If there’s one industry that’s been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s tourism and hospitality. According to some predictions, the road to recovery could last until 2024.
However, some industry experts don’t see such a grim picture. Rather, they see the crisis as a rare opportunity to make improvements and transform the industry.
One of these experts is Willem van Rossem, a seasoned hospitality executive with international experience in hotels and resorts worldwide. He also teaches at several business schools in Barcelona, including ESEI’s Master in Tourism and Hospitality Management.
We spoke with Willem about the future of travel, the trends that will define hospitality post-COVID-19, and whether studying tourism and hospitality in 2020 is a good idea. Read on to find out more.
Is the travel industry dead?
As an industry veteran, Willem is optimistic about the future of travel and tourism. He thinks it’s important to remind ourselves that this isn’t the first crisis hospitality has suffered.
“People tend to forget how incredibly powerful and resilient the hospitality industry has been,” says Willem. “It overcame the 2008 financial crisis. And this time, it will come back with a vengeance.”
Willem points to Spain as an example of a country with a strong and competitive hospitality sector. Spain is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. In 2019, the country welcomed 83.7 million tourists, breaking the record for the seventh year in a row (Catalonia attracted the highest number of visitors, 19.3 million).
These incredible numbers translate into substantial contributions to the country’s GDP. In fact, 1 in every 7 euros into Spain’s economy comes from tourism. In 2018, tourism accounted for 178 billion euros or 14.6% of Spain’s GDP.
As Willem sees it, tourism is such an important part of the economy that it will inevitably bounce back. After all, it’s in the interest of governments and private businesses to see it blossom again. What’s more, the demand for travel is not likely to decrease in the long-run.
“Today, people see travel as not just a privilege, but a right,” Willem says. “We live in a globalised world where travelling is required. That hasn’t changed.”
When will the hospitality industry bounce back?
Since we don’t know how the pandemic will progress, it’s difficult to predict what recovery will look like for the hospitality industry. And, it largely depends on what kind of travel we’re talking about.
“Leisure travel will come back relatively fast, while business travel will take a bit longer,” says Willem.
Sure enough, in the past few months, there’s been a considerable increase in reservations in tourist destinations where lockdowns have been lifted.
“It’s clear that there’s a pent-up demand for leisure accommodation. People have been stuck in their homes for weeks and they want to travel,” says Willem. “We’re social animals: we want to spend time with others and share experiences,” he adds.
According to Willem, the segment that will take the longest to recover is MICE – Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions.
International events that amass large groups of people have taken a huge hit, and they will probably never be the same as they were before.
“Large events will continue to exist in a blended format – partially face-to-face, partially-online – just like education,” Willem says.
Willem argues that the industry will need to go through a transformation to respond to the circumstances brought about by the pandemic. According to Willem, “These changes will present opportunities for businesses in the hospitality sector.”
That is if they can respond to current trends and shifting traveller needs, which we’ll discuss next.
3 ways the pandemic has transformed tourism and hospitality
Willem’s advice is that, instead of focusing on the immediate effects of the pandemic on the travel industry, we should take a long-term perspective. That way, we can get a more realistic picture of how travel will have changed after COVID-19.
Here are 3 trends that Willem expects to continue to grow as the industry recovers.
1. Technology is here to stay
The global health crisis has accelerated innovation within the travel industry. The digitalisation of certain processes is suddenly seen as a requirement, not just an option.
As contactless payments, mobile check-ins and digital menus became the norm overnight, businesses that had been hesitant to take the leap were forced to accept that adopting tech solutions is now a must.
Willem expects that this trend – which had already begun before the pandemic – isn’t going anywhere. Hotels will need to reevaluate their use of technology and embrace digital concierges and welcome apps if they deem them necessary to improve their guest experience.
At the same time, there will be more of a focus on human connections. According to Willem, that personal touch can make or break the industry.
“Robot-run hotels are not the solution. The human factor will still be there – guests will just experience it in a more digital way,” he says.
2. Travellers will continue to look for unique experiences
The crisis has underscored another trend that had been taking shape for many years: the traveller’s quest for authentic experiences.
Even during lockdown, when virtual travel was the only option, people sought out unique ways to have a good time – as proven by the immense success of online Airbnb experiences. Now that travel is slowly picking up, this trend will continue to grow.
“People have limited resources, so they want their every dime to be well-spent. They don’t want to buy products or services: they want a memorable experience,” Willem says.
Going forward, hotels will need to go beyond just providing a bed and breakfast: they must anticipate their customer’s needs and offer unique experiences.
“The era of copy-and-paste-style mass tourism is over. People don’t want to go where everyone else goes. Travel will be more individualised, and accommodation providers need to respond to this trend,” says Willem.
3. Sustainability will take centre stage
The third trend that the pandemic has accelerated is the push for more sustainable travel.
Planetary and human health were suddenly thrust into the spotlight. We can expect that people will be more environmentally conscious and seek more ways to connect with nature than before.
“Travellers will want to spend more time outdoors, in the sunshine and fresh air. Hotels in rural destinations can take advantage of this trend,” says Willem.
Due to international travel restrictions, domestic travel and drive-to destinations have been on the rise. It’s likely that the local mindset travellers adopted in the past couple of months will stick around for a while.
“We’re seeing a greater appreciation for local and national treasures; our cultural heritage; nearby destinations,” says Willem.
As people opt for travelling by car instead of boarding a plane, we will continue to see an increase in local tourism.
Should you study hospitality in 2020?
So, the question remains: Is studying hospitality management in 2020 worth it?
Here’s what Willem has to say.
“If there was ever a good time to study tourism, it’s right now. The challenges of this year have put the industry on a pause, and at the same time, have given it a unique opportunity to stop and reflect on itself. As a student studying hospitality, you can be a part of the industry’s transformation,” says Willem.
Willem’s advice is to always have a long-term vision, accept that it’s going to be a learning curve for not just you, but the entire industry, and take advantage of this downtime to reinvent yourself as the industry is reinvented.
“Channel your doubts and create opportunities for yourself. With this experience under your belt, you will become a more resilient leader,” Willem concludes.
If you’re up for the challenge, check out our Master’s in Tourism Hospitality Management programme and apply now.