After the IATA predictions failure, revised almost on a weekly basis in March/April, it seems that UNWTO is doing the same, which is to share delusional predictions with the media in our industry.
If on one hand, UNWTO is sharing realistic predictions, that tourism will not be able to return to pre-COVID19 values until the next 2 to 3 years, on the other hand, it’s sharing not so realistic predictions stating that this recovery will start right away in Q4 2020. In my opinion, this is utterly wrong, as those predictions are based on the “summer boost” that the tourism industry has seen in the previous months, and which is now starting to fade away. Added to this, everyone was expecting that corporate travel would start to pick up in September, and that’s not, at all, the scenario that we are seeing at this stage.
As trade shows, conferences, events, etc are shifting to virtual, many of the mass corporate travel will not happen this year, and this is a trend that will eventually here to stay, in 2021 at least. Events can’t afford to not happen, and can’t afford the uncertainty that we live nowadays, with quarantine restrictions. That’s why, it’s better to make the decision 3/6 months in advance to go virtual, than trying to go live until the end, with the high risk of not being able to hold the event, or worse, be able to hold the event but not having enough attendees to make it relevant! Of course, not all corporate travel is to attend trade shows, although surely this is a huge part of the corporate travel business, but in regards to the remaining corporate travel, I would dare to say that no company is in a position to risk losing an employee to COVID19, even if only temporarily, and prefer to be cautious than to be bold! Even on the customer side, they are avoiding in person meetings at all costs!
I know that we are all eager that tourism picks up and that things start slowly going back to normal, but isn’t this exacerbated wish stopping us from seeing clearly the reality which is right in front of us?
In my opinion, things will get worse before they get better. There was the “deep fall” in March/April, where almost everyone canceled their trips and asked either for a refund or an exchange. Then, since mid-May we saw a small “summer boost”, mainly driven by internal leisure tourism in which we saw several players that never focused on internal tourism, pivoting towards that area! During that period, everyone thought that this was a short breath of fresh air which allowed them to survive through the summer and that in September corporate travel would start to pick up and from there onwards, things would start to move towards “normality”. This couldn’t be more wrong. Corporate Travel will not pick until there is a vaccine widely distributed, which in the best predictions, will be at the end of 2021. Knowing this, I believe that we will now go through a period with almost zero bookings again, at least there are no more refunds/exchanges to be made, until the end of Spring, beginning of Summer. There might be a small boost in the Christmas period, in which some countries might ease the travel restrictions to allow families to spend Christmas together, but that’s it.
I wish I’d had a crystal ball that allowed me to share with my dear friends in the travel industry which is the path to recovery, but in my opinion, if I was managing a travel company, I would focus on two things:
- Short notice local short stays. I believe that people are still eager to have some experiences and get to know better their own countries, booking in a very short window (a few days) a destination that might be a few hundred kilometers away by car;
- Summer 2021. I believe that people are willing to book now, for Summer 2021, as long as they have the ability to get a refund or exchange, even if for a small fee.
Article by João Taborda, Head of Sales @ TTS