These are the questions whose answers one way or the other will define how travel moves on from here and what the coming future would look like. These broad lines of enquiry will define our coverage of the global travel recovery in coming months and years.
At Skift we pride ourselves at deciphering and defining the future of travel. In fact that has been our tagline for many years now. With the pandemic stopping travel of all kinds and a potential global reset of travel from here on, we have lots of questions about where our sector is going.
So we decided to write out these questions swirling around amongst the Skift team as a way to spur introspection and change in the travel sector, and kept on writing and writing these and came up with 100+ of them, 114 to be exact.
Our Skift Editorial and Research teams are in early stages of exploring these questions for the last few months through our stories and our Research Reports and these broad lines of enquiry will define our coverage of the global travel recovery in coming months and years.
In fact the answer to the hypothetical question I posed early this month “It Is April, 2025: What Would Your Letter About the Last 5 Years of Travel Say?” would in large part be determined by how the travel industry — and travelers — answer these questions below. Dig in below and send us your questions (or answers!) at [email protected].
Big Picture Questions
- Travel is the most consequential sector in the world, as we learned by the complete stoppage of travel over the last few months. Does it finally register to the rest of the world after, or does it become more inconsequential because people realize how they can do without it?
- What shape will the travel economy recovery take? Will it lead or lag the general economy rebound?
- How much of travel demand is permanently lost, versus just delayed?
- Will the travel industry lose its hubris after a decade-long growth hangover? What does a more humble travel industry look like?
- Will travel have its “fast fashion” moment — wherein people start to focus on the quality, not quantity, of their trips, and cut down accordingly?
- In a world that is already seeing an alarming rise of nationalism across the globe, does a sudden suspension of international travel further poison the well? With far fewer people able to directly connect and empathize with foreign cultures does protectionism grow even faster?
- If there’s a permanent shift in working from anywhere in a large part of the working world, does the dream of digital nomads finally become a reality, and how will it benefit the business of travel?
- Or, does the uncertainty and fear around the virus mean the myth of the “digital nomad” dies? Such nomads found themselves scattered all over the world, without being properly registered residents or paid into a public health system.
- Will governments reduce dependence on travel? Or will they continue to put quantity over quality as measure of tourism success?
- Does the progress in diversity efforts in the executive levels of travel companies and organizations stop as the primary motivation becomes survival?
- Will this bring an era of big reset of labor relations in travel, across sector? Or worsen it?
- Well this era spur automation in all parts of travel as safety and costs become paramount? Or does the opposite happen where labor is so cheap after this that it won’t make much of a sense for the companies to make investments in automation?
- Will there be a long-term labor shortage in travel, as the millions of individuals working in travel were laid off and might not come back due to the concern about volatility?
- Will the travel sector lose a couple of years’ worth of the best technical engineers graduating from schools as those young professionals prefer the perceived safety, stability, and quick rebound growth of companies in other sectors?
- Will consumer segmentation become ever more important, because the crisis heightens the differences among different types of travelers?
- Now that everyone is learning to bring travel to people’s homes, will they learn to monetize it?
- How will the dreaming and planning phase of travel buying cycle change? Will inspirational content play a bigger part?
- What does customer service in travel finally, finally improve?
- Will this phase accelerate digital transformation at large travel companies?
- What happens to the behavior of travel loyalty program members from here, and how do the loyalty program change to cater to the changed behavior?
- What happens to travel magazines and guidebooks, already on the decline curve? Does it accelerate the inevitable for them?
- In the short term how will the outbreak impact the accessibility of international travel? Will it move away from being a product attainable to the masses, and become more of a premium luxury good only for the elite few?
- How does this change the travelers/citizens’ willingness to give up more personal privacy (contract tracing, immunity checks at borders) in exchange for more freedoms/assurances that their health is being protected?
- Will the dramatic declines in carbon emissions and urban smog witnessed during the COVID-19 economic disruption lead to any meaningful changes in politicians’ and consumers’ attitudes towards the climate crisis? Or will all habits return to normal post-pandemic?
- Will the countries of the world get together and come up with a global passport of sorts to make sure that travel with the people who pose little health danger can travel seamlessly?
- Do the visa regimes that have been dismantled over the last decade, through E-visa and visaless travel, get reenacted because of security and safety concerns?
- Will industry associations see a resurgence in membership and fees because companies that are members of it see the value on lobbying with government and policymakers?
- Will travel and tourism finally make it as policy issue and agendas of political candidates during elections around the world?
- How does the check-in process at airports, hotels, cruises, theme parks or any other attractions in travel change? Will it change for the worse or for better?
- How do airlines that have restricted and constricted space for economy travelers over the years change as the need for social distancing continues for a while to come?
- Does the era of extra fees that airlines have pioneered over the last decade go away, as people just want to focus on basic low fares for a while to come?
- Is this finally the death of the dreaded middle seats on planes?
- Will the cancellation policies of airlines hotels and cruises continue to be flexible forever from here on, and how long?
- How will it affect ultra long-haul air flights, will they continue on the path as they were starting to or will that dream be put to rest?
