Travel industry has changed, so have consumer attitudes

Consumer attitudes toward travel are continuously evolving and it’s a challenging environment for those who work in the industry

  
Passengers in an airport. Image used for illustrative purpose.

Passengers in an airport. Image used for illustrative purpose.

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For the first time in two long years, I am getting on a plane again. It’s a milestone. We avoided travel this summer, but I couldn’t miss my childhood friend’s wedding in Greece. Aside from the usual packing, I have new forms to fill, a PCR test to do, and masks to stock up on. We have changed — and so has the travel industry. Consumer attitudes toward travel are continuously evolving and it’s a challenging environment for those who work in the industry. It seems impossible to plan.

A McKinsey report predicts that travel won’t fully recover until 2024. Last year, industry revenues totaled $328 billion, around 40 percent of 2019 figures. And they expect it to get worse before it gets better.

But don’t crumple up that paper with your bucket list destinations just yet; there is a silver lining. The pandemic raised the bar on safety and hygiene standards on airplanes and boosted digitalization. By showing an app on your phone, you can prove you’re vaccinated and good to go. It’s no wonder that a new report from Expedia revealed that beach and city destinations made up the top 10 booked destinations around the world in the second quarter of 2021.

But with the advent of hybrid and remote work in several industries, justifying the time and money for business travel remains a hard sell. Would I be willing to fly to spend days meeting in a conference room right now? No way. But a short trip to see family and friends in a safe environment after years apart? I had my bags packed a week in advance.

After 9/11 and the financial crisis, business travel took an average of four years to recover, according to the McKinsey report. It’s actually leisure travel to see loved ones that helped the industry rebound. We’re seeing the same trends now.

Flight patterns are a good indicator of how the industry is faring. In line with the recent easing of restrictions, Emirates Airline stated to the press that it will “restore capacity across 29 cities on its network on over 270 flights, as well as [fine-tune] its schedules to boost frequencies and capacity as demand rises for international leisure and business travel.”

Google Trends show that searches for “can I travel” are at an all-time high, while searches for “PCR for travel” increased by 2,908 percent across UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. So the appetite is there, but are those airplane seats getting booked?

In 2020, the global number of average daily flights fell by 41.5 percent compared to 2019 to an average of 67,223 flights per day, according to research from consultancy CBRE. From the start of the year up to June 2021, the average daily number of flights increased to 73,508, although this remains 33.8 percent below the same period in 2019.

“The global vaccination drive underpinned the start of the recovery in the global travel and tourism sector,” said Taimur Khan, head of research for CBRE in the Middle East. “However, despite this and the increase in the number of flights operating, international visitation is still some way off its pre-COVID levels.”

Translation: We still prefer domestic travel and staycations. This is a boon to the local hospitality sector and to related employment. And while I love exploring new places in my hometown, I admit I am very excited to get on a plane, recline my seat, and watch a movie on that small screen. It’s been too long.

• Sara Hamdan is a former Merrill Lynch banker, NYT journalist and editor at Google. She writes on startups, women in business, and post-COVID-19 work trends.

Twitter: @SaraHamdan

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