How COVID-19 has affected travel and traveller expectations


How will travel be different as the world deals with the aftermath of COVID-19? Recovering from the COVID-19 crisis will be complex, and businesses in the tourism sector need to factor in both fact and emotion.

This is according to Neil Markovitz, CEO of the Newmark Collection who says that tourists’ behaviours and preferences have changed. “Tourists are weighing new factors when planning travel, and those in the tourism sector will need to take travellers’ new concerns into account to bring in business.”

The birth of a new traveller

Global lockdowns and travel restrictions are receding, but will the anxiety associated with contracting the virus go away that easily?

“A key travel barrier that did not widely exist in the pre-COVID-19 era is fear,” says Markovitz. “Some are afraid to be in contact with those possibly infected and, given the choice, would prefer to stay safe in their homes. Moving forward, fear and uncertainty will be the central factors in a tourists’ decisions, regardless of the rate of transmission in a particular country and the only way to ensure travellers follow through with their plans is to reassure them that their safety is of the utmost importance.”

To this end, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) launched a ‘Safe Travels’ global safety and hygiene stamp for destinations. The designation follows protocols backed by the United Nations World Tourism Organization and is based on recommendations from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control.

So how will things change?

According to Markovitz, as COVID-19 has brought new and real sensitivities, it has also changed travel preferences. Tourists will be searching for new and less crowded destinations where they can worry less about contracting COVID-19.

“Cleanliness and sanitization will become the norm. Health and safety protocols and systems need to be in place; only then will travellers feel confident enough to set out on their next vacation.

“It is imperative that stakeholders in the travel industry work towards assuring their customers that travelling again is a safe option, one that will protect their health. At every step of the travel experience, right from boarding a plane, to visiting a tourist spot, travellers need to be sure that every necessary precaution is in place to keep them safe,” says Markovitz.

“People in the hospitality industry will have to practically unlearn many of the cornerstones of their practices. Despite hospitality being a personal, highly hands-on and intimate offering, touchless travel and interactions may soon become the new norm and staff within hospitality and tourism establishments have to learn a new set of customer desires and how to meet these evolving needs suitably.

“However, one wants to guard against going to the extreme where it becomes a clinical, robotic process free of any personal touch or choice and a middle ground must be found.”\

“For example,” says Markovitz, “in the Newmark Hotels we have implemented COVID friendly ‘look but don’t touch’ buffets where customers can see the food on offer behind protective screens but cannot help themselves and have to ask for assistance from central staff manning the buffet. Instead of removing the buffet entirely, which is a much-loved aspect of hotel stays for many travellers we have had to find a solution.”

With all this change and uncertainty, one must wonder if the joy and exhilaration of travel will return? Markovitz says yes, but with a new value proposition built around safe and secure travel. Much like air travel changed after 9/11 with security screening, so will COVID-19 change our demands for a safe, clean travel experience.

“Keeping these factors top of mind will be key to developing a sense of safety in tourists in the aftermath of the health crisis. As far as we can see, COVID-19 will not go away in a short space of time – its impact will be felt long term. Until then, those involved in the tourism sector and hospitality industry must develop new ways of doing things that are tailored to tourists’ new needs.”