Can travel survive the coronavirus?

Can travel survive the coronavirus?

The coronavirus effect

There’s no question that the travel story shaping 2020 is coronavirus, a global pandemic that has brought the travel industry’s gears to a grinding halt. The virus’s spread has put virtual walls around China, emptied Italy’s most-traveled piazzas, and stimulated flight paranoia and border closings that haven’t been as measurable since 9/11. Hospitality brands and cruise lines are suffering—but the industry segment that will arguably be most affected is airline travel, with $113 billion at stake.

Down markets have a way of fostering innovation, as was the case in 2008 when Airbnb launched. In uncertain times (and uncertain markets), travel businesses have more pressure to capture share of wallet and build better experiences for their loyal customers. The travel experience economy won’t evaporate during an economic pivot. It, in fact, has potential to grow as people look for escapism from the 24/7 news cycle—dreaming of future travel once the threat is over.

Our prediction? The outcome of this crisis will be travel brands leaning into e-commerce to capture more ancillary revenue from the $180 billion market in tours, activities, and live events. Inevitably, VR will see a jolt from the social distancing era as people spend more time indoors building wanderlust for that next move.

Navigating the quarantine market

Business travelers, beware. In the last three weeks, major tech companies have warned employees against “non-essential” business travel, leading to travel trade shows and major tech and entertainment conferences—most recently Austin’s South by Southwest—being canceled. With projections that air travel brands might lose as much as 19% of their business if the outbreak isn’t contained quickly, it stands to be asked:
What can airlines do to protect and engage their consumer audience during a period that has left industry leaders reeling?

Buy into solution thinking

Frequent communication right now is key. As major carriers publicly announce new route closings, it’s important that they also connect with their customer base about closures through email communication, social media, and messaging on their sales platforms. Some travelers are reporting feeling more safe to book and change travel in a time of uncertainty due to flexible flight change policies that airlines, like Delta, are implementing for the month of March. And recent data indicate that 90% of travelers haven’t canceled their future trips yet. While passengers “wait and see,” businesses can act. Consider being part of the solution: Pledge support for groups organizing relief efforts in quarantined areas—for example, fundraising or launching a donation drive to support organizations like José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen, which landed on site last week to feed quarantined cruise passengers in California.