This year, the travel and tourism industry has been turned upside down by the pandemic. Honeymoons, business trips, short breaks and family holidays – some years in the making – have been cancelled or postponed indefinitely. Five experts in travel and tourism share with us how the pandemic has affected them and what the future may hold.
How has COVID-19 affected the travel industry?
Michel Taride - The travel and tourism industry accounts for more than 10% of global GDP and is among the top two industries affected by COVID-19. We are experiencing an unprecedented shock, being the first time in modern history that a large part of the world is under lockdown, with borders closed or quarantine measures enforced. While many airlines are being bailed out by governments, other sectors such as hospitality, cruise and car rental companies are struggling, with some big names now under bankruptcy protection. Q2 revenues have often plummeted by 80 to 90%, putting more than 300 million jobs are at risk. It is estimated that a full recovery will take three to four years, starting with domestic travel, then international and business travel.
How quickly did COVID-19 affect the geographies you operate in?
Simon Forster – Interestingly, we work in two geographical regions that were affected at the opposite ends of the COVID timeline: South East Asia and Latin America. In South East Asia, the effect was almost immediate. They were the front line, with the world watching, and would change policies every few days trying to keep in front of the wave. At the other end of the scale, Latin America watched as the rest of the world became enveloped by COVID – trying desperately to keep people, and the virus, out. Ultimately, they were unsuccessful, feeling the full force of the virus a few weeks after Europe. We have seen both geographical areas shift to domestic tourism to fill the void. Whilst we see the green shoots of international travel, we also see two very different pictures. The UK government has started to place South East Asian countries on the air bridge list, however the countries themselves still insist on arrival quarantine for UK travellers. In contrast, Latin America are opening their borders to international tourism but remain on the UK governments no-go list, meaning, above other things, you would not be able to get insurance to travel there, regardless of the quarantine required on return.
Alex Seigel - As an Asia specialist, we were hit hard and early by the outbreak of COVID-19 and had to cancel a number of our school trips to China in Easter after the severity of the outbreak became clear at the end of January. At that stage, we moved a number of passengers to other destinations in Asia before the situation worsened. Since then, we have been forced to continue cancelling trips. Having taken over 8,000 people in 2019, we will finish 2020 with a mere fraction of that number having travelled. However, we’ve recently seen an uptick in both enquiries and bookings amongst our backpackers for our brand focusing on travellers aged between 18 and 40 called The Dragon Trip. However, it has been much slower for our school trips brand: The Learning Adventure. We are seeing more domestic and European enquiries for our school trips. Across both brands, 2021 could be a big year as many passengers have postponed their trips.
As travellers begin to venture abroad, have you seen a significant change in people's travel habits?
George Morgan-Grenville - Global travel infrastructure has been turned upside down by a combination of Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advice against ‘all but essential travel’ and quarantine measures. The science behind the latter has been particularly bizarre and the blanket application especially damaging. Sophisticated travellers are quite capable of working out for themselves whether a given destination is likely to be safe; indeed, many people are starting to ignore the FCO advice which is now seen as political, rather than intelligence orientated. Thankfully, it is also now possible to buy travel insurance that covers COVID-19 and, in many cases, airfares have never been better. People are clearly making choices around low density accommodation such as private villas, island resorts with separate villas, safari camps and remote hideaways, Turkish gulets and boutique lodges. The overarching trend is now leaning towards short booking lead times and a keenness to experience many of the world’s best destinations without the crowds. Imagine the finest game viewing on the staggeringly beautiful 110 square mile crater floor of Ngorogoro Crater in Tanzania with no other vehicles….so many aspects of travel have reverted to how it was 60 years ago. But it won’t stay that way for ever. The smart money has recognised this fact and is taking full advantage.
Harry Hastings - Long haul for 2020 has yet to pick up, even though there are many safe destinations with incredible deals. Holidays to Europe are being booked at the very last minute (up to the day before) due to such a fluid situation with UK quarantine rules. It is true what you read that staycations for all types of consumers are booming, with destinations like Cornwall most desired. And, for those that can afford it, private jet demand is at an all-time high with questions about taking pets away very common indeed.
