The Covid-19 pandemic paralyzed the world with mobility between countries reduced to a minimum with harsh restrictions, which inevitably affected global tourism. The fall in figures was historically high and the recovery towards normalcy will be gradual.
According to Ángel García Butragueño, director of Tourism at Braintrust consultancy, “the 2019 volumes will not be recovered until 2023 in the vacation sector, and by 2025 in the business travel area.“
Although the return to the new normal is expected to be very slow and with many short-term uncertainties, the good rate of vaccination in developed countries and the arrival of the summer, with a more favourable climate, made the industry begin to glimpse a light at the end of the tunnel. The first question now is to know how normality will resume and what post-pandemic tourism will be like, and especially for older adults.
“This crisis has served to visualize a new type of more sustainable tourism, seeking it from a social, economic, environmental and territorial point of view,” says García Butragueño. In fact, he adds, “all destinations encouraged by government policies and, specifically, within the European Union through Next Generation funds seek a full transformation looking towards a new era of less expansive tourism and more regenerative. This will increase the wealth returning to the local society through employability, where the tourist takes care of and conserves the environment and where the tourist activity serves for the social and economic revitalization of the destination”.
The context of Covid-19 has changed habits and generated new concerns for travellers. The experts from he Spanish Confederation of Travel Agencies (CEAV) believe that what will prevail above all will be the need to feel safe against contagion. According to Carlos Garrido, Chair at CEAV, “every element of the trips will change, in one way or another, seeking health safety.”
The average tourist will therefore choose “destinations with fewer crowds, in rural environments and areas of nature and mountains where you can enjoy outdoor experiences, seeking safety, hygiene, privacy and tranquillity”, says Mr. Garrido.
To Ricardo Fernández, general director of the online travel agency Destinia, “the first task is to communicate that travelling is safe. If the senior traveller understands that the destination is safe, they will travel”.
Due to the constant changes in the requirements for a safe, Covid-free travel, the president of the CEAV assures that “from the professional distribution channel, we are verifying how travellers need a greater degree of advice due to the restrictions on entry and exit from each country, the conditions that the traveller will find in each phase of the trip, the new regulations, and so on”. For this reason, Garrido points out that “the strategy of travel agencies from now on will be focused on offering our senior clients a quality service where trust and safety is decisive“.
Although activities and experiences at the destination will be one of the last things to return to the figures of two years ago, “outdoor activities, active tourism and everything that allows us to escape from overcrowding will continue to be a star product”, says Fernández. He predicts a post-Covid tourism similar to the one we had in 2019, but with new trends that may have a positive impact on tourism quality: “If I have to stick with one, it would be with the diversification of destinations. We have learned the value of closer, less crowded destinations. This will help the most crowded places to become more sustainable and will be a tremendous opportunity for the tourism industry that will be able to offer better experiences and a more complex product ”.
Likewise, the flexibility of the procedures is becoming an essential requirement when planning a trip. “Cancellation insurance and travel assistance with Covid-19 coverage are other elements that will play an important role for the traveller“, emphasizes Garrido.
Finally, CEAV’s Chair points out that the travel reservation channel will be carried out, more than ever, digitally, “and also with greater support from travel agencies, which generate safety and security in the traveller trust that he needs so much right now”.
Digitization is the buzzword in many areas and, in the case of the tourism industry, it solves several problems caused by Covid-19. For example, online procedures allow the necessary flexibility to change the traveller’s itineraries at any time. They also avoid negotiations with hotel staff and other establishments, a characteristic that works very well in pandemic times when trying to reduce contact with other people. “We estimate that digitization has advanced during the pandemic around three or four years at a time, given the need to use digital tools during the isolation experienced,” says García Butragueño.
However, this digitalization boom raises the same question when technology comes into contact with the senior community: how does the digital divide affect the older adults when planning a trip? Braintrust’s Director of Tourism explains that, actually, ” older people, perhaps forced by circumstances, have also been users of technology, so we should not underestimate the digital experience of this group.” However, he clarifies, “travel agents will coin the omnichannel experience that will combine face-to-face with digital, which is the advantage of booking with a travel agency.“