What Lies Ahead for the Future of Business and Leisure Travel?

By Katrina Leung, Managing Director, Messe Berlin (Singapore)

‘Travel will never, ever go back to the way it was pre-COVID’, said Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky. There is no denying the negative impact this pandemic has on the travel and tourism industry. As one of the most affected sectors facing industry-wide challenges, it is not all doom and gloom. With silver linings amidst the dark clouds, what lies ahead for this industry’s recovery can be envisioned with a little optimism.

Firstly, in the immediate future, we will see greater emphasis on domestic travel. With many borders staying closed, countries and travel marketers are compelled by necessity to look inwards and entice their own domestic markets to visit their own backyards to bridge the gaps that are typically fulfilled by international tourists’ demands.

We have started to see countries and their tourism boards implement more creative and novel ways of selling tourism products and services to draw greater domestic spending. These are sometimes incentivised through government initiatives and subsidies, such as Singapore’s successful SingapoRediscovers campaign and the distribution of S$320 million in “tourism credits” to residents to drive local spending in domestic travel.[1]

The lack of international travel and holidays has also given people time to plan for future trips, and many will be booking trips as soon as they can be assured of their safety. However, we will not see an influx of mass tourism. Instead, small travel groups would likely be the trend in the leisure sector moving forward (or until a vaccine is widely available).

This brings me to my next point: good health and safety standards will be a non-negotiable expectation in the future of travel. Until consumer confidence regains, people will be more cautious in their choices of destinations, hotels and activities. Beyond doubt, this is an unexpected positive outcome of COVID-19. Hygiene practices such as mask wearing, social distancing, and possibly, proof of records to certify that one has been vaccinated (once vaccines are available of course), will be in place. Travellers will be more mindful of their personal hygiene behaviours and operators will have stricter health standards to uphold too. All good outcomes in the making and ones that will be here to stay for the long-term.

With international flights grinding to a halt, digitalisation in our industry took off. There is no doubt that COVID-19 has accelerated the need to digitalise our processes, with business travel migrating online to video conferences and webinars for the time being. We do also observe an upward trend of hybrid meetings, conferences and exhibitions taking place. Technology and collaborative platforms alike have made meetings more efficient, changing the shape of business travel forever.

As we countdown to ITB Asia 2020 Virtual, the future of business and leisure travel will be further explored in our conference tracks with industry heavyweights as we reimagine travel. Be part of the conversation and check out the agenda for ITB Asia 2020 Virtual happening from 21 – 23 October 2020.

[1] https://www.cnbc.com/2020/09/16/singapore-turns-to-domestic-tourism-as-travel-sector-reels-from-coronavirus.html

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