Coming off the worst year in tourism history, there’s little sense of optimism in the travel industry in early 2021. Following an estimated $1.3 trillion loss in global tourism revenue in 2020, travel restrictions are being reintroduced in 2021 as governments are trying to curb the spread of new, potentially more dangerous variants of the novel coronavirus. While the brief recovery in the summer months of 2020 had fuelled hopes of a quick recovery for the tourism sector, those hopes have been dashed by the fall/winter wave of the pandemic. While travel experts are now very cautious in their outlook, one thing is for sure- the pandemic is changing the way people will travel and the way they will spend their holidays in the coming years. It is important to understand these emerging trends in order to be better prepared for the post-pandemic tourism, especially in Gibraltar, where tourism is the heart and soul of our economy.
Travel experts are now very cautious in their outlook.
Longer stay holidays will become more popular post-Covid-19, as travellers choose to ‘work from holiday’. The pandemic has proved to many employers that their staff can work effectively whilst working remotely and don’t need to rush back to the office. Connected to the trend for digital nomadism that sees people able to work from anywhere, annual leave allowances will become far less restrictive, allowing holidays to last longer. This means that you can squeeze a lot of time and activities into your vacation. You can book whitewater rafting packages from American Whitewater Expedition or explore more tourist spots in your destination city of country.
Moreover, the pandemic has forced us to slow down and many of us are not in a hurry to return to a fast-paced style of travel. The point-to-point holiday, whereby travellers fly to a single location and then return home, will be rivalled by an emerging trend for trips that occur at a slower pace, with more time spent at the destination. For Gibraltar, this could potentially mean more interest from visitors looking for an extended vacation here rather than being a day trip destination.
The Rise of the Independent Traveller
In the era of social distancing, group travel and overcrowded attractions will be replaced by independent travellers – be that a family unit, couples or individuals – preferring to travel on their own rather than being amassed on a tour bus with strangers, which carries the risk of the entire group being put in isolation should any of them be found to be infected. Similarly, travellers may prefer to avoid the crowds by venturing to lesser-known destinations or by opting to travel off-season. For Gibraltar this could mean seeing less cruise-liners’ visitors and organised tour groups, and more independent travellers which requires re-focusing on the way these visitors would need to be transported around Gibraltar, and be catered for (restaurants, shop opening hours etc.).
More Eco and Activity-Led Tourism
In the wake of the pandemic, people will be thinking far more carefully about the way they travel, and seeking out hotels and companies that are doing everything they can to minimise their impact on the planet. Early signs show that people also want to get more active on holiday and keep up the walking or cycling they enjoyed during lockdown. Many are also ready to tackle that challenge they’ve always dreamed of such as climbing up a mountain, deep sea diving, and other adventurous experiences. For Gibraltar, this opens potential for more nature-based and “green” activities, from e-Bikes and paddle boards to other water sports and wildlife related tours.
Many are ready to tackle that challenge.
Travellers who can afford to will be plotting epic, once-in-a-lifetime trips over the next few years, reflecting huge pent-up demand for travel after drawn-out restrictions. Living through a pandemic has sparked a re-evaluation of people’s priorities and attitudes. For many of those confined to their homes during lockdown, it has been a time to make plans. People are using this time to dream up the kind of big bucket list trips you never normally get around to planning. Locally this may mean, positioning Gibraltar in the luxury travel segment – a once in a lifetime destination offering once in a lifetime experiences, from helicopter tours to yacht sailing.
Technology is a major force in creating flexibility in the tourism industry. Technology can connect people without any physical contact. Thus, implementing technological innovations in the tourism sector can deliver a more personalised experience along with a more sanitised service- from digital check-in at hotels to smart apps allowing independent travellers to better plan their visit, reserve places at restaurants, attractions and events. Digitalising the Gibraltar tourism experience can open many opportunities for local retailers and attraction operators as well as enable stakeholders to gather Big Data on tourism trends to further enhance the Gibraltar tourism product.
In conclusion, it may not be until 2022 that all the countries of the world have reopened their borders. While there are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic, optimism is a choice – and when you view the world through a lens of positivity, you can start seeing opportunities instead of challenges. It may not always be obvious but the Covid-19 pandemic is giving the travel industry a chance to rebuild itself in a more ethical, considerate and regenerative way for the planet and its people. In Gibraltar, all stakeholders in the industry must work together to redefine the Gibraltar tourism experience in a way that will meet the expectations of the post-pandemic traveller.