Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic presented a myriad of challenges to most, if not all, industries — including the travel and hospitality sector. Aside from causing these industries to come to a standstill, the ongoing global health crisis also brought about economic losses. The border closures and national lockdowns have led to the collapse of both international tourism and global business travel, resulting in revenue losses of USD 1.3 trillion and USD 0.7 trillion, respectively.
Given all these, here are three of the major trends that will shape travel's short term this year and its long-term future:
The utilisation of data analytics
Despite the fact that a lot of countries are already opening up their borders and are allowing a certain level of tourism activities, most people continue to be hesitant about travelling. In fact, in a December 2020 poll conducted by the National Geographic and Morning Consult, it was found that 49% of respondents said that they would “travel less due to concern of exposure to other people” this year. This reality makes it all the more necessary for hotels and other businesses within the travel industry to pay closer attention to their marketing strategies.
With the number of people showing an interest in travelling down by a half, it only makes sense for travel organisations to ensure that their deals and promos are more focused on their target demographic instead of the general population. One of the ways this can be done is by getting the help of data analysts who are trained to work with large data sets and databases to spot patterns, as well as develop insights and recommendations. With many who choose a career in data analytics becoming digital marketers and market research analysts, the hospitality industry has a wide pool of talent to select from. Working with data analysts will surely help hotels and businesses learn the kinds of promos, deals, posts and marketing strategies that will resonate better with the people that wish to travel this year.
In addition to this, data analysts can also gather relevant insights about customer demographics, sales trends, preferences and buying habits, and utilise them to come up with campaigns that are likely to pique the interest of travellers. As big data seeps into the travel industry to assist it in its recovery, data analysts will become even bigger assets to travel businesses that can leverage big data’s ability to support a variety of significant processes. These can include the introduction of route optimisation, the implementation of contactless travel and the use of digital health passports and AI to identify infected travellers.
The growing importance of Google
As the industry tries to bounce back from its biggest slump, multinational tech companies like Google are going above and beyond in an effort to help the sector recover. Late last year, Google launched Travel Insights, which is a platform that provides the entire travel and hospitality industry with vital and highly detailed insights into travel, hotel and destination search. The website has three main features that serve different purposes.
Destination Insights give organisations a glimpse into the top sources of demand for travel destinations across the globe. Hotel Insights aids small and independent hotels improve their marketing by determining the countries from which most accommodation search interests come from. Lastly, Travel Analytics Centre enables commercial partners to “combine their own Google account data with broader Google demand data and insights.” Thereby allowing them to find opportunities much more efficiently, as well as have a clearer picture of how their operations can be best managed to fit current circumstances.
Collectively, these features can be of great help to businesses that need to arrive at better informed decisions. After all, their ability to successfully pivot and overcome the unique challenges presented by the pandemic will rely on the decisions they make henceforth. Additionally, Google Hotel Ads has established a Pay Per Stay (PPS) Commissions Programme. Effectively this bidding strategy allows hotels to run ads on the biggest metasearch site in the world and pay only when the guest stay has actually occurred — hence, removing any upfront cost and cancellation risk.
The normalisation of testing before travelling
In an article published by the World Economic Forum, a group of researchers at the Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) explained that for the outbreak to finally reach its end, 60% to 70% of the entire human populace has to be immune to the virus. Unfortunately, this event could take 18 to 24 months before it can become a reality. For an industry that can contribute up to approximately $2.9 trillion to the global GDP and has millions upon millions of workers relying on it, waiting for the pandemic to be over is definitely not an option.
In order to revitalise the entire travel and hospitality sector, certain safety measures would have to be normalised and integrated into the trips of travellers. A great example of such a measure is travel testing. Since air corridors and travel bubbles that rely on low infection rates do little to nothing in keeping travellers from contracting the disease, travel testing would become an unavoidable prerequisite to travelling. Sooner or later, tourists would have to undergo testing pre-departure and upon arrival, as well, to ensure that they are free of the virus.
Hotels, airlines, and other similar businesses can take inspiration from innovators like Meliá Hotels in Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Last year, the hotel chain started offering free COVID-19 tests to its guests. Aside from the tests, which should be taken 72 hours before departure, Meliá Hotels International also offers free insurance. The Travel Safe with Melia Insurance policy entails a free 15-day extension of stay, as well as displacement and living expenses to both the quarantined quests and their companions.
Another example of a hotel chain that's normalising the administration of free tests is Hyatt. All the 19 Hyatt resorts in Latin America started launching complimentary on-site COVID-19 tests. Depending on the branch, a guest can either get a rapid antigen or RT-PCR test, both of which have been approved by CDC guidelines. Organisations within the industry can also follow in the footsteps of American airlines and airports that have been embracing rapid testing that churn out results in just 15 minutes.
By embracing technological innovations, such as data analytics and intent data, and normalising the need for travellers to take COVID-19 tests, businesses within the travel and business industry can ensure that they thrive this year and in the years to come.
(Written by Jorah Baysil. Published with the author's permission)