Three Ways Travel and Tourism Can Innovate in the New Normal

May 4, 2020  |  Victoria Simmons

Travel & Tourism

As BVK joins the U.S. Travel Association in celebration of National Travel & Tourism Week May 3-9, the spirit of travel is very much alive and well within our world. Perhaps more so than ever before. Humans are hardwired to want to travel, explore, experience new things and make connections. Even as we shelter in place, BVK’s Travel Sentiment Survey affirms that travel is still very much on consumers’ minds. As proof, 8 in 10 are actively planning, thinking or dreaming about future travel.

Yet, despite that hope, we saw a decline in traveler confidence, with only half of respondents sharing they expect travel to be safe post-pandemic. Correspondingly, it appears there will be a lag between when the government lifts U.S. travel restrictions and when people expect to begin traveling again. In fact, consumers are now saying it will take more time to return to “normal” travel behaviors —which will be an entirely new normal altogether.

On top of that, experts are projecting a $1.2 trillion total economic loss, $80 billion in lost tax revenue and 8 million American jobs at risk. According to Tourism Economics, the impact on the U.S. travel industry is forecasted to be 9 times worse than 9/11.

Faced with unprecedented loss, will the travel industry sit on the sidelines waiting for things to get back to the way they were before, or will it use this pivotal moment as an opportunity to innovate? We know from our research that more than half of U.S. consumers want to hear how brands are addressing the crisis, yet few have stepped up to address their needs and concerns in a meaningful way. Many brands are doing a fine job keeping consumers informed about basic safety information and entertained through virtual tours, games and aspirational content. However, most brands do not seem prepared to tackle the problems that categorically matter.

Looking ahead, the same problems that existed well before the pandemic will manifest themselves in surprising new ways as we emerge from this stupor. Problems BVK believes should inspire and demand change. Let’s decide to make ourselves uncomfortable and embrace them. Because problems can breathe new life into the world and along with it, revitalize the lagging travel industry. With that, here are three ways the travel industry can innovate and remerge stronger than before.

Responsible and sustainable tourism is the only path forward. There is no denying the science: when the world stays home, the planet benefits. Consumers will emerge from quarantine with a deeper appreciation for their health and the environment and will be eager to better the world. As a result, they will hold travel brands to new standards when it comes to prioritizing environmental stewardship and quality of life issues.

Consumers want to actively contribute to creating a sustainable future. Smart brands should find avenues to help them do it. The Faroe Islands is a shining example of how sustainable tourism development plans strike the right balance between environmental stewardship, community wellbeing and economic growth. Each year, the island holds a lottery to select 100 volunteers to stay with locals and work alongside them in repairing and maintaining tourist attractions. In return, they receive accommodations, meals and transportation. This type of intimate connection to people and the planet is what post-COVID travelers will crave.

Basic health and safety measures are merely table stakes. We are already seeing that our post-COVID world will look a lot different. Face masks and physical distancing are becoming new norms for the foreseeable future, and travelers will be willing to forgo personal comfort and control in exchange for safety and security. And that basic premise becomes an anchor point.

We know consumers are desperately reaching for betterment and healing, so how might brands support a new approach to well-being in this environment? It has to start with balancing the need for safety with inspiration. Well-being is the state of being comfortable, happy and healthy. It is both physical and emotional. Travel brands are uniquely poised to provide travelers with opportunities for healing. We expect to see more people taking personal time off for mental health breaks and restorative retreats, focused on rejuvenation, really start to take off.

Purpose and impact matter now more than ever. The revenue projections for the travel industry are devastating. For brands, the stakes are high and competition for travelers is expected to be fierce. Yet in the flurry of conversations about the future of travel, there is little space dedicated to understanding travelers’ desires – what they want and what they need from life. Humans crave experiences that reflect their personal values and bring them closer to the ideal version of themselves. In times of crisis, our values remind us of what matters and help us push toward a better future.

In order for travel brands to successfully navigate this new world, they must elevate their value proposition so that it stands for more than just product, price and transaction. Consumers are looking to align themselves with experiences that reflect their core beliefs and purpose in life. Marketing speak and lip service won’t be enough. Brands will need to demonstrate their own value and purpose through action and impact. Those that find inspiration in why people travel will benefit the most.

BVK believes travel brands need to restructure themselves to meet the evolving demands of both the traveler and local community. Without it, they risk irrelevance and that is a problem. Let’s start by focusing on the right problem and asking the right questions. Then workshop the issue. Assemble an innovation team comprised of critical thinkers and category experts to focus on a particular challenge or conduct a “future forward” session to chart a longer-term vision. Now is not the time for the status-quo. More than ever, travelers are asking the industry to reinvent and reconsider what it means to travel. Let’s work together to challenge ourselves and one another to do more, explore more and be more than before.

Bring us your problem. Share it with us and we’ll set aside time to help you solve it. Contact Victoria.Simmons@bvk.com to get started.

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Victoria Simmons
is a VP Group Account Director at BVK

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