self-aware and intentional regarding our choices and actions – from the airlines we fly to the brands and businesses we support. It looks to be a world for the better!