//Words: José Berrocoso//

If things go well, we might be at the threshold of a new age of travel. Although COVID-19 variants may affect conditions, it seems only a matter of time before travelers in some parts of the world hit the road and take to the skies again, thanks to rising vaccination rates and manageable caseloads. Some countries have begun gingerly relaxing travel restrictions and reopening borders. A travel boom is looming. But is the industry ready?

CityPages Magazine meets the industry leaders to learn much more about the new era in the travel industry.

CityPages Magazine: History has shown us that travel is one of the world’s most resilient industries despite the challenges it has faced in the past. How can travel brands in the Middle East succeed in a post-COVID 19 world?
Hatem Chatter: Travel and tourism are among the most resilient industries, and history has taught us that despite any challenge, will bounce back. The Middle Eastern travel business is leisure based. Despite any challenge, leisure travel usually bounces back first. Middle Eastern clients travel 4-5 times a year, excluding business trips, showing that travel is part of the culture. The good news is that there is a high take-up of vaccinations in Dubai, Qatar and Bahrain, with travellers from those regions, providing motivation for countries to open up to them. Additionally, Middle Eastern travellers love to share stories about their travels, influencing those around them to book trips to the same destinations. Travel brands can harness the power of storytelling to entice travellers.
Since March 2020, almost 100% of Leading Hotels of the World (LHW) bookings have been for leisure travel. Quick weekend leisure trips are being taken nearly 2 times more in 2021 vs. 2019.

Isabel Tapp: Customers are now looking for authentic experiences and this is what travel brands should be curating, combined with taking responsibility for the planet and giving back to the local environment. Offering locally sourced food, being mindful of health and wellness options and choosing the sustainable route as a priority.

Gustavo Egusquiza: The recovery will not be homogeneous for all the travel brands in the Middle East. For the travel industry it is time to reevaluate the tourism landscape and to take the necessary steps to offer new products and enter new markets

CPM: In what ways has the pandemic provided an opportunity to ‘reset’ the tourism industry?
HC: While we could not travel, I had regular conversations with many of our clients, who reminisced about what they missed about travelling. During that time, they started to plan and create lists of places they would like to travel to. Travelers are rediscovering the joy of traveling, while at the same time, service providers are rediscovering the joy of service. They are exploring ways in which they can be innovative and use technology to better accommodate traveller needs. Local travellers have awakened to, and are exploring, the beauty of their own countries and regions. LHW travellers booking within their own region has increased 64% since 2019.

IT: The pandemic has given everybody time to focus on what is important to them and travel is high on a lot of people’s agenda. We live in a connected world where travel forms part of our day to day lives, enriching our lives with different cultures, landscapes, food and lifestyles. Business travel may reduce post-COVID, as we realise that a percentage of those business trips are not essential and can take place effectively over Zoom, whilst those essential business trips will be combined with an element of personal leisure, whether solitary or with family. Travel for leisure will be stronger than ever and we will see people taking longer trips in the future both to see family and friends as well as to discover new experiences.

GE: The pandemic has provided the opportunity to the tourism industry to reflect on the sector´s competitive model and evolve towards more sustainable consumption and production models that can contribute to promote the circular economy and a healthier tourism industry in the long run.

CPM: How will travel and hospitality evolve post-COVID-19? What actions can travel brands take to prepare for the future?
HC: Traditionally, our Middle Eastern clients are city-oriented travellers who enjoy shopping, as well as dining in restaurants and cafes. Over covid, traveller preferences evolved, and we noticed a trend in travel to resorts, this follows the trend noticed by my colleagues worldwide. Since 2019, LHW has seen a 2X spike in demand for beach, countryside, lakeside and mountain destinations. Additionally, there has been an 88% increase in villa and suite bookings, that has resulted in a 32% increase in ADR.
Resorts were receptive to vaccinated travellers, and towns in the Maldives, Mykonos, the south of France, and the south of Spain enjoyed a lot of business from the Middle East. In the future, I believe travellers will enjoy a balance of both city and resort stays, while in the past, cities were more dominant for our Middle Eastern travellers.
Based on this, both segments can be promoted together, providing travel brands with opportunities to collaborate, as they will have the potential in the future to secure the high interest of travellers.

IT: Sustainability and climate change are growing in importance and travel brands will need to be mindful to ensure that they are adjusting their practices to achieve maximum sustainability and minimum impact on the planet. Single use plastic needs to be eliminated as quickly as possible and they need to look at giving back; planting trees, caring for the environment, supporting local farmers, stocking local produce and showcasing the heritage of their natural environment.

GE: Brands will have to adapt to their new times and demands. Digitalization and the offer of new experiences and services is the key element to success in the next coming years.
CPM: How will our travel habits change?
HC: Because of some of the reasons mentioned above, there will be a healthier mix between cities and resorts. There will also be a greater appreciation for the gift of travel.

IT: We may travel less frequently, but for longer, combining business with leisure to maximise on a trip. Non-essential business trips will take second place to experiential adventures or travelling to see family and friends. We are yearning to start crossing off our bucket list, planning big adventures and experiences, not wishing to delay these trips any longer; revenge travel and bucket list trips will be high on people’s agendas.

GE: After the COVID, people seem to be able to be away from home longer. Moreover, thanks to the COVID a more conscious travel model will appear. The tourist will be more appreciative of their surroundings and local people and less reckless with their spending habits.

CPM: What will travel look like this time next year?
HC: We are developing positive momentum to achieve a healthy recovery in 2022, as the revenue for 2021 has outpaced that of the previous year. Beginning in mid-June we have outpaced 2019 production levels by an average of nearly 10%. For the first time since the pandemic started, Leading Hotels’ revenue production has been on par with 2019, and it is encouraging to see a lift in international demand.
Greater vaccination rates, the trend of leisure travel recovering faster than corporate, and the levels of wealth in this part of the world, with travel being a priority in how that wealth is spent, will speed the recovery.

IT: Providing countries around the world have succeeded in controlling the pandemic, we will be in revenge travel mode, looking to make up for the time and travels we have missed, travelling to see family and friends, as well as to make those bucket list trips; making sure we are accumulating as many experiences and memories as possible; it’s a big, beautiful world out there and we need to see it and experience it.

GE: It is likely that normality will be recovered in most of the world. However uncertainty makes predictions difficult in the long run. All will depends on how this pandemic behaves in the next coming months.

CPM: What are the new travel trends in the industry?
HC: Middle Eastern business has traditionally been last minute, and we expect that there will be a return to last minute travel, as we are seeing worldwide now. Travellers from this region plan and book for their trips when they are inspired to travel.
IT: Less frequent, longer trips; combining business and leisure; sustainability and giving back to the environment; wellness both inside and out; a more relaxed take on luxury; experiences; health; culture; healthier and plant based foods, experiential dining experiences.

GE: There is a high demand in boutique hotels all over the world. Moreover minimalism is going to be a huge a real travel trend and tourists will look for a more authentic approach when they travel abroad. Digitalization, more connection with the nature and avoiding crowded places are some of these new trends in the travel industry.

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