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The Ozempic Era Will Force the Travel Industry to Adapt

Skift Take

If travel companies are not thinking about the impact of GLP-1s on their bottom line yet – in 2024 they will.

In the ever-evolving landscape of health and wellness, a wildly effective new class of medications have captured the spotlight. The drugs, known as GLP-1’s, have brand names like Ozempic and Mounjaro. They were originally designed as diabetes medications and work by affecting how the body regulates insulin and delays gastric emptying – thus making users feel fuller, longer.

But as often happens with pharmaceuticals (think The Little Blue Pill originally created by Pfizer as a treatment for high blood pressure) it’s the side effects – in this case weight loss –  that’s captured both the medical community and public’s attention. 

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While TikTok and dinner tables are abuzz with chatter about Ozempic’s transformative effects, a shift looms for the travel industry. In 2024, the travel sector will begin preparing for a world where those who want to shed pounds actually have the tools to do so.

With analyst projections forecasting a staggering $100 billion GLP-1 market by 2030, and a 300% increase in prescriptions from 2020-2022, this year the travel industry will start to strategize how to adapt to this seismic change. Industry winners will be businesses where food and beverage constitute a cost rather than a revenue generator – airlines, all-inclusive resorts, cruises, experience providers, and tour operators stand to benefit, capitalizing on a leaner clientele. Theme parks, hotels, movie theaters, and entertainment venues relying on food and beverage revenue may face challenges.

Airlines, historically stringent in eliminating excess weight from aircraft, may experience benefits as a slimmer clientele contributes to reduced fuel consumption. All-inclusive resorts and cruise lines, operating on a model where upfront payment covers room and meals, will thrive as healthier vacationers consume less.

Experience providers and tour operators emerge as frontrunners, with 2023 data revealing a surge in bookings for physically demanding activities. Nature walks, bike tours, and hiking trips saw significant increases, reflecting a shift towards more active and health-conscious travel experiences.

Beyond the immediate winners and losers, downstream effects may ripple through the travel ecosystem. Passports, essential travel documents, may face an unexpected surge in reprocessing requests as people’s faces change from dramatic weight loss. It’s a criteria currently listed on the State Department’s website as a potential scenario where an update may be necessary. With an estimated 48% of the U.S. population holding passports, if even a small percentage of those on GLP-1 medications need their documents updated, that poses a daunting challenge for passport control and processing.

Currently, only 1.7% of Americans are prescribed GLP-1 medications vs the over 40% of overweight adults who would qualify. There are risks. Common GLP-1 side effects include gastrointestinal unpleasantness and rarely users may experience severe issues like pancreatitis.

The medications are currently expensive in the United States, topping $1,000 per month and currently not covered by most insurance. Most users will also need to stay on them for life to maintain weight loss. Despite this (or perhaps because of it), Goldman Sachs predicts that these drugs will be the most successful class of pharmaceuticals of all time.

What’s possibly even more interesting – the continued exploration of what these medications could possibly do for users beyond weight loss. Anecdotally, there’s significant chatter within the weightloss community about how these drugs not only decrease a person’s desire to eat – but also to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or even shop. Some see these drugs as anti-vice all together

What does it mean for travel if we take away some of the core activities that make vacation fun? In 2024, we’re going to begin to find out. 

The travel sector – like other industries – is on the brink of change as these drugs have seemingly provided a real solution to the epidemic of obesity. Most within the travel space are not yet contemplating the impending shift in consumer behaviors. However, in 2024 we’ll start to see the impact of these GLP-1 medications – and it will force industry leaders to recalibrate strategies. 

In short, if they’re not thinking about it yet – in 2024 they will.

Discover all of the Skift Megatrends 2024, as well as listen to related podcasts and view sessions from our New York City event.

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