- Will Europe’s fragmented market of airlines consolidate in a way similar to the consolidated airline market in the U.S., as weaker carriers fail, merge, or sell themselves?
- Does the travel retail at airports benefit even more as people spend more time at airports because of the increasing checks?
- How many air routes will get shut down forever?
- How will airport lounges reconfigure themselves for “social distancing” and “sanitation”/cleanness? No more buffet bars? More touch-less check-in technology to replace handing over IDs or other physical items?
- Will there be a massive competition on benefits among large-fee ($450 a year) co-branded travel loyalty credit cards as long-grounded travelers reconsider their options and what they’ll pay for once travel rebounds?
- Will there be a resurgence in service at hotels, something that has been on the decline for over a decade?
- How will hotel companies that have built an expectation for direct bookings and up-front non-refundable rates adjust to a world where many travelers want flexibility until the last-minute?
- Will a certification for the cleanliness of a hotel catch on?
- Do mobile keys finally become a reality at hotels?
- Does hotel F&B make a comeback as people want to stay on premises?
- What happens to all the sub-brands that hotel chains have launched, do we finally see a shake out there?
- What will happen to brands such as CitizenM, Jo&Joe, poshtels, etc, that encourage social interaction and co-living?
- Will hostels prove surprisingly resilient as young people feel fearless about the pandemic and return to travel quickly?
- Will there be a renewed interest in short term rentals because people want control over their own space? Or do they want the reliability of a hotel with enough services and hygiene?
- Is the masterlease model dead? Alternative accommodation providers like Sonder, Lyric, and others are laying off people while struggling under the pressures of 10-year leases. Was this ever a sustainable business model, and will it survive?
- How do the travel and hospitality and tourism programs and universities and colleges change? Will we see more students going into the programs because of a recession coming, as happens in every recession, or do less young people go into travel as a career because of the prognostications of a bleak future?
- Will virtual education and MooC courses for hospitality have a boom as the hospitality sector worldwide needs to quickly train staff in new procedures or, post-recession, train up new workers?
- Will more hotel owners decide to affiliate with a franchise to get under the safer umbrella of a larger brand / loyalty program?
- Will large financial investors continue to buy hotel real estate? Does this accelerate the trend towards institutional investors (i.e. bargain-hunters swoop in) or reverse it back towards more mom-and-pop ownership (i.e. large investors burned by the asset class)?
- Does domestic travel really have a big surge as everybody’s predicting?
- Could an increase in local tourism help residents connect with their local history and culture, leading to a resurgence in civic price?
- Does even domestic travel within countries get more limited as states or provinces put up more barriers to those outside its jurisdictions?
- Do remote and rural locations get overwhelmed as that’s the only place people want to travel from here on for a while to come?
- What does happen to overtourism in cities? Will cities be the last tourism destinations to come back, if ever?
- Will the crisis accelerate the fightback against overtourism as residents increasingly see foreigners as a health threat?
- Will Saudi Arabia that was about to make a giant push in the global tourism scene will have any chance of opening up and people going there?
- Will Chinese travelers remain the global force that they had become? Or do they become even more important?
- Will trains travel (aka Amtrak) make a comeback as people develop fear of airports, flying etc?
- Will the Great American Roadtrip make a comeback?
- Will natural parks and destinations with grandeur see a boom in visits as housebound, anxious travelers seek a spiritual reconnection with nature and things bigger than themselves?
- Will the travel influencers have any influence left after this? Or did they become even more important because destinations and brands need to spur demand?
- Do DMOs and tourism boards find new ways to fund themselves beyond hotel taxes, and indeed finally see the limitation in focusing strictly on arrivals?
- Could virtual reality start to replace real-life visits to famous landmarks? Will it get a second chance?
- Will there be a new shuffle of popular tourism destination countries/regions? What would be the next wave?
- Will leisure travelers require quadruple checking from multiple sources of information online before choosing places to stay? If so, will that mean that travel suppliers need to watch their social reputation more than ever? Will “social reputation monitoring” become essential rather than a “nice to have” for hotel companies and destination management organizations? Will hotels and destination managers need to over-communicate online even more vigilantly than before?
- What will be the wave of M&A happening in the travel sector, which sectors in travel will be most active?
- Will private equity’s role and sovereign wealth fund’s role in travel become even more significant?
- If the most profitable companies are ones with scale, and the giant conglomerates emerge the strongest from the crisis, how will antitrust regulators react, especially if M&A happens?
- Will cash-strapped destinations seek to monetize access to some of their premier attractions and cultural treasures through privatization? Think of the example of how private equity firm Carlyle Group invested in 2016 in the Inca Rail line that is a crucial access point for travelers to Machu Picchu?
- Travel will now be a debt-laden sector. Public companies have raised tens of billions of new bond issuances and large chunks of those SBA small business loans will not be forgiven. How will travel businesses manage to pay down these large burdens (if ever)?
- Does the U.S. government’s refusal to bailout cruise portend a (much needed) overhaul of how that industry is regulated in the US, where half of the industry’s market lives? Will the cruise companies’ business models survive this?
