The coronavirus pandemic is re-shaping the tourism industry. What new features can the industry expect to see going forwards?
Experts have predicted that the coronavirus pandemic will one day reach endemic status; while it will not be actively circulating among large populations across the globe, it will still appear at times in areas where immunity is low.
While many countries are currently running vaccine distribution programmes, it may be some time before enough of the global population are vaccinated to reach endemic status.
In the meantime, and even when this status has been achieved, the tourism industry will have to find new ways of functioning while COVID-19 continues to circulate.
In our previous blog, we explored the role that higher education institutions were playing in the search for effective solutions to the short- and long-term obstacles facing the tourism sector.
But what might these solutions look like in practice?
What will the ‘new normal’ be for the tourism industry and how can higher education institutions help with the smooth implementation of these new features?
The tourism industry has been embracing new technologies for some time.
Only a few decades ago, travellers would book their holiday’s in-person through a travel agent, and documentation for travel would need to be supplied in physical form.
Today, much of the booking process is done online, with smartphone apps keeping all necessary documentation in a digital space.
However, COVID-19 has increased the need for technology within the tourism sector.
Vaccination passports are being introduced across the world to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as travel restrictions are lifted.
For many countries, these vaccination passports will be held on digital platforms and are automatically updated based off a citizen’s medical record.
In addition to this, some hotels have turned to digital technologies to make their processes more efficient and to keep in-person contact to a minimum.
One study, exploring the hotel sector in China, found that, “the ease and efficiency of check-in and check-out experience are improved by giving hotel guests access to their rooms/venues using facial recognition software”.
The study also revealed that technologies that enabled contactless interactions were becoming even more valuable:
“From preparing food and beverage in room dining services, doubling as waiters in hotel restaurants, delivering housekeeping items, dispensing facemasks and hand sanitisers, robots are used on the frontline to protect hotel guests and employees and prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
While the lifespan of these technologies within tourism is unknown, the value in teaching digital skills to higher education students in the field of tourism and hospitality remains clear.
As summarised by Çinar Kevser, assistant professor of the Department of Tourism at Necmettin Erbakan University, Turkey: “Smart technology will alter the essence of some tourism professions and eliminate others.
“In this case, it is crucial for higher education institutions (HEIs), particularly in the tourism industry, to keep up with the ongoing digital transformation adjusting their tourism education curricula.”
Travel insurance protects a traveller from the cost of unforeseen circumstances, such as last-minute cancellations, medical expenses and loss of possessions.
The coronavirus pandemic has created an incredibly unpredictable situation for travellers, with many factors, such as travel restrictions, outside of their control.
Travel insurance companies are having to respond by creating even more flexible cover, to ensure travel is still possible while the coronavirus pandemic remains a reality.
Loose conditions surrounding refunds and greater window for cancellations are just a few changes that are being made to travel insurance as a result of the pandemic.
More people than ever before are seeing the value in comprehensive cover, with 20-30% of American travelers predicted to now purchase insurance, as opposed to 15% for pre-pandemic levels.
Research by Ke Zhang, Shanghai University, Yuansi Hou, Queen Mary University of London, and Gang Li, University of Surrey, explores the practical and theoretical impacts of a pandemic on travel consumer habits.
They cite that “tourists are more risk aversive under the threat of an infectious disease, which consequently magnifies their negative emotional reaction.”
In practice, this will have a significant impact on how much tourists are willing to pay for elements of travel, including insurance and bookings; information that can be used to shape pricing strategies for travel businesses.
While it’s difficult to imagine another pandemic of this magnitude in our lifetime, it’s important for higher education institutions to teach their tourism and hospitality students about the potential impact of infectious diseases on the travel sector.
There has been a significant focus on re-building after the pandemic in a sustainable manner.
With climate change such a pressing issue, the reduction in international travel has been viewed as an opportunity for businesses and industries to re-shape their processes to become more environmentally friendly.
According to the OECD, sustainability will become more of a priority for travellers going forwards:
“Natural areas, regional and local destinations are expected to drive the recovery, and shorter travel distances may result in a lower environmental impact of tourism.”
Domestic tourism, which is already helping to revive the hospitality and tourism sector while international tourism begins its recovery, is a more sustainable and cost-effective choice for consumers, and may continue to drive the industry even after the coronavirus pandemic subsides.
Creating a more sustainable international tourism industry is not going to be easy.
Some experts in the industry have suggested a complete overhaul in the way we perceive travel, replacing shorter trips with a ‘travel less, stay longer‘ mantra.
In response to the urgent issue of climate change, it’s crucial that sustainability becomes a core component of higher education teaching and research in the field of tourism and hospitality.
Not only does this ensure graduates being employed in the sector continue to prioritise sustainability throughout their careers, but also to help develop solutions to the challenges facing the sector as they attempt to become more sustainable.
To learn more about how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted tourism, please register for the QS Subject Focus Sumit: “Sustainable and Resilient Solutions in Tourism Today” taking place 5-7 October 2021.