The Future Traveler: What Will Travel and Tourism Look Like in 2021 and Beyond?

February 18, 2021

The world of travel is changing. In fact, a Wall Street Journal article recently noted that COVID-19 may be here to stay, impacting our world much like the influenza virus has done for decades.

Yet with vaccine distribution on the uptick, and more standardization of social and physical distancing procedures, destination marketing organizations may soon find some semblance of normalcy. People are tired of being couped up inside their home, and many are hungry for their next opportunity for wanderlust.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Canadian households have accumulated an additional $160 billion in savings and U.S. households have saved an extra $1.3 trillion. There is only so much people can spend on food, alcohol (surprising… I know!) and exercise equipment, so how can destinations and DMOs prepare to tap into the pockets of an overeager travel segment?

Gen Z Will Propel The Sustainable Travel Movement Forward

Pre-pandemic travelers were increasingly seeking more meaningful and culturally-immersive experiences, but the pandemic has caused even more travelers to reevaluate their motivations for leaving home.

Almost every segment of the travel industry is focused on a more eco-friendly and sustainable future and travelers – particularly millennials – are looking to reduce their impact in a variety of ways. Travelers are starting to look for more off the beaten path destinations that are not as top of mind in an effort to combat the negative effects of over-tourism. They are also open to shifting the dates of their travel to off-season periods. As consumers reevaluate their lifestyle priorities, this will directly impact their travel behaviors and preferences.

This is a huge opportunity for smaller, less-known destinations, whose main draw is their cultural allures. There’s significant opportunity for them to encourage the return of visitors while supporting the sustainable growth of their destination with consistent, image-driven digital marketing and modest price points.

DMOs Must Rethink Their Approach To Marketing To Female Travel Planners

The pandemic has caused major fluctuations in the workforce. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 865,000 women left the workforce in September 2020 alone (compared to the 216,000 men that left their jobs). Much of the disparity between job resignation of genders is because of the difficulty many women have in sourcing adequate childcare during the pandemic. For many mothers, it simply became easier to stay at home.

So why does this matter? It’s important because historically, women have been the primary travel planners in American households. When women are not feeling like they are on firm financial footing, the messaging presented to them about why they should plan a vacation simply has to change. Destination marketers must champion a shift in messaging – moving away from “you deserve” themes and toward “an investment in your family’s future,” message.

Destinations need to make sure their experiences count. This usually means tailoring an experience to each specific traveler’s interests — which leads us to our next point.

Balancing Practicality and Personalization

The check-in desk, rental kiosks and restaurants have historically been some of the best ways for travelers to become acquainted with a new destination and immerse themselves in the culture. But with touchless check-ins and food delivery services, it is possible to experience a new destination while rarely seeing a live person.

While COVID might be here to stay, interpersonal touchpoints shouldn’t fall by the wayside. Destinations need to provide touchless experiences that make guests feel safe, but also must find new ways of making them feel welcome.

One study by McKinsey went so far as to look at what the future of personalization will look like through AI and machine learning. The study found that personalization has the potential to drive five to 15 percent increases in revenue and 10 to 30 percent increases in marketing-spend efficiency.

But personalization doesn’t have to mean revamping your entire marketing outreach. It can be something as simple as a personalized text message to a visitor upon their arrival, or customized email communications. Most destinations offer customer satisfaction surveys to travelers once their experience has ended, but pre-trip interest surveys should become the norm. This way, destinations can provide itineraries that cater to each individual traveler.

By thinking creatively, destinations can bridge the gap between practicality and personalization.

As vaccinations become more widely available and borders eventually reopen, destination organizations should be reevaluating their business practices. By deeply understanding their audiences and building more authentic experiences with a personalized approach, DMOs can help future travelers feel comfortable and confident in their choices.

Get in touch with Robyn Domber at [email protected] to learn more about how DCI’s 60 years of placemaking experience can help your business prepare for the future traveler.