Will we travel differently in a post-virus world?

We are living in extraordinary and unprecedented times. Flights have been grounded, hotels are closing their doors, entire countries are in lockdown. Global travel, as we know it, has been hit by a massive and terrifying pause button. In the space of mere weeks, COVID-19 has thrown our lives, our industry and the wider economy into complete and utter meltdown.

But whether it takes weeks or months, the virus will eventually – we hope – run its course. Life will slowly return to normal. Already we see a glimmer of hope in China. With the number of new coronavirus cases dramatically decreasing, domestic travel is beginning to return.

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Catherine Monthienvichienchai is chief branding officer at QUO.

According to a recent analysis, in the days since the virus peaked on February  17, China has seen growth of 8.5% (compared with the pre-crisis average). The country is still running at only 20% of last year’s room nights, but any sign of rebound is positive in these desperate times.

But will this crisis change us? What will the travel industry look like in a post-coronavirus world? One hotelier in Italy recently talked about what it means to start at point zero and how it could lead to a “new renaissance,” with a possible end to the OTA stranglehold on distribution as independents seek to promote and protect their brands. A similar trend is surely likely across many other parts of our industry, with many looking to that re-set button as an opportunity to disrupt and upturn how we operate.

The changing consumer

And what of consumers? For so long now we’ve taken the ability to explore and discover the world for granted. Will we start to place greater value on the opportunity to travel, having had it so suddenly and dramatically snatched away?

Before this pandemic took hold, we were already seeing some interesting trends shaping the travel and tourism landscape. Global travel technology company Amadeus declared 2020 the  year of “conscious travel,” reporting that a significant percentage of travelers now factor in sustainability when choosing how and with whom to travel. Meanwhile, Skyscanner’s APAC Travel Trends report revealed slow travel as the type of trip most desired by travelers in 2020.

Amongst the youngest generation of travelers, Gen Z, an even greater sense of ideology is emerging. Dubbed the “we generation,” they are purpose-driven, caring deeply about movements far bigger than themselves. Nearly 70% are more likely to buy from a company that contributes to social causes, while 33% have stopped buying from a  company that contributes to a cause with which they disagree.

When we finally wake up from this COVID-19 nightmare, travel and hospitality brands with a deeper purpose are not just going to attract the younger generation, but will surely start to shape the future of the entire industry. Success will lie with those brands that recognize not just the enormity of the crisis we’ve been through, but the fragility of the industry – and the world – we live in. They will acknowledge and embrace the huge responsibility we have to create meaningful travel experiences driven by a cause that reaches far beyond our guests, a purpose that goes much deeper than a great breakfast or a comfortable bed.

The future of travel lies with those brands that stand for something, those brands that lay down roots and seek to make a positive and lasting difference in the communities and environments in which they operate.