Travel CEOs and Executives Describe 2021 ‘Road to Recovery’ at World Tourism Summit
This week, more than 600 participants gathered to World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) Summit in Cancun, Mexico, to discuss the “road to recovery for travel” while simultaneously demonstrating the safety of new meeting protocols.
The purpose of the annual conference (which was canceled in 2020) is to take the pulse of the travel industry. Due to the Covid pandemic, this year’s event is more about resuscitation with an optimistic message about recovery. The dominant theme was that travel can return safely with more coordination and international efforts.
Opinion leaders on the future of travel
Vaccine passports and global deal essential
A major point of discussion focused on the technology the world should adopt to allow people to download and prove their test or vaccination status in order to allow borders to reopen safely. According to many panelists, the World Health Organization must issue a consistent message that travel can be safe if people play by the rules. So far, says Rita Marques, Portugal’s Secretary of State for Tourism, there has been no such overarching message.
Hilton CEO and Chairman Christopher J. Nassetta, who was the event’s first speaker, said such a unified tool would help travel recover quickly. He thinks it takes a unified effort (not country-by-country rules) to move forward. Speaking about consumer sentiment towards travel, “the desire for experiences and relationships has not changed,” Nassetta said. “The pandemic has only accentuated these trends.”
Travelers’ expectations may have changed, but the desire to visit new places and explore familiar favorites has not changed.
Governments, the private sector and travel agencies must work together for the recovery, said Matthew Upchurch, President and CEO of Virtuoso. No industry is as interconnected as travel and tourism, he added.
Demand is booming
On-site hotel testing and the ability to create resort bubbles to ensure travelers have a safe experience are the keys to the rebound, confirmed Alex Zozaya, executive chairman of Apple Leisure Group. His company sells travel packages for tourist destinations; he pointed out that future bookings are better now than they were at this pre-pandemic stage in 2019.
It’s not just outdoor and leisure markets like the Maldives that have good news for the future. There is strong pent-up demand for resort destinations, but business hubs and urban destinations are slowly starting to see a movement again, confirmed Greg Webb, CEO of Travelport, a global distribution system for travel companies. who can easily follow industry trends.
A new air bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore was recently announced, removing the need for quarantine when certain conditions are met. This supports the trend that people are looking for safe methods like travel bubbles and vaccinated flights that allow them to visit urban destinations.
Robin Tauck, co-owner of Tauck Inc, pointed out that 95% of his company’s customers (soon to be 97%) are fully vaccinated. This offers enormous potential for traveling the world. She noted that small-group travel and outdoor destinations are leading the way, especially in regional travel to the United States, but international travel still presents logistical hurdles.
Travel has a huge economic impact
Leaders from all corners of travel and hospitality shared the hardships and the bright future they see. In 2020, the global travel industry lost 62 million jobs and $ 4.5 trillion. Internationally, travel accounted for 10.4% of global GDP in 2019, but this dropped to 5.5% in 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic was 18 times worse than the 2008 global financial crisis for the travel industry.
North American tourism alone generated $ 240 billion in travel spending in 2019, said Arnie Weissmann, editor of Travel Weekly. The sharp drop in 2020 is simply not sustainable for another year given the number of jobs it supports.
Urban destinations in particular have their own challenges, added Fred Dixon, president and CEO of NYC & Company, who said leisure travel is leading the way in New York as hotel occupancy rates start to rise again. . Outdoor spaces, including streets now pedestrianized and used for cafes, are helping New York City see a faster return to normal.
Dixon noted that while a third of New York’s hotels are currently closed, he expects more to open in the coming months, including many new hotels that were already in the works. Despite the permanent closure of many hotels over the past year, he expects 118,000 rooms to be opened by the end of the year.
Sailing in 2020 was expensive and difficult
Throughout the event, panelists reiterated how difficult 2020 is, but how well prepared they are for a future recovery.
According to Arnold Donald, president and CEO of Carnival Corporation, it was difficult to operate and maintain their vessels without any income. He said they had to repatriate 90,000 crew members and 250,000 guests in the first months of the pandemic. Today they are operating safely in Europe and plan to restart other vessels in the coming months. Donald reiterated that governments and tourism industries must work together to “be on the same page” for a safe reopening.
Speaking to the in-person and hybrid audience via recorded message, Keith Barr, CEO of InterContinental Hotels Group, discussed the importance of being genuine and transparent with employees, which was essential for his business to navigate through the pandemic. As travel demand improves thanks to vaccines, Barr says he knows business travel, meetings and events will eventually come back with a vengeance, noting that the industry is resilient.
The new world of meetings
The hybrid summit incorporated in-person sessions with virtual participants from around the world. Conference attendees at Moon Palace Cancun were required to go through various security protocols upon arrival. Masks were needed and social distancing reminders were in place, and impressive cleaning standards included wiping down regularly touched surfaces. Before entering a room, staff took each participant’s temperature and provided hand sanitizer.
Guests were given “antiviral kits” in the rooms containing masks, hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes.
Arianne Gorin, president, business services, for Expedia, pointed out that depression levels are rising and Zoom fatigue is a challenge many businesses face. She has noted a change in the way her business clients view travel now, as less of a cost (or “line item”) and more of an investment in its people. His message was that travel would bounce back for sure, but also that it could be an important part of human connection and well-being.
In a message of hope regarding the recovery, Dixon of NYC & Company noted, “The trip is going to be a coil spring. It will bounce back quickly. “