2021 has surely been a challenging year for our economies and tourism. As we step into the New Year, and the threat of a new variant lurking over us, the travel industry is once again preparing for new hurdles.
Despite cruise port closures, flight and holiday cancellations, travelers are less threatened about changing plans. With vaccines, digital health passports and strict Covid restrictions in place, people already setting the trend on how they want to travel this year.
According to a report in Travel Weekly, tour operators have said that despite a slowdown in new bookings recently, the impact of omicron on existing bookings in the present and near-term remains minimal, and prospects are generally positive in 2022. While cruising and some tours in Europe were canceled, the will to travel continues and travelers know they will get back on the road.
UNWTO (UN World Trade Organization) Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said that 2021 has laid the foundations to restart tourism and going forward, this new era of travel will largely be around the pillars of sustainability, innovation, people and investing for a resilient future.
One of the main factors that led towards this was the emergence of vaccines which brought about much needed respite and there has been significant progress in finding the right balance between keeping people safe and keeping the vital lifeline of tourism intact.
Pololikashvili added that, ensuring harmonized travel protocols has been the key message since day one. “They are at the heart of tourism’s restart in many parts of the world, most notably in the Northern Hemisphere destinations during the peak summer months.
“Like never before, the pandemic has made clear tourism’s relevance to our economies and societies. Tourism is now part of the global conversation and at the heart of both national and international recovery action plans.”
So how are people traveling?
The opening up of travel has encouraged people to finally plan that once-in-a-lifetime trip they have been postponing over the years. According to an Amadeus Travel Trends 2022 report, it was termed ‘Savoring the now”. The company saw a substantial increase in searches for travel to destinations or experiences like Tanzania—for the Big Five in the wild, which went up by 36 per cent or bookings for Peruvian cities of Lima and Cusco, near Machu Pichu, up by nearly 50 per cent, and flights to Petra in Jordan, up by 22 per cent.
This demand is expected to grow despite the threat of the new variant as today’s travelers are very well aware of the risks and precautions they need to take when it comes to traveling internationally. Likewise travel managers are better equipped to help them maneuver the challenges presented with traveling today, be it regarding airport or destination requirements.
One trend that is expected to carry over from 2020 and 2021 is that we should expect to see a continued rise in domestic travel. in many cases, this eliminates the need for long hours at the airport or even the airport completely while still ensuring their wanderlust is met.
One of the leading factors that have helped tourism pick up pace in a safe manner has been the introduction of simple and interoperable digital solutions, as governments across the globe tried to restore international mobility.
Today, following World Health Organization guidelines, many governments have accepted the four most widely used digital COVID vaccination certificates – EU Digital COVID Certificate, ICAO Visible Digital Seal, DIVOC and SMART Health Cards – as proof of COVID-19 status.
Besides that, technological innovations which were once termed futuristic have become familiar. This includes QR-coded menus, destinations using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to create online experiences; travel bots at airports; contact-tracing tools and functions; heat maps and even CCTV with facial recognition could help track other illnesses and the most vital for travel – the digital vaccine passports.
Invasive as it may sound, with wanderlust at an all time high, these pandemic-era tech tools may finally allow us to experience connected-travel again.
COVID-19 forced millions of people to work from home over the last two years. Employers have realised that productivity wasn’t affected and now nearly 40% of the US workforce can now work from anywhere, and in other countries, that number is even higher. While some companies have chosen to shift to a permanent work from home culture , others are implementing a hybrid working model globally to balance employee flexibility with business needs.
But working from home can lead to lethargy and nothing replaces a face-to-face meeting. According to an Amadeus report, strongly supports that business travel in on people’s minds, with 72 per cent of business travelers eager to travel in the next year, and half of travelers saying they will be flying for business by 2022.
Companies are more conscious about how their employees travel and are setting more transparent, safe and cost-effective travel policies to make travel less stressful. With expense-free mobile travel payments, travel safety measures in place and bleisure picking up, 2022 is sure to see more business travel.
The last two two years have taught us that the vision of restarting tourism comes with the responsibility of doing so in a more inclusive, innovative and sustainable way.
On a larger scale, restarting tourism is unthinkable without green investments. UNWTO is collaborating with institutions such as the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation and the Inter-American Development Bank as well as more than 200 investors, as part of their global investment network advancing critical work such as supporting hotel chains from 50 countries to become more sustainable.
“Tourism is ready to do the hard work and live up to its responsibilities to people and planet, as demonstrated by the huge interest UNWTO received at the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism, launched at the UN Climate Summit COP26,” said Pololikashvili.
“We are receiving a growing number of commitments to halve emissions by 2030 and to reach NetZero by 2050 at the latest, with Member countries, individual destinations, global companies and local players as well as media outlets, hundreds are on board, and counting.”
For the traveler this means focusing on the issues which matter the most. Ethical travel is a mixture of sustainability measures, supporting local businesses whenever possible and respect for the local environment and culture. As a traveler, respect for nature by cutting down on waste; respect for the local economy by hiring a local guide or buying local and traveling conscientiously and respect for the environment by offsetting your airmiles by giving back to nature are small but significantly powerful ways to restore the ecosystem. There are so many ways to practice responsible tourism and the time is now to lead in that direction.
Investing in travel
In recent years the UNWTO has also shown its commitment to new innovations and start-up competitions to offer a platform to showcase new talents and ideas, while their education programs are reaching unprecedented numbers of people, welcoming more than 20,000 students from 100 countries in just 18 months.
“Our global innovation ecosystem is now made up of more than 12,000 start-ups from 160 countries, with $83 million mobilized and 300 corporate partners currently working on new tourism technologies.”
“We promote lifelong learning thanks to partnerships with the world’s top five institutions in tourism and hospitality. Together, IE university, Les Riches, Glion Institute, Ecole du Casse and the Swiss Education Group offer 19 online courses in Spanish, English and Arabic – a true ‘online university of universities’.”
“Underpinning it all are data analytics on tourism investments powered by our partnership with the Financial Times. Through this, we have produced the first UNWTO tourism investment guidelines, which we are now scaling up to create guidelines for doing tourism businesses by country,” he added.
Tourism is now part of the global conversation and at the heart of both national and international recovery action plans. And support for UNWTO has never been louder or more visible.
Over the past 12 months, the organization has strengthened key partnerships, among them the G20 and G7, as well as ICAO (the International Civil Aviation Organization), FAO (the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), the World Bank, IDB (Inter-American Development Bank), CAF, (The Development Bank of Latin America) and the EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development).
“The way in which the pandemic has developed over the closing weeks of the year gives us all reason for concern and to again put public health above everything else.
“But recent developments again validate our initial position: the only way forward is through collaboration and actions that are based on evidence rather than on speculation or political strategy.”
UNWTO is in a good place to use the achievements of 2021 as a springboard for building a better tourism in the years to come, with the sector ready to return once conditions are right.