Sustainable travel was already a growing trend in travel – do you expect the events of 2020 to accelerate this?
Alex Seigel - As a specialist tour operator in Asia, we have always had a focus on sustainable travel. We employ locally, adopt sustainable practices and recently conducted a thorough carbon audit on all our trips. Amongst our demographic of millennials and Gen Z travellers, there is definitely an emphasis on this type of travel and we’ve seen more direct bookings with us, as a result. I believe there will be a continued shift towards visiting places that are not over-burdened by tourism. Tourism may have received some negative press around “overtourism” but the events of this year has shown its importance to local and national economies. The industry provides huge numbers of jobs in developing countries and it’s been devastating to witness the impact the loss of travel has had on our teams and suppliers. This year may well lead people to consider where best to spend their money and how to positively impact the communities they visit.
Simon Forster - I do believe the demand for responsible, sustainable, ethical tourism will continue to grow and indeed accelerate once travel is possible again. However, I also believe one thing that will not change is that, whilst the demand for 'better tourism' grows, people still won't want this impacting their idea of the holiday they have worked so hard for. For that reason, the responsibility lies with companies such as the Beyond Tourism Co. to find and develop exciting holidays and experiences that match the desire of the holidaymakers whilst at the same time ensuring the financial benefit to the people and places they visit are maximised and the environmental impact minimised where possible.
What legacy do you think the events of 2020 will have on travel and tourism?
Michel Taride - New trends are emerging or accelerating, such as slow travel, a renewed appetite for local experiences, digitisation in order to provide travellers with a “touchless” experience… Governments and private operators are working on a Seamless Traveller’s Journey, using biometric as a single point of identification throughout the journey from home to destination. Many think that business travel will never return to previous levels, with homeworking and video conferencing becoming integral part of the new normal.
Harry Hastings - The industry will very likely be subject to a wide ranging review of regulation and the handling of customer money throughout the supply chain. Like after September 11th, new procedures to protect us when travelling will become normalised. I have no doubt that the health and financial risks that 2020 has exposed in the way we previously experienced travel will have consumers approaching their future travel decisions in a more considered and educated way than ever before.
For someone wishing to travel in the next six to twelve months, what is your advice?
George Morgan-Grenville - Most importantly, travel with a ‘proper’ travel company that knows what it is doing. The two overriding concerns of most travellers are "Will we be safe?" and "Will we get our money back if we can’t travel?". Both these questions can be answered positively with proper planning and choosing the right travel company. Counterintuitively, 2021 is likely to be busy in many places due to the number of bookings that were postponed from 2020. So our advice would be plan ahead, especially for those wanting to take advantage of European villas next summer. It may not always be possible, but ask for a minimal deposit payment (10%) and latest allowable balance payment (likely to be not less than 45 days). By approaching travel dates with a degree of flexibility, the travel company should also be able to find airfares that can be booked and held in the GDS (flight reservation system), with payment being made at a later date (much of the refund issue has been caused by the airlines refusing to make cash refunds, so it makes sense to avoid paying them until the last possible moment).
Provided people can work from home, be prepared to quarantine on return (although this may change if the government eventually follows what so many other governments are doing, e.g. introducing PCR testing on arrival) and ensure you have a travel insurance policy that covers: a) being prevented from travelling due to a family member getting COVID-19 / having to self-isolate, and b) repatriation / suitable private care in the event of displaying symptoms of COVID-19 whilst travelling.
With thanks to:
Michel Taride, Consultant in Travel and Tourism, Former Group President Hertz International
Simon Forster, Co-Founder and Director of Beyond Tourism
Alex Seigel, Director at The Dragon Trip
George Morgan-Grenville, CEO and Founder of Red Savannah
Harry Hastings, Co-CEO and Co-Founder of Ocean Holidays Group
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