Major travel and hospitality companies are beginning the year with confidence as COVID-19 cases go down again and major tourist destinations lift travel restrictions. Businesses are already seeing trends and signs of what to expect for the rest of the year, many of which point to the industry going big and green in 2022.
A tipping point
Hilton, as one shining example, believes its third quarter will eclipse the peak of 2019. Another major hotel chain, Marriott, claims Business Transient will “roar back” this year. The travel industry isn’t just being hopeful — it’s also being realistic.
“If you think about what causes a downturn, it’s primarily the pandemic,” BWH Hotel Group CEO David Kong said. “Think about the fact that we have got testing in place. We have vaccines in place; although, it may not be at what doctors would like to see, but then you have therapeutics. So, all that bodes well for the company, and I think next year is going to be a banner year. I’m quite sure that, by the end of next year, we will be back at 2019 levels.”
Travel and hospitality businesses expect leisure travelers to experience an overwhelming sense of wanderlust, a “new sense of urgency,” according Stephanie Papaioannou, vice president at the luxury travel company Abercrombie & Kent.
“Guests feel they have lost two years, and older clients are concerned about having fewer healthy years left to travel,” she said.
Expedia has already proven her point. The company calls 2022 the year of the GOAT (aka the “greatest of all trips”). In a survey featuring 12,000 participants from a dozen countries, it was discovered that 65% of respondents intend to “go big” with their next vacation.
Amadeus, too, has witnessed a staggering rise in searches surrounding “epic destinations,” per a company report. It’s a trend expected to only grow, based on the “mood of travelers.”
“We have people just say: ‘Look, what if another pandemic happens? What if I’m locked in again?’” said Decius Valmorbida, president of travel at Amadeus. “There’s a psychological effect that now is the moment.”
Self-care travel: Healthy mind, healthy body, healthy planet
HomeToGo’s travel trends report says stays in vacation homes are reaching 2019 levels with even a rise in interest. The Bahamas, Tuscany, Italy, French Polynesia’s Bora Bora, the Maldives and the south of France are major hotspots this year and travelers between the ages of 18 to 34 are driving the trend.
Travel is more appealing this year for leisure travelers seeking self-care, especially because of the pandemic. Traveler influencers, such as Rashmee & Anant, believe those looking to get away will seek peace and quiet.
“With the new mutations of COVID coming up and rising, we’ll see similar trends continuing,” the traveling duo said. “Hostels offering long stay options with high-speed internet will become more popular. We will see a rise in weekend getaways like nature retreats and luxury resorts around big metro cities. People will most likely choose road trips over other means of travel to be safer.”
Also in the name of safer travel, prominent traveler influencers believe less obvious cities will greet more visitors this year.
“We will be seeing a lot of lesser-known places getting traction this year,” according to travel blogger Nivi Selvaraj. “This year we will be seeing people wanting to go for slightly offbeat places rather than touristy trails and that too without gadgets.”
Going green is another prominent priority for travelers. Expedia Group reports that around 60% of travelers would increase their spending under more environmentally friendly conditions, and companies are listening. For example, hotel options on Google list a property’s sustainability efforts. Skyscanner, too, permits travelers to limit flight searches to options with lower CO2 emissions.
The new bleisure travel
It’s called bleisure travel, combining personal travel with remote work, and it’s becoming more common with many employees yet to return to the office due to the pandemic. Business trips that include a weekend have increased by 15% since 2019, according to corporate travel manager TripActions.
“Many of our customers that we’ve historically called leisure travelers are actually flying for reasons beyond just vacation,” American Airlines President Robert Isom said. “They may travel to a beach or a mountain destination, but they’re actually going to work remotely for the week. The lines between leisure and business travel are definitely blurred.”
Innovation in the workforce
To serve these travelers, several major hotel chains are hard at work to promise brighter futures to employees. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics report, of the 4.3 million Americans who quit their jobs in August, 892,000 were in the restaurant and hospitality industry.
Hotel chains are even relying on technology more and more this year in an effort to make up for staffing shortages.
“You can do mobile key at the front desk — and we’ve seen high adoption of that — and you can do mobile order and pay in food and beverage,” said Sloan Dean, CEO and president of Remington Hotels. “I think they’re so used to the technology that it will modify the way we operate.”
Meanwhile, the industry wants to win back employees this year. Accor Chairman and CEO, Sébastien Bazi, is advocating for stronger wages and more flexible schedules. Hilton, as well, is looking to satisfy more employees this year, not just travelers.
“While I still believe in the power of hospitality, I still believe that we are an amazing engine of opportunity,” said Christopher Nassetta, president and CEO of Hilton.
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