These are strangely precarious and hopeful times. These are the big questions I have as travel is poised for a big recovery, even as some answers have emerged in the last year.
Before we know it, we will be two years into this coronavirus pandemic, two years through the toughest times the travel industry has ever faced in modern history.
In the naive and chaotic early days of the pandemic last year, we had so many questions about what shape the coming future of travel would take, so much so that I and the rest of the Skift editorial and research team banged out 114 questions on it, a lengthy list that we posted on April 27.
And as I wrote it then, “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.”
Now, 18 months later, so many of these questions have indeed defined thousands of stories, dozens of research reports and tons of work on behalf of our industry partners that our various teams have worked on since then. Many of these 114 questions have been answered in definitive ways, some we are just beginning to see the contours of answers emerge, some of the questions seem silly in hindsights, and many we have no sense of the answers so far.
One of the clearest answers to have emerged during this phase is that travel is NOT a human right, as the industry leaders had been saying for the decade of hyper growth, and if it was, clearly is the first to go away. Every calamity, every conflict, every geopolitical issue impinges its own rules and travel, the free movement of humans is one of the first to be sacrificed. The hubris is gone, and what has emerged instead is travel is indeed a privilege we have to balance with the complex, intertwined lived realties of the planet.
What has also emerged in the rebound of travel in sporadic spurts in the last year — mostly domestic travel — is that travel is indeed a human need, that connection that is fostered through traveling and meeting people is indeed the default human condition. The desperation to travel speaks to the desperation of connection.
So now the big question the industry and indeed the world of travelers have to answer: how do we weave these dichotomous threads of travel as a human need and yet a privilege that we have to take seriously? From this umbrella question emerges a lot of other questions and themes, so many of those came up last week at Skift Global Forum 2021, see our full coverage here.
In my opening presentation at the Forum, I posed these big questions as a framework of our discussions with travel leaders over the days of the conference. These big questions are what define our umbrella coverage of the return of travel as we come out of the lockdown era. Below are those questions, as I briefly elaborated on each of these in the opening talk, and the video is embedded below, the part about these questions starts at 6:15 in the video.
- Has this been a break from the past, or an acceleration of previous trends?
- What is the future of work and future of living? Because how that turns, so will the future of business travel and events.
- Does this era spur digital transformation & automation in the travel sector? How far are we from seamless travel nirvana?
- How will travel respond to climate change activism, workplace activism around wages, equity, inclusion & more?
- The noxious mix of politics & tech is destroying the world. What’s travel’s role in it? P.S.: Will travel and tourism finally make it as policy issue and agendas of political candidates during elections around the world?
- Will the world learn to live without the glut of Chinese travelers?
- Will governments reduce dependence on travel? And will they continue to put quantity over quality as measure of tourism success?
- How do we continue this renaissance in domestic travel? What does it mean for the travel ecosystem built for high-value international travel?
- Will consumer segmentation become ever more important, because the crisis heightens the differences among different types of travelers?
- Ummm … Will Certares own everything in travel, eventually?
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Photo credit: Moais statues, ahu Tongariki, easter island, Chile