The Covid-19 pandemic has presented the travel industry with a “unique opportunity” to return more responsibly, ease overtourism and create more socially conscious consumers.
That was the resolute message from founding partners of Prince Harry’s non-profit Travalyst – launched to promote and develop sustainable tourism.
Opening the organisation’s global summit, held virtually on Thursday (30 July), the Duke of Sussex urged travel businesses to “reshape” the sector “in a way that benefits everyone and everything”.
Following his speech TripAdvisor’s director of corporate communications, James Kay, offered a series of consumer trends seen by the company and influenced by coronavirus, and how they could be used positively going forward.
Kay said “a real shift” has been witnessed in customer interest surrounding business operations over health and hygiene protocols - which could herald a more socially conscious consumer in the future.
“When you think about that in the context of sustainability, our hope is that we can take that consumer mindset that’s more focused on the practices a business has, rather than the price it offers.”
Kay said TripAdvisor had seen “a desire to get back to nature” with destinations based in the countryside or on the coast recovering quicker than traditional city locations.
“We’ve talked over the years about overtourism as something we need to address. Now there is potentially a really unique opportunity to disperse the benefits of tourism to a wider set of destinations and communities.”
During the pandemic, TripAdvisor positive ratings for small businesses have increased, which Kay said showed consumers becoming “much more conscious” to the economic impact of their tourism spending.
"There’s a lot of attention on the tourism industry around the negative impact of Covid-19 has had but also the economic consequences of that and just how vital tourism spending is," he said. "There’s much awareness of that now and I think there is a real opportunity.
“Consumers are feeling more sympathetic and understanding how important their money is to these communities. Now how do we harness that in future to drive responsible behaviour?”
Speaking alongside Kay, Schubert Lou, chief operations officer at Trip Group said he believed: “The one good thing to come from Covid is the opportunity to reset.”
Outlining Trip Group’s recent findings, Lou said booking windows were shortening, in favour of last-minute reservations and more customers were seeking out cancellation policies.
Travellers also wanted to book certain elements of their trip, such as attractions, well in advance, which Lou said had led to Trip Group enabling more partners to operate pre-booking platforms.
He said the technology would offer more control over volume of visitors and the ability to cap numbers so attractions are less crowded.
“This is welcomed by the customer and that ability to prevent overtourism means we can start to build back more sustainably.”
Booking.com’s global manager, corporate social responsibility, Marianne Gybels, said its partners around the world “have a really strong need for education and training” to ensure they are ready to resume receiving visitors, and better investment to attract more travellers online.
Gybels said the industry’s return post-Covid was about “finding that balance between sustainable growth and responsible impact.”