As I sat down to write an article for TTG one year ago, I could never have predicted the highs and lows that 2020 would bring. As it draws to a close, I sit in hope that the worst is behind us and a bright future awaits our industry as the world emerges from an enforced year of being at home, and rediscovers their travel bug.
Coronavirus has loomed this year like an oversized Sputnik-esque emoji above everything we see and do. 2020 will be long-remembered as the time when we saw a lifetime of change in a matter of weeks and months. An endless list of bad decisions, poor policy making and a distinct lack of clarity around this most heinous of viruses has put our beloved industry on its knees. Businesses have been destroyed and lives have been shattered in what has been the most devastating impact on travel since the Second World War.
For my part, I’ve seen this while starting a new business. Developing a new digital platform, supplier network and building a team, then launching that business in the space of nine months presented its own challenges – and excitement. Added to that we have all in our industry been forced to work entirely remotely, setting up systems, plans and execution virtually, all during an era of turmoil.
I’ve seen some things in my time in travel, having started my career one week after 9/11, working through a recession seven years later, dealing with an ash cloud three years after that, managing the impact of the Costa Concordia tragedy whilst working in cruise, and living through the collapse of several businesses over the last five years. You’d think it would all take some beating (indeed it does) and 2020 has done exactly that.
As a further key moment of 2020, I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge once more the very sad news of the passing of John Hays of Hays Travel, a legend in our industry. To repeat my comments of earlier this year, I think the emotional outpouring from the industry in general is testament to the man and his legacy. I was privileged to know John well and the one word I have is “respect”. My very best wishes to Irene and her family as well as everyone at Hays.
For some, coronavirus has meant the end of a living and in many cases the end of a way of life. For others it has been a journey of self-discovery: never getting through a meeting without hearing “you’re on mute”, “you’re still on mute”, “nope, still can’t hear you”, or “can you see my screen?”. Looking after your own mental health, and that of others, has never been more key at a time when it’s easy to despair about constant lockdowns and geographical tiering.
There is, however, always reason for hope, and this is where our history as an industry gives us all the material we need.
Travel bounces back, and I am convinced it will do so again. The news of a vaccine bodes well (albeit it with endless distribution challenges) but will take some months to come into fruition. I agree with the general consensus that we will see a small uplift in demand in January through to March next year and that this will increase further in April/May and certainly by the summer (of course, assuming the spread of the virus does not worsen dramatically over that period.)
Eventually though, people will holiday... holidays remain hugely sought-after and whilst we can expect capacity cuts and a cautious approach for 2021, most of the bigger operators seem to be returning to 2019 levels as soon as 2022 and comfortably so by 2023. Given the blows that 2020 has delivered, that’s a timescale which could be considerably worse.
Holidays are more relevant than ever and whilst over recent times we have witnessed seriously impressive product innovations which will continue to have their place, we are also likely to see strong demand for traditional “fly and flop” trips and UK holidays where the simplicity of a break and some time to relax will be more appreciated than ever before.
Slowly but surely we will move away from seeing the likes of deserted sports stadiums resembling a post-apocalyptic scene from a dystopian movie, instead looking forward to white sandy beaches where hotels and cruise ships eagerly await their opportunity to once again welcome customers with a smile.
Yes, this may seem gushing, but after 2020 perhaps you’ll forgive a desire for old-school values where excellent service, time away and the opportunity to recharge come together in the perfect storm. There’s more good news for customers too: a price war in this market is inevitable and whilst we’ll continue to see operators attempting to sell on product values and quality, the reality of “price is king” is likely to reign supreme.
Never before has it been so important for our industry to come together. The positive news is we’re good at it – in fact, we’re brilliant at it. There’s a reason why we have so many industry veterans and such long service. The opportunity to network once again is something almost everyone in our industry is talking about. Developing ideas with a sense of unity and gathering consensus on business principles and tech opportunities has never been more relevant.
ITT’s own annual conference plans once more to do exactly that in Istanbul in June, and is just one part of the industry’s calendar which, with a little luck and a lot of crossed fingers, will turn this industry back around and set it on course for the growth we know it deserves.
Whatever you have been through this year, and whatever faces you next year I wish all of TTG’s readers the very best for what may lie ahead.
For now at least, in the words of Mel Smith, have a bloomin’ good Christmas.