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Anticipating the Return of Travel: Waves of Travel

Last updated on July 16, 2020
11 minute read
Key Takeaways

  • The waves we expect to see as travel slowly returns
  • How to prepare for the first waves already emerging

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All Skill Levels

One thing has become clear to many of us over the past few months: We miss exploring the world, and we will find ways to travel again. While this year has been difficult for our industry, as people, businesses, and entire industries continue to adapt, many are ready to hit the road again, experience something new, and create happy memories. The question is not whether travel will return, but how it will return. According to a Morning Consult survey, 32% of U.S. adults feel comfortable taking a vacation this year. Of course, travel will not go back to what it was before the pandemic all at once. As we learn more about COVID-19, find new ways to interact safely, and the medical community searches for a long-term solution, travel possibilities will slowly open up in stages. As Margot Schmorak outlined in Strange New Normal, travel will return in waves, starting with shorter road trips to nearby destinations and leading up to international travel.

In anticipation of the return of travel, we’ve considered what travel trends will look like in the near future, and how tour and activity companies can prepare for these new trends. 

a close up of a logoLocal Travel & Drive-To Locations

There has been a considerable focus on local travel (and local SEO) lately, and that’s because we’re already seeing this first wave of travel emerge, as people venture to nearby locations they can drive to for day trips, camping trips, and other safe options that don’t involve getting on a plane or being around large crowds. This first wave appeals to adventurers who want to enjoy the outdoors as well as families, couples, and groups of friends who are looking for fun activities that won’t put them at risk – road trips are sure to be big this summer. 

Another American past-time that is quickly making a comeback is travel via RV, a great way to explore away from home without having to worry about crowds or the cleanliness of transportation or accommodations. According to USA Today, RVShare reported a 650% rise in rentals as of April 2020, and a customer survey revealed that 65% of RV renters want to visit a national park or campground in the next three months. This bodes well for outdoor tour and activity companies that offer experiences to these travelers while adhering to all the necessary safety measures. 

So, how can businesses cater to this first wave of travel that has already begun? It’ll be important to appeal to local travelers using local SEO and marketing. Here are some guides to get you started: 

Anecdotally, some outdoor tour operators in cities that have reopened have seen bookings return at a healthy a pace just a few weeks after reopening, signaling that travelers are ready to book. They’ve also noted that customers don’t want to be bombarded by COVID-19 warnings — as long as it’s clear that safety measures are in place and being enforced, travelers are eager to book activities and have fun!

Travel Bubbles 

In Europe, one of the most popular travel destinations in the world, we might see “travel bubbles” emerge as countries with similarly low infection rates, and strong health care systems, open up their borders to each other. With travel being such an important part of the economy in Europe — tourism accounts for 10% of the continent’s GDP (Morning Brew) — travel bubbles provide Europeans with options to take a vacation outside their own country. Travel bubbles may aid in expanding the boundaries of how far local travelers within Europe are allowed to venture from home, and using local marketing and SEO strategies will remain a vital element in attracting travelers from around the continent. 

a close up of a logoTravel to Visit Family 

One of the most enjoyable things about traveling in the summer and into the holidays is the opportunity to spend time with family. The pandemic has highlighted how important it is to have a connection with family, friends, and loved ones, and many people are likely to venture out and travel to see their families before taking any other kind of trip. This might mean taking a long road trip, or even getting on a plane if your family is far away. While family excursions will probably look a little different this year, these groups will be looking for fun and creative things they can do together. Again, local marketing will come into play as families search for tours and activities they can enjoy while still following all the necessary safety measures (more on those in part two of this series). 

a close up of a logoTravel for Work

It will take some time for work travel to return, as companies have to be abundantly cautious both in terms of finances and not exposing employees to unnecessary risk. With the majority of conferences, onboarding meetings, and more moving to the online space, the majority of work travel has taken a back seat. Of course, there are instances where traveling for work is absolutely necessary and fairly low-risk, so we can expect travel for work to return slowly and at the discretion of individual companies. 

a close up of a logoLeisure Travel 

Leisure travel is expected to rebound as traveler’s safety concerns are properly addressed – extending not only from the method of transportation but through to accommodation, activity and dining options. Because traveling for leisure is a choice, the most cautious people will likely put off leisure travel for longer than travel to see family or to participate in important work affairs.  However, after months of staying home, travelers are itching to get out and explore places on their bucket list. We at FareHarbor are deeply familiar with wanderlust, and we expect that as soon as it’s safe to do so, travelers will be booking that dream trip. 

Pro tip: Even though people are looking forward to traveling, they might have to do so on a tighter budget, and they’ll be looking to save money on tours and experiences. Read up on how to appeal to the budget-conscious traveler

One tactic that will help to encourage leisure travel is slot scheduling – where hotels, restaurants, attractions, and other public spaces schedule a limited number of guests at a time, in order to reduce crowds and ensure that physical distancing guidelines are followed. You may have already experienced this phenomenon without knowing it – for example, as you’ve conducted your grocery shopping and other essential business over the past few months. The idea behind slot-scheduling is that by limiting the number of people sharing a space, employees and guests alike will not only be safer but feel safer. This is likely to be a common solution for tour and activity operators as well – balancing the need to bring in business while following all necessary guidelines. You can read more about this in part two of this series.

a close up of a logoInternational & Adventure Travel 

Very few people are keen on the idea of getting on a plane or a cruise ship right now, so international travel and globetrotting adventures will take longer to return. In the U.S., only 13% of adults feel comfortable traveling abroad this year (Morning Consult). Of course, it’s not just a matter of what travelers want, but it’s also the worldwide travel restrictions that will determine when we can travel overseas again. That trip to Thailand you’ve been dreaming of for years will just have to wait until borders reopen. 

However, the desire to travel is still there, and you can be sure that as soon as people can travel, they will. According to Travel Market Report, a recent United States Tour Operator Association survey revealed that travelers are rebooking their 2020 travel plans for 2021, showing that there’s hope in resuming travel once it’s safe to do so. In fact, 57% of the USTOA members’ bookings for 2021 are rescheduled from 2020 cancellations, and 80% of their bookings are for international travel destinations

Our industry has had to change rapidly, redefining travel along the way — but this optimism signals that people still want to travel and experience the world, and they’re willing to adapt right alongside us. Flexibility will be the name of the game in the coming weeks and months, and being prepared for what’s to come will help businesses continue to reach and cater to their customers. The second part of this series will focus on how to prepare for the return of travel.

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