Many of the world’s industries have experienced a jolted realignment in the last 12 months following the impact of Covid-19, none more so than the travel industry which has arguably been the most affected. With international travel at its nadir, operators have had to make quick adjustments while simultaneously trying to manage new traveller expectations, who themselves have had to find ways to tick off wanderlust lists without the freedom of international travel.
There is no doubt that the world has changed – and in the case of travel, perhaps it is a reset that was long overdue as overtourism grew rampant and unchecked over the decades. We look at some of the key trends that have impacted travel, many of which likely will be here to stay in one form or another.
Attention to local communities
While the world waits to travel internationally again, operators have had to shift their gaze towards local communities and in trying to entice the often forgotten local crowd to rediscover ‘home’. This goes beyond simply promoting special offers or discounted rates catered towards residents, and its roots lie in creating special experiences that will offer memories.
Aman crafted a seven-hour train journey that takes you from Indonesia’s capital Jakarta to Yogyakarta, and from there to Amanjiwo in Menoreh Hills, its luxury resort on the fringes of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Borobudur, the world’s largest Buddhist monument. The train traverses through the lush fields, pristine jungles and the treacherous terrain of Central Java, and the 15-person private carriage is accompanied by an anthropologist that offers cultural and historical insights into the region. While this experience is currently ideal for those residing in Central Java, it is one we hope to see stick around as it will also allow the international traveller in the future to experience a new part of the island that the one-hour flight from Jakarta to Yogyakarta simply cannot replicate and offers an added local touch that is much welcomed.
On the ultra-luxe side, perhaps the one industry that hasn’t suffered as much is private aviation. Demand for private charters and its sales is at an all-time high. As travellers look to reach their destinations by minimising contact with people where possible, and also to mitigate against the risk of airline schedules changing constantly in Covid-19 times. Especially when travelling with family or in larger groups, the cost of chartering a private jet for a short or domestic haul flight can often be comparable to booking multiple business or first-class seats, and of course with the added flexibility that flying private offers.
In a similar vein, private islands and private island resorts will be in high demand once travel resumes and borders open up again as people look to getaway to destinations with limited interactions and enjoying destinations more intimately or in smaller groups.
Private everything will be the key words of the day, from jets to islands to villas.
One of the most concerning trends prior to Covid-19 was the sterilisation of accommodation and the dreaded ‘mass market’ – in trying to cater to an ‘international traveller’, cookie-cutter behemoth hotels (or worse still, themed hotels that had no connection to the locale it inhabited) with hundreds (or even thousands) of rooms cropped up a dime a dozen; primarily in areas that were already overbuilt, but occasionally in unspoiled locations, immediately ruining the scene.
With eyes towards reducing contact, we expect the savvy traveller for whom private jets, islands and villas may be a little over the budget, to be looking more towards boutique accommodation, shunning the oversized resorts in favour of smaller, more intimate resorts with low room key counts that offer a more personalised touch.
Sustainability and environmental friendliness
While it is certainly the demand that drives the mass market to create these humongous cookie-cutter resorts, the role of the government must be accounted for. After all, final approval rests with many a government that has approved the building of such grotesquely oversized monstrosities, often making a quick buck on the way without real thought towards the future impact of environment and sustainability, as well as the type of crowds it may attract.
We expect more governments to look enviably towards the example of Bhutan, a country that measures its successes by ‘Gross National Happiness’, and has stuck with a clear tourism strategy in attracting fewer tourists but higher spenders.
When travel picks up once again, the demand for new experiences will be like never seen before as everyone gets the travel bug at the same time, after 12-plus months of being denied it. We just hope mistakes of the past will not be repeated, but that we learn from it to create a better future.
Contributed by Chinmoy Lad