2020 has been one of the most challenging years in history for the Travel Industry. The COVID-19 pandemic brought about a crippling 71% reduction in air traffic: over 16 000 passenger jets were grounded, and it is expected that 23 airlines would have collapsed this year. Aviation is likely to remain under massive pressure in 2021, and airlines will need to carefully consider route planning, capacity planning, and scheduling.
The global travel agent community has also felt the pinch and were left without an income for several months.
However, with challenges come opportunities. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a complete reset of travel, and with it, the chance to reinvent the industry. Any travel business that is agile enough to adapt swiftly to the changing trends resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, is likely to do well.
ASATA believes there are five important trends we can expect in 2021:
- Technology with a human touch will thrive
The modern traveller is online, first and foremost. In South Africa, the online share of travel and tourism bookings is steadily growing and surpassing offline sales, from 50% in 2017 to 54% in 2019. And while 2020 has disrupted travel trends in a big way, it has only further entrenched the importance of a customer-centric digital strategy.
We can expect bricks-and-mortar travel agencies to come under increasing pressure, as leisure travellers are increasingly looking for information virtually. However, at the same time, they still want to engage with a travel expert. This presents an excellent opportunity for travel advisors who are happy to explore virtual options and communication.
Travellers are overwhelmed by the complexities around the COVID regulations. There is uncertainty around government policies with people feeling unsure about what is allowed, what tests and documents are required, and what to expect. They will be looking to travel experts for guidance.
- Exploring new destinations
Now that the borders have reopened, South African travellers can start exploring the world again. However, a lot of anxiety and uncertainty remains. Formerly popular destinations such as Europe and the US are currently COVID-19 hotspots. Travel experts will, therefore, need to be creative and explore new destinations that will appeal to the South African traveller.
Zanzibar, Seychelles and Maldives for example, are great alternatives for South Africans who are looking for an island getaway, and who would traditionally have booked a package to Mauritius. Asia is another exciting destination to explore. Although very little has been done to promote Asia in South Africa over the past few months, the continent has made great strides in its COVID-19 recovery, and presents an attractive option for travellers. In addition, we can expect to see an increased capacity on the Asia route.
- Local travel offers new opportunities
With disposable income under pressure, many South Africans will be unable to afford international travel and will start exploring local destinations instead. As a result, we can expect an upward trend in car rental bookings. When we look at Gauteng as a core source market, we notice there has been considerable movement towards the Kruger National Park and the beaches of KwaZulu-Natal, as people prefer to self-drive instead of fly.
- Hotels earn stamp of credibility
In terms of accommodation, we can expect that hotels will recover faster than independent accommodation such as Airbnb and guesthouses. People are likely to have more trust in big brands to uphold high levels of COVID-19 related health and safety protocols than the smaller individually owned establishments.