The tourism industry was one of the hardest hit by the events of the last 18 months – but much like a river, dammed up and ready to burst as soon as it is able, the desire for getting “back to normal” is stronger than ever. Though it may be a trickle for a while before it can fully flow, this gradual return is exactly what is projected for the industry, through 2021 and beyond.
Tourism is an incredibly unique industry, because the very product is subjective to its consumer. For example, every visitor to an equatorial resort can have a wildly different experience: some might love the food, while others might get sick; some may love the sounds of nature, while others will be tired of the crickets by the first night.
Because of this subjectivity, the tourism marketing opportunities needed to capture a specific audience must target the exact highlights that a potential traveler is desperate to find, relive, or experience.
Tourism Statistics in 2021
The coronavirus pandemic and ensuing shutdowns absolutely walloped the tourism industry – data on International travelers to Canada (courtesy of Statistics Canada, and presented in graphical form here) <CHART> shows that the number dropped to less than 10% of the previous year for January and February. March is starting to show as a relative bright spot, with 16.2% of 2020’s inbound travelers (this data is also from the Stats Canada link above). Further, in the period from January 2020 to November 2020, no Canadian industry sector was struck harder than tourism regarding policies and practices designed to limit COVID-19 transmission (source: page 14).
In spite of those hopeful upturns, the tourism industry is not quite out of the woods yet. The United Nations World Tourism Organization said in January that international travels fell off by 74% in 2020, that destinations welcomed 1 billion fewer international arrivals in 2020 than the previous year, and that this represented a loss of $1.3 trillion USD in export revenues.
While Canada’s tourism gross domestic product is small relative to the big picture – just $39.72 billion in 2019 versus the slightly larger $1.645 trillion CAD total GDP – other nations are staggeringly dependent on tourism dollars. Macau, Maldives and Seychelles round out the top three nations with the highest percent of 2019 GDP tied up in travel and tourism, at 72%, 66.1%, and 65.8%, respectively – Macau’s GDP plummeted to $24.33 billion USD in 2020, compared to $55.15 billion USD in 2019. That’s a loss of nearly 56%.
Let’s turn the corner now, shall we?
Articles are popping up daily with top picks for big-winner stocks in the travel and tourism sector. We mentioned early on that export revenues experienced a loss of $1.3 trillion USD – but where did it go? From a Canadian perspective, the answer is: nowhere. We still have it. CIBC economists believe Canadians have nested an additional $100 billion CAD in savings, due to a year rife with nights in and suitcases forlorn and forgotten beneath staircases. You can bet that when travel restrictions start to vanish, pens around the world will be busily scratching items from bucket lists that took a pause through COVID-19.
Tourism post-COVID: the New Menu
Tourism is taking a new form in the post-pandemic era. The very ethics of going from place-to-place came into strong consideration for many before lockdown even began, and now travel itself is entering a new generation.
Here are the ways we at William Joseph see people engaging with their world:
The Road Trip: Trails Close to Home
The Wall Street Journal declared RV vacations “The Safest Way to Travel” for a leisure trip. In the year of the pandemic, that should come as no surprise. But beyond that, every word here is a link to a different song. Pick any two words, and you’ll catch the theme. Chances are good you’ll know the songs, too. For many locked to the earth by travel restrictions, the institution of the road trip has taken on new meaning. “Tourist attractions near me” has seen a spike in popularity through the pandemic, with domestic tourism demand expected to rise over 30% in 2021 compared to 2020 (Page 23). It’s about the journey; not the destination.
Work from home? More like work from roam (patent pending). For those who have been dismissed from the workplace in favour of a home office, ask yourself: could you do your job with a steady Wi-Fi connection? Why not take your 9-5 in the off-hours and spend the evening strolling the Champs-Élysées? There’s a great overview of this growing trend here.
The Solo Adventure
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, so why not leave your bubble behind? This article from LonelyPlanet sourced a recent poll from booking.com that suggests 30% of travelers would now consider a solo trip, up from 17% pre-pandemic. A trip to discover yourself is substantially harder with your friends and family around, and if social distancing remains something of a concern, solo travel may continue to blossom as a new way to see the world – your way.
The Digitized Experience
Travel, at its heart, is meant to be an experience. For some, it’s cultural; for others, it’s a challenge; and for others still, it’s catharsis. Technology was already playing a big role, but the pandemic accelerated the importance of contactless, self-sufficient, sustainable places of interest in the travel world. Take a look at Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience to see a prime example of this. The comfort of a smartphone, the ease of a QR code, and the cost-to-benefit ratio of a guided tour on an app is a new reality all tourist destinations – and their visitors – face.
The digitized experience continues to expand across platforms, but, like the road trip, the idea of leaving modern creature comforts behind still holds appeal. Conscious travelers are those who set their gadgets aside and connect with the value of human fulfillment through experiential means. This value add includes a gain of cultural understanding, and a recent poll states that travel ethics are becoming far more important: 78% of travelers are more ethically conscious than they were a decade prior, and 39% are harbouring guilt from previous tourist attractions that may have had negative impacts on an environment or its denizens: swimming with dolphins, or taking a ride on an elephant, for example.
Where Do We Go Now?
Because of every tourist’s subjectivity, catching and holding their attention while trying to track their individual opinions and philosophies is a defining challenge of the time we live in. But being in the right place to benefit when travel resumes – and it will – will involve in-depth analytics, process evolutions, sturdy and meaningful branding, and perhaps most of all, trips that are absolutely worth it. So, when that day arrives and our familiar four walls can be cast aside for a plane ticket or an open road, make sure that yours are.