There’s no doubt about it: 2020 and 2021 have been exceptionally challenging years for the travel and tourism industry. Tourism operators of every size have adapted amazingly well in the midst of an economic downturn and monumental changes that seemed to happen practically overnight.  Fortunately, the future of the tourism and travel industry is looking bright.

So what’s ahead? What are the tourism trends and themes that will shape the future of tourism and travel in 2022 and beyond? And most importantly – is the tourism industry in for an easier time? To look ahead – and adapt your tour or activity business accordingly – it helps to consider where we’ve just come from.

Pre-pandemic vs. post-pandemic travelling

Travel and tourism had been booming just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but travel restrictions caused a quick shift towards ultra-local tourism experiences. Where travelers could once jet-set across the world instantly, travel options were almost instantly limited to neighborhoods and local areas.

Now as vaccination rates steadily climb, many parts of the world are preparing to open up again. The great news is that there’s a healthy appetite for travel.

In Expedia Group’s 2021 Travel Trends Report, almost half of respondents said they’d be more likely to travel once a COVID-19 vaccine became widely available. And according to an American Express report, 76% of travelers have been busy dreaming up their destination wish lists even while travel was off the table. 

Of course, there’s a balance to be found between unrestricted freedom, and maintaining health and wellbeing as we navigate our way through the next 6 to 12 months.

Restrictions – are they likely to stay?

Most countries and regions have had some level of social restrictions in place over the course of the pandemic. It’s realistic to expect that varying levels of restrictions may still be used to manage public health risks. Fortunately, as risks subside through vaccination and rapid testing these restrictions may be less and less limiting for travelers.

While tourism may take some time to reach and exceed pre-pandemic levels, there’s still plenty of hope on the horizon. As economies recover and people plan long-awaited reunions, many travelers are ready to get out into the great unknown.

3 key themes and trends that will shape the future of tourism

Let’s consider the big themes and trends that are set to influence the tours and activities industry, and how tourism operators might best adapt to these changes.

Travel trend #1: Responsible travel is the way forward

With the growing awareness around climate change, travelers are becoming more conscious of the impact of travel. Responsible travel aims to have a far more positive impact on the local people and the environment. This can include:

  • Socially & culturally responsible travel
    In 2021 58% of travelers agree it’s important that their trip benefits the destination’s local community, and 29% plan to put more research into how their tourism spending will improve or affect local communities. Meanwhile, 77% say they intend to support small and local businesses more while they travel.
  • Sustainable travel
    68% of modern travel customers agree they’re trying to be more aware and supportive of sustainable travel brands, while close to 70% of travelers say they’re more likely to book travel accommodation if they know the property is environmentally friendly. 
  • Hygiene & safety during travel
    As the effects of the pandemic continue, hygiene and safety will continue to be important factors. Be sure to outline your COVID safety plans and policies clearly on all your booking platforms. This will help to reassure travelers as they plan and prepare to make travel plans.

Travel trend #2: Flexibility will be everything

As travelers book their next activity, they’re doing so knowing that these plans could still be interrupted by ever-changing restrictions. In a 2021 American Express survey, 56% of respondents said they’ve missed travel so much that they’re willing to book a trip even if they might have to cancel it in the future!

Flexibility is key right now for the future of tourism, and flexible booking options are proving popular. For example: 

  • Many airlines have cut fees for date and destination changes to encourage bookings. 
  • Travel booking apps have seen increased interest in their services that allow people to rebook or cancel free of charge.
  • 34% of travelers have had much shorter booking windows since pre-pandemic times, and as much as 80% of bookings have been made within a fortnight of departure.
  • Trip.com and Google research shows that for Asian travelers, the most important factors when booking travel are flexible bookings, free cancellation, and insurance coverage.

If you’re able to offer flexible policies around cancellations and postponements, these could help bring business into the future.

Travel trend #3: Travellers are looking to make meaningful connections

future of tourism

After many months of indoor activities, many travelers are keen to explore and make genuine and authentic connections.

  • Reconnecting with family and friends
    Many families have been kept apart for two or more years, and reunions are front of mind for many. The 2021 American Express travel report indicated that 75% of surveyed Australian travelers and 86% of Indian travelers want to travel this year to visit loved ones they couldn’t see in 2020.
  • Reconnecting with nature
    25% of travelers have recently participated in new outdoor activities, indicating that we’re ready to get outside and reconnect with the natural world around us. Tour and activity operators will ideally be thinking about fresh, new ways to help guests experience their local area.
  • Reconnecting with one’s self
    With burn-out at an all-time high thanks to the pandemic, we can expect plenty of travel to be booked as a form of self-care. 79% of travelers agree that travel helps their emotional and mental wellbeing more than other forms of self-care. Switching off has also become more important, and 73% of travelers say their holidays will be strictly work-free in the future. Tour and activity operators may want to consider innovative ways to meet the demand for transformational travel, wellness experiences, and the rare chance to switch off devices!
  • Experiencing the road less traveled
    Together with the desire to support smaller operators, travelers also want to get away from the crowds. 69% of respondents want to visit lesser-known destinations and alternatives, such as Porto rather than Lisbon in Portugal. That provides great opportunities for any operators within the travel and tourism industry who offer experiences off the beaten track.

How to prepare for the reopening of travel and tourism

Now is the ideal time to be preparing for the bright future of travel and tourism. One thing that’s sure is that the right technology can help you to adapt and optimize bookings. 

62% of travelers agree that technology helps them to alleviate anxiety around uncertainties while traveling.

In fact, if you’re not assessing your booking and business technology, you might be falling behind: McKinsey research indicates that the pandemic has led to companies fast-forwarding their adoption of technology by three to four years. 

To optimize any tech upgrades, operators within the tours and activities industry will do well to ensure they’re ticking the following boxes:

  • Enabling 24/7 contactless online booking to enable both long-term and last-minute plans
  • Outlining clear safety and hygiene policies, and flexible cancellation policies
  • Offering travel and tourism packages to suit family and friend groups
  • Enticing interest from past and future guests through live virtual tours 
  • Promoting the authentic eco, social or cultural connections your tours or activities offer
  • Providing personalized booking confirmations, reminders, and follow-up messages through automated messages and even chatbots. 

The really great news is that the future of tourism is looking bright as people can’t wait to travel again. According to Booking.com research, 72% of surveyed travelers said they’ll say yes to any vacation opportunity if the budget allows! 

Rezdy can help you to put the right technology in place to support effortless online bookings and booking management. Sign up for a free trial, or book a demo today to see how this smart booking software can support your business well into the future.

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