- Will the diehard cruisers return back to cruises faster than we all would rationally expect?
- Will river cruises (smaller, more spaced-out ships) rebound faster than ocean cruises if they can reconfigure themselves more quickly for new public health concerns?
- Will the cruise industry ever be able to attract new cruisers after this?
- Do the travel agents that survive this have a resurgence because people have realized the value of having a human to deal with all the uncertainties of travel?
- Or does technology finally leap forward such that the DIY really becomes possible in travel, as companies realize that tech investment is needed to deal with a huge customer service surge like happened here?
- Does this change travel insurance forever, with clarity instead of lots of terms and conditions? Will travel insurance (and travel booking financial protection services) flourish?
- Will the travel booking windows shrink, as we have seen early evidence in China and will this be a long term shift in behavior?
- Will packaged travel make a come back as people want more self-contained holidays? Will all-in inclusive resorts see a resurgence for the same reason?
- Are group tours over forever and will they give way to more solitary/DIY travel?
- Will tour operators (and smaller airlines and online travel agencies) radically change their businesses? Will they stop using cash deposits for advance reservations to fund their daily operations? Will they instead stash deposits into a reserve account?
- Are we at peak business travel? Will the numbers never come back?
- Will premium air travel be the first segment to rebound because executives and investors will be the most heavily incentivized to get back in the air to pursue their business objectives?
- Will ‘duty of care’, which business travel management companies (TMCs) have long touted as an added perk they provide to corporations, prove its value during the crisis and help TMCs grow market share?
- Does this permanently reduce or rewrite the role of the global distribution system as corporate travel may never fully recover and the airlines might be more willing to fight for newer systems as the need for better retailing strategies will only become more urgent?
- Is the era of giant conventions with acres and acres of land over forever? What will virtual look like for these conventions and trade shows?
- What does a hybrid physical and digital conference or event look like and how do you make it interesting for everyone involved?
- What will be the role of Convention and Visitor Bureaus going ahead in a virtual or hybrid events world?
- What will be the role of event venues going forward? How will they adjust to the virtual or hybrid events world?
- Will meeting planners insist contracts must include clauses on cleaning/hygiene standards?
- Will venture investors turn away from funding travel startups, generally not a big area of focus anyway for VCs historically?
- Airbnb was founded in the depths of the 2008/9 recession and tapped into a zeitgeist by offering cheap accommodations local connections. What startup will be the ‘next Airbnb’ to emerge from this crisis and what sector will it be in?
- Will there be one or a few strong disruptors from outside travel emerging post crisis? Who would they be? What would they bring to travel?
- Does the surge in venture investment in tours and activities and the sector itself that was going online so rapidly completely stop, and will it be reversible?
- Will venture debt gain share on venture equity as a preferred investment mechanism in the next two years, as VC cash dries up? Debt may work well for startups that offer subscription software and marketplace models, where they acquire some customers, and those customers start yielding fairly consistent revenue.
- Do the online travel agencies get their mojo back because of abundance of inventory from suppliers?
- Or will people want to go direct to brands because they know that’s the easiest in terms of cancellations and refunds?
- Will this phase also accelerate the consumer move to online travel/digital commerce in countries and geographies that were still skeptical?
- What happens to Expedia and TripAdvisor from here, two of the most troubled online travel players going into this?
- When, if ever, will Expedia and Booking return to bidding on metasearch at the same scale they were before this crisis?
- Will Ctrip/Trip.com Group turn out to be the relatively best-capitalized conglomerate to rebound most quickly, and will it go on an investment spree? Will it take near-majority stakes in geographic markets they have yet to penetrate, copying what Ctrip/Trip.com Group has already done in India with MakeMyTrip.
- Will Google Travel be transformed because of a falloff in advertising? Or will it gain even more importance as a semi-direct channel for brands?
- How do travel booking intermediaries whose core product is the distribution of non-refundable rates endure in a near-term environment where travelers seek flexibility in bookings?
- Is this the end of travel metasearch as a meaningful business model except for Google and Qunar/Skyscanner? Or will metasearch make a comeback as travelers become more price sensitive?
- Companies are examining budgets line-by-line and cutting the fat. What travel tech platforms are actually essential, and which were just nice to have?
- Will luxury travel be the last to come back and what shape would it take?
- Will “hygiene” become the new “wellness”? Will we see luxury hotels and resorts and first-class airline cabins invest heavily in touchless technology, voice-activated services, and more automation?
- Will wellness sector thrive even more? Will there be closer collaborations between hospitality and hospitals?
- Will health or medical brands invest in travel, the way luxury watch and clothing brands have had brand extensions? Johnson & Johnson Resort Maui?
- Does private travel for the affluent now mean private limo, to private jet to villa – a la travel in a private bubble? Will the “haves vs the have nots” take on a new meaning in travel?
Policy & Seamless Travel Questions
Airlines & Airports
Tourism And Destinations Questions
Travel Agents/Tour Operators/Booking Questions
Business Travel Questions
Meetings & Events Questions
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Online Travel/Tech Questions
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Tags: future of travel