With the global roll out of COVID-19 vaccines underway, we are all hoping for brighter days ahead along with the return of travel. But it’s also important to acknowledge that the experiences and customs we once knew may look different – either temporarily or permanently due to the pandemic. As the year progresses, what will travel look like? How can the hospitality industry restore traveler confidence while demonstrating resilience?

As COVID-19 wears on, 6 significant trends have emerged that will continue to shape hospitality for the months and years to come.

Go big (near or far): making travel dreams come true

As roads, skies, and borders eventually reopen to tourism, one thing is clear – travel desire and demand is there. In a recent Amadeus survey of 8,500 leisure travelers, 71% say they would travel immediately or within 1-3 months of travel restrictions being lifted.

Pent up demand will have people looking to tick off a bucket list trip by car or air, whether it’s walking the Great Wall of China, tracking the Big 5 during an African safari, or spotting the Northern Lights. These experiences can be made even more rewarding with the help of knowledgeable travel agents who can handle complicated logistics or vaccination requirements, while finding the best deals that may have been out of budget pre-COVID-19.

Nomadic travel: embrace working from anywhere

Digitalization accelerated rapidly over the past year as workers stayed home and many companies chose to close or consolidate office locations permanently. What does it mean for workplace culture as we knew it?

Many hotel chains such as MGM got creative by offering “work, stay, play” packages to entice these new digital nomads and address their needs. Rooms are marketed as safe, quiet places to work, and come with food and beverage credits and free parking, among other upgrades.

The Caribbean nations of Barbados, Bermuda, and Anguilla were also quick to tap into this trend, offering visas to remote workers wishing to swap their scene for a temporary island getaway. Expect plenty of people with flexible working and living arrangements to take up these offers in 2021.

The loyalty shift: better service for all

Before COVID-19, hotel rewards and loyalty programs were major revenue generators. Now, hygiene has become the critical currency as health and safety remain top of mind. The rise of the “Generation Clean” traveler – a new travel segment valuing cleanliness protocols above all else – necessitates a new approach from hoteliers about the way they communicate, market, and implement sanitization safeguards.

As part of our Amadeus survey, 2 out of 3 travelers agree that COVID-19 prevention measures are very important to know before choosing a hotel, and can be more influential in their decision to book than price alone.

Swipe right on tech: touchless experiences will inspire traveler confidence

In addition to enhanced cleaning programs, major hotel chains including Hilton, IHG, and Accor have modified the guest journey to minimize the number of touch points. Standard contactless experiences now include check in/out, digital room keys, room service, mobile payments, and more.

Not only does technology offer convenience for the guest, but more than 4 in 5 travelers feel it will increase their confidence to travel in the next 12 months.

Travel agents: don’t leave home without one

Research shows that global travelers are seeking more recommendations, support, and advice from travel agents during this time of uncertainty. Rapidly changing COVID-19 restrictions and requirements can be a challenge for travelers to understand alone, making travel agents a critical lifeline to anticipate and adapt to changes in plans and communicate those accordingly.

Strong partnerships between travel agents and hotels will also play a key role in recovery. When hotels provide travel agents with the relevant information (cleanliness protocols, operating conditions etc.) needed to instill traveler confidence, they can support travelers in their desire to leave home and increase bookings through the GDS channel.

Travel for good: a commitment to sustainability

The pandemic has given us all an opportunity to think about how we move around the planet and the impact it has.

While the hospitality industry has made tremendous strides in the fight against climate change, commitment to green initiatives rank high in importance for many of today’s travelers. In recent years, top hotel brands have pledged to reduce water usage, carbon emissions, and waste, while pursuing LEED certifications for properties, renewable energy sources, and locally sourced food.

As the world emerges from lockdown into a more cautious travel environment, both business and leisure travelers will be more committed to minimizing the footprint of their journeys and seeking out eco-friendly properties at their final destinations.

The year ahead

With 2021 comes optimism for the return of travel. What we know for sure is that people’s desire to travel – whether to find the perfect beach, climb a new summit, or even resume face-to-face business meetings – will remain unchanged.

In the meantime, hoteliers can and should be thinking about ways to adapt their business strategies to better reflect the evolving traveler journey and their heightened expectations of cleanliness and service. For more information on these topics, plus how to engage the all important leisure traveler during COVID-19, click here.