What is the future of travel? At this very moment in 2019, my vision of the future was one of abundant travel opportunities, made possible by convenient air services, some of which at affordable price points, that allow anyone to travel anytime. More destinations are opening up for tourism, fresh hotels are springing up in exciting destinations, and the growing presence of specialised tour and activity suppliers that present destinations in new light also serve to inspire travel and encourage exploration of new places.
Who would have guessed that the travel landscape would change so drastically in 2020 because of a single virus? I would never have imagined travel to become so inaccessible, that only business-critical trips may be permissible, that costly and invasive swab tests are compulsory for travellers to be cleared for take-off, and that one may need to jump through more hoops to secure a travel visa and government-issue entry approval.
Travel and tourism for one and all who can afford it – in terms of time and money – no longer exists.
While the absence of travellers is a relief for communities struggling with overtourism, it has also provided a sobering realisation that we cannot do without tourism, for it touches many aspects of our life in positive ways – as an employer, a consumption stimulator for other industries, a supporter of community development, and a contributor to conservation efforts.
Can we rise from the ashes as responsible and appreciative travellers who make every trip count for something? Or, as professionals in the travel and tourism trade, ensure our work leaves a legacy for the communities we touch?
In these early days of tourism recovery, the answer seems promising. Hospitality players are partnering small businesses and communities within and beyond the tourism space to rebuild demand together and help each other ride out the storm.
Tours and activity operators are arousing interest in community-based tourism – even if only as an answer to safe distancing needs of travellers today.
So, even as initial travel demand seems to be mostly driven by convenient resort locations or the best deal in town, and not so much for meaningful and sustainable purposes, travel and tourism suppliers can be the heroes we need to move us towards a virtuous rebound.
A consistent move towards sustainable and responsible travel needs to start with programming, by ensuring that featured activities and contractors support host destinations, communities and local conservation efforts in some form.
Travel and tourism can build back better and stronger, and it is up to us to make that happen.
This was first published in the TTG Asia Future of Travel special issue in December 2020.