One of the most commonly used phrases today is the “new normal.” While we seem to be getting comfortable with the fact that the “normal” will be new, the ideas about what it will be are still very blurred. One central piece of that hazy post-crisis future is the new traveler – the traveler who will be impatient to embark on a new adventure but will be different. How different?
To attempt to answer this question we turned to some behavioral science research on the expected societal impacts of COVID-19, and insights from our community. As a result, we have synthesized seven characteristics that we expect the post-COVID 19 traveler to display. We also identified some early evidence that market players are beginning to respond to these expectations.
1. #Virtual as the new real
The first expectation we can easily identify is the new levels of acceptance with which travelers will approach virtual experiences and reality. While this is not a completely new phenomenon, the current crisis has accelerated it to new levels. An example of a market response to this trend comes from Tabao Live, a virtual marketplace that is part of the Alibaba group. The platform has started offering live-streaming service for farmers and fishermen to help stimulate their sales. It allows customers to interact with their farmers and choose the product they want to buy in real-time as well as to see the farm where their fruits or vegetables are grown.
So, what does that mean for traveler demand? First, the post-COVID-19 travelers will be very comfortable with virtual and live-streaming experiences and will expect to be able to engage in such as part of the holiday planning and choice-making process. So perhaps part of the booking or itinerary design process will include a virtual visit of the farm or winery that a traveler is considering as part of their holiday itinerary, or a live-streamed tour of a B&B could be possible expressions of this.
Second, we are all realistic about the fact that the current crisis will be followed by significant economic stagnation that will limit the ability of people to travel even if there are no bans. In that context, we assume that this might trigger demand for low-cost alternatives to physical travel and actually become a substitute for those who cannot be on the road.
2. #Hygiene as non-negotiable
It can be expected that the current crisis will change attitudes towards hygiene and they will be radically different. From now on hygiene will be perceived as non-negotiable. So every service provider from a restaurant to a museum or accommodation facility will be assessed through the prism of cleanliness. We have already seen airlines emphasize hygiene procedures in their communication at the start of the current crisis. The expectation is that most operators along the entire value chain will have to maintain different levels of cleanliness and demonstrate their commitment.
What does that mean for traveler behavior? First, as we are already seeing, the expectation of our clients will be that hygiene will be a non-negotiable element of the service, the facility design, and the experience. Travelers will expect that operators are committed to these new higher standards and that they will communicate about the actions they are taking in this direction. We expect that a lot of accommodations, restaurants, and other service providers will begin including information about cleanliness procedures in their standard communications.
Second, we think that the new hygiene and protection culture will fuel the popularity of new travel accessories, which can easily become souvenirs branded with destination brands or service provider logos. These can be protective masks, glasses, gloves, and others. So, this gives us some space for creativity too.
3. #Care as the new service
Another characteristic we expect to see in the future traveler is the expectation for care as a key element of the service. These unusual times of fear, life loss, and isolation have unlocked unprecedented levels of social care and empathy. Many brands are behaving as responsible members of society demonstrating care for people in general, not just their own customers. In many ways, social distancing has translated to physical distancing, but social closeness is improving. This closeness and care for each other is something that we expect to remain even post-COVID-19.
Brands, whether it is airlines, hotels, operators, or destinations, will not be able to reverse the relationship they are building as members of society right now. They will need to find the best ways to continue acting as good citizens and we are curious to see how that will play out in our sector.
This concern for each other is expected to trigger two effects. The first is the growing expectation that service providers will continue to care and be empathetic to customers. Travelers will be looking for a display of similar support and care, and that will be part of the new normal.
Similarly, once companies and brands have acted as good citizens they cannot retreat from this stance. The expectation of the traveler and in fact every citizen is to continue seeing brands behave as good responsible citizens who set positive social norms.
These are only three of the characteristics of the post-COVID 19 traveler that we have identified. We have chosen to present them in the hope that we will engage your curiosity and interest in learning more. You can do so by accessing the recording of the joint webinar on the topic that ATTA’s Gergana Nikolova recently delivered in collaboration with our friends at the Digital Tourism Think Tank.