The World Travel & Tourism Council’s special session on destination recovery was held virtually last week, moderated by Travel + Leisure’s Editor in Chief, Jacqueline Gifford along with special guests from Google, Brand USA, Visit California and more.
The session, titled “Reboot, Adapt and Thrive: The Path to Recovery for Destinations,” analyzed key things destinations within the country will have to focus on first, such as supporting safe domestic travel, before the country can once again welcome international travelers.
It also included key trends the travel industry is seeing right now, as well as the role technology will play in anticipating those trends.
The rise in domestic tourism has been the common trend within each country.
Muzzammil Ahussain, Executive Vice-President, Consumer Travel, Seera, commented about his country of Saudi Arabia: “Even during the lockdown period, yes, travel stopped, but customers continued to engage with us, and we continued to provide them with inspirational content and we used our platforms to provide places to travel, and that’s when, especially in Saudi Arabia, the domestic market really opened up.”
This trend has applied within the United States, too, but some travelers are apprehensive about traveling domestically. Even some residents within destinations across the country are worried about restarting tourism in their towns and cities.
Communicating safety, once these destinations are deemed safe by the proper authorities, will be the most important thing the travel industry can do right now to grow domestic tourism.
“I think as we get on top of the pandemic as the vaccine rolls out around this country and around the world, that we’re going to have a great opportunity to really play on building confidence back — confidence among ourselves, confidence among visitors coming in…” said Christopher Thompson, President & Chief Executive Officer, Brand USA. “When the pandemic first became a reality, it really hit our urban cores the hardest.”
Building back confidence will take transparency, communication and time to rebuild. Vaccinations were cited by many of the panelists as the biggest impetus to reopening international travel, but domestic must recover first to allow the industry time to prepare for international travel once more, cautioned Thompson.
Visit California’s President & Chief Executive Officer, Caroline Beteta, anticipates California’s June 15th reopening by showing Californians that domestic travel is safe and possible: “We’re really leaning into our Californians…it’s a well we can tap to help shorten the recovery curve…” By creating the Respect California campaign, Visit California has been able to communicate the restrictions and requirements that vary county by county, so travelers can travel safely and respectfully throughout the state.
Another important global travel trend is the importance of sustainable travel.
Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen that what we do affects the world in which we live, and travelers will certainly lean more towards sustainable travel, from choosing more carbon-neutral airlines to staying at eco-friendly resorts and hotels, or participating in tours or experiences that directly and positively impact local communities.
This trend could impact the travel industry in a variety of ways, from inspiring executives to rethink the frequency of traveling by air for business or tracking their carbon footprints to hotels rethinking the way they interact with local communities.
Gilda Perez-Alvarado, Global Chief Executive Officer, JLL Hotels & Hospitality, said that prior to the pandemic, “we were all very much focused on infrastructure,” but now that focus has changed: “Post-pandemic, we’re looking at the sustainability of the business going forward…Our clients all want to talk about the sustainability of their business going forward, and that has so many ramifications from social issues…to actual investments with infrastructure, etc.”
There is hope for the future, though the travel industry must take baby steps to recover. For now, however, communication is key. Rob Torres, Managing Director, Travel, Google, cited some important statistics: “In our last survey, 1 in 3 U.S consumers said that they plan to take a leisure trip in July, and I think that bodes well for all of us.”