We don’t need to tell you that COVID-19 has changed travel – the effect that border closures, health concerns and financial considerations have had on tourism is glaringly obvious.
But as a result of the disruption, new trends are emerging that could shape the nature of our holidays for years to come.
WIDE OPEN SPACES
It seems like a distant memory when densely populated destinations were all the rage. These days travellers are favouring locations where social distancing is easy to enforce. Tourism Australia’s consumer research has revealed travellers see wide-open spaces as a safer option for a holiday in 2021, plus people are appreciating opportunities to enjoy nature after so much time spent at home.
“It’s been interesting to see a shift in priorities in our international markets with greater emphasis placed on wide-open spaces and nature-based experiences – perhaps not so hard to understand after a period of lockdowns and restricted movement!” says Tourism Australia managing director Phillipa Harrison.
Domestically, self-drive travel continues to prove popular. “Our research has also shown a surge in popularity for road trips, with Australians electing to take a significantly greater number of their holidays by car in 2020 and explore regional areas around the country,” says Harrison.
Interim managing director of Abercrombie & Kent Australia, Graham Wood says the luxury travel company’s own research has also revealed the trend for travel away from large crowds. “Overwhelmingly what we found was our travellers were looking for slower, sustainable and socially distanced travel,” he says. This also extends to the type of accommodation being favoured, with many people seeking out stays in private villas or voyages on a chartered yacht.
SLOW & EASY
We all need a relaxing holiday every now and then, but holidays tailored to deliver a feeling of rejuvenation are only becoming more popular thanks to the stresses of recent times. Wood has noticed a decline in interest in holidays that cram multiple tourist traps into just a few days.
“What we’re seeing is people are going to one major destination, staying there for a while, getting to know people and the local community, and getting to feel like they have a true appreciation for where they’re visiting,” he says.
Tourism Australia has found that while the popularity of soft adventure experiences like multi-day walks and wellness travel has been increasing in recent years, the pandemic has boosted demand for this style of holiday. Tourism New Zealand’s research shows that the top two aspects New Zealanders are looking for in a local holiday location are spectacular landscapes and opportunities to relax and refresh.
Scenery and relaxation may be top of mind for Kiwi travellers, but the third-biggest consideration for a domestic holiday destination is whether they have visited it before, with 46 per cent of New Zealanders who are planning a holiday saying they want to go somewhere new.
Bjoern Spreitzer, general manager domestic at Tourism New Zealand, says there has been growth in domestic travel all over the country. “What we have seen is that New Zealanders do the things that they might do when they’re travelling internationally – in New Zealand. What I mean by that is, activity providers in New Zealand that historically would have had less domestic visitors, for example like some of the jet boat operators, like some of the guided tours, they’ve seen a really good uplift in New Zealand visitors,” he says.
With tourism beyond bubbles still off the cards for the foreseeable future, and with trans-Tasman holiday travel getting off to a shaky start, local tourism operators are still encouraged to adjust their offering to appeal to a mostly domestic market.
According to Tourism New Zealand’s latest domestic travel research, two-thirds of New Zealanders say they’re going to take a domestic holiday in the next 12 months, so innovation to attract those travellers is worthwhile, even as we look towards emerging from the pandemic. “I think that for me has been one of the most astounding things through COVID, to have seen how New Zealand operators have really changed some of their offerings,” says Spreitzer.
Tourism Australia’s Harrison says the resilience and innovation demonstrated by the Australian tourism industry has been incredible to witness. “There are fantastic stories about tourism operators that have adapted their offerings, engaged their local communities, or promoted their products in different ways to suit shifting customer needs, which I think is inspiring,” she says.
TOURIST TRAP RESET
While local tourism operators are considering how to attract more domestic visitors, some parts of the world will be contemplating how to reduce tourist numbers.
Dr Julia Albrecht, a senior lecturer at Otago University’s Department of Tourism, says that COVID-19 has offered destinations that have previously been overwhelmed by tourists the chance for a reset.
“We have seen that when we do not travel much internationally for one and a half years that there is an opportunity to change how we do tourism,” she says. “Pre-COVID, there were destinations like Venice, Barcelona, Machu Picchu, that were all suffering tremendously from visitor numbers that were too high. And I think a lot of destinations like this have thought about how they engage in tourism, what kind of visitors they want, what kinds of products they are offering to these visitors.
“So I do think we are going to see a somewhat changed tourism industry, especially in destinations where there’s the ability to afford slightly lower visitor numbers.”
Tourism Australia has identified ‘travel as a force for good’ as a trend on the up.
Whether it’s planting trees, caring for wildlife or supporting struggling local businesses, Tourism Australia’s research has found that 74 per cent of travellers are seeking out experiences that allow them to give back.
The pandemic also delivered some short-term positive impacts to the environment, and future tourists may take increasing care to reduce the harm they cause to the planet during their travels.
Before COVID-19 hit, we were seeing a rise in ‘flight shame’, an anti-flying movement which began in Sweden that discouraged people from taking long-haul trips.
“Suddenly your long-haul trip wasn’t a symbol of status any more, it turned into a symbol of shame. So that was a complete 180-degree turnaround from what travel is in many countries,” says Albrecht. Shaming people for flying might be an extreme example, but Albrecht does think climate change considerations will continue to alter how we travel. “It’s a very fascinating space to watch, because we have these pressures of climate change on the one hand, but we also have the needs of livelihoods of tourism businesses. And of course we all like to travel,” she says.
THE HOLIDAY OF A LIFETIME
After a year where COVID made our decisions for us, many are eager to make up for lost time and lost experiences. And as a result, people seem to be preparing to splurge when they are finally allowed to travel internationally again.
“People are champing at the bit to get out; they’re willing to reward themselves a little bit more for all the things they missed out in the last year. And what that actually means is that they can take those trips that perhaps were a little bit stretching the budget in the past,” says Wood.
However, this eagerness to plan the ultimate vacation means experiences are starting to book up further in advance, so if you intend to embark on a similar holiday yourself, you’d better get cracking. Wood says a lot of high-end accommodation and experiences are already filling up for 2022. “Particularly in places like Africa and Europe, which have quite limited high-end spots, a lot of them are already full for next year.”