One of the most jarring consequences of a pandemic in our interconnected world has been the restriction of individual movement. The freedom to travel, locally or abroad, has been limited. Beyond canceled vacations, the travel, tourism and hospitality industries have been crippled and only recently, experts began imagining the future of travel in a post-COVID-19 world.
To better understand the myriad of predictions about the future of travel, APCO Worldwide’s digital team compiled an informal database of 100 forecasts recently published in more than 30 unique media outlets. Using a Natural Language Processing algorithm to group predictions by thematic similarity, the team analysed the common trends between them. After examining the prediction network, two primary themes emerged: Travel Motivators & Travel Destinations.
Fig. 1: Network map of travel predictions, clustered by topical similarity.
On the left, there are a number of predictions that can largely be categorized as predicted industry improvements necessary to motivate people to travel in the new post-COVID-19 reality. Beyond the more obvious industry actions needed, such as increased sales, promotions and cancellation flexibility, there are also predictions about promoting sustainable travel options that take environmental health into consideration. Emerging environmental and sustainability themes include predictions about reducing over-tourism, reducing carbon emissions of airplanes and cruise ships and efforts to ensure that natural landscapes are protected from people, and people from nature (e.g., viruses). Technological innovation also features prominently in predictions about proactive industry measures to encourage tourism, notably around health and safety issues: using robotics or automation services to minimize human contact in airport queues and hotels, biometrics to track unhealthy travelers or radically rethinking interior design to accommodate social distancing within modes of transportation.
On the right, a number of predictions speculated that post-pandemic travel behaviour will be influenced by shifts in destination choice. Rather than going to global cities, many experts believe that travelers will begin to prioritize rural or remote destinations off the beaten track, where proximity to nature could be perceived as being healthier. Another cluster of predictions focused on bucket-list travel, and the potential increase in once-in-a-lifetime vacations following the current period of travel restrictions. While there were numerous predictions concerning the future of sharing-economy accommodations, opinions were divided: some predict that private vacation rentals will increase, as long as the properties are isolated and close to home, while others think that smaller-scale private operators will not be able to guarantee the sanitation of each lodging, as opposed to hotels (some of which are investing in apartment-style rental properties themselves).
Finally, the center of the network is dominated by two themes that reveal key priorities for future travels: health and safety, and the expected increase in family travel. Once travel restrictions are lifted, the first trip that many travelers will take is to visit their close friends and families. Some industry observers expect to see that trend evolve into increased multigenerational travel as well, as families rediscover the importance of spending time together and seek to save on travel costs. Most importantly, all actors in the travel, tourism and hospitality sectors will need to adopt new technologies and procedures to ensure the health and safety of potential travelers. Cleanliness and healthiness may soon even become key factors that airlines, hotels or tour groups use to differentiate their services from the competition.
As this global crisis evolves, we can update our model to take into consideration changing predictions and revise our projections accordingly. While no one can predict the future, we can try to understand the common themes present in expert predictions to map the prevailing trends likely to shape the future of travel in a post-COVID-19 world.