Insights — 27 September 2023
by Chris Fair, President & CEO, Resonance
Over the past three years, we’ve witnessed the biggest disruption to the global travel and tourism industry since World War II. Fortunately, the sector bounced back quickly in 2023 and instead of discussing if or when travel will recover, destinations are now thinking about their long-term future once again and how the sector will grow, change and evolve in the years ahead.
Covid restrictions were devastating for the travel and tourism industry, but it was a boon for the manufacturers of many consumer goods as demand for durable goods, ranging from new appliances to new cars, soared. Of course as restrictions were lifted and borders reopened, so-called “revenge travel” sparked a rapid recovery in travel and a shift back to the consumption of experiences over material goods for many people.
While the pandemic accelerated many trends and new ones are continually emerging, there are several key mega trends that are top of mind for the Resonance team and our clients that have long-term implications for the future of destinations both large and small. Based on workshops we conducted in December with various industry leaders across Canada and the U.S., here are the six trends we believe will have the greatest impact on travel, tourism and destinations in 2024 and beyond.
1. Leisure Boom
While inflation has made travel and just about everything else more expensive, consumers are planning to spend as much or more on travel in 2024. Additionally, they intend to cut back on other spending if needed, in order to fund their trips, according to a recent survey by Ipsos for Hilton. Forecasts by the U.S Travel Association expect $1.97 billion to be spent on leisure travel in the U.S. in 2024 compared to $1.85 Billion in 2019. Adjusted for inflation, this is 104% of 2019 levels.
But this isn’t a new trend. In fact, spending on leisure travel and recreation has outpaced the overall growth in consumer spending over the last decade, and inflation-adjusted spending on leisure activities as a share of overall consumer spending grew from 9.5% in 2013 to nearly 13% by 2022. This means that the travel and tourism industry is getting a growing share of a growing pie, which bodes well for the long-term future of those hotels and destinations that cater primarily to leisure travelers.
2. Trip Blending
The concept of combining business and leisure travel is nothing new—the first references to the term “bleisure” appeared back in 2016. According to Ipsos’ survey of more than 10,000 travelers around the world, more than a third of Gen Z and Millennial business travelers plan to add some leisure time to their business trips in 2024.
While the industry has shifted to using the term “blended trips” to describe this behavior, the concept remains the same. What’s changed is the pattern of consumption. What used to involve adding a day or two on the weekend to a weekday business trip has shifted to the mixing of business and pleasure throughout the week. With a greater percentage of the workforce in the U.S, Canada and the U.K. only going into the office 2-3 days per week, workers from these countries are free to blend their travel for up to a week. And with as much as a quarter of professionals in the U.S. now working remotely, a whole new class of nomadic travelers has emerged who are able to travel anywhere, anytime—as long as their accommodations have adequate high-speed internet and appropriate workspaces.
The concept of living like a local has long held appeal to many travelers. The rise of Airbnb empowered many of us to do just that, staying in the homes of local residents and living like we belong. But as the popularity of Airbnb grew, opportunistic investors amassed multiple properties in the residential neighborhoods of many cities, operating them with little oversight or care for the residents who lived, worked and raised families there. Governments have moved slowly to regulate (and even slower to enforce) the regulations they did create, but the housing crisis in many cities has now unleashed a tidal wave of action and regulation of the short-term vacation rental industry.
For example, in New York City, Local Law 18 requires all short-term rental operators to register with the city and, with few exceptions, they must also live in the place they’re renting and be present when someone is staying in their home. The effect of this enforcement has eliminated most short-term rentals in the city. In British Columbia, similar regulations will come into effect May 1 this year in an effort to make as many as 16,000 homes available to full-time renters looking for scarce housing throughout the province. These are just two examples of the many jurisdictions that are implementing and enforcing much stricter regulations on short-term rentals.
But while increased regulation and enforcement of the sector will wipe out the businesses of many “professional” hosts and investors, it’s also creating new opportunities for cities and developers to create new neighborhood-oriented hotels that satiate travelers’ desire for local experiences while also being additive to the quality of life of local residents. For example, The Eaton hotel in Downtown Washington, DC, describes itself as “a welcoming and inclusive cultural hub for kindred spirits, locals, and travelers alike, to convene, collaborate, and create.” With a rooftop bar that appeals to locals and guests, meeting space that’s accessible and available to community groups, and co-working space next door, Eaton truly is a gathering place for visitors and locals alike. In Madrid, the first UMusic Hotel has been developed in partnership with Universal Music Group to make local music an integral part of the visitor experience while also becoming a creative hub for the local community.
4. Labor Shortage
The pandemic not only disrupted travel and tourism, but every element of the experience economy ranging from performing arts to restaurants. While demand for experiences has bounced back, the return of workers has been uneven across these sectors.
While employment and restaurants and food services are back to pre-Covid levels in the U.S., there were still 210,000 fewer people employed in the accommodation sector at the end of 2023 than there were in 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, there are fewer people working in the accommodation sector now than there were a decade ago and 82% of hotels in the U.S. are experiencing staffing shortages, according to a survey of hoteliers conducted by the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA)—with more than 100,000 hotel jobs currently open across the nation.
In Canada, the population grew by more than 1 million people last year, an all time high thanks to record levels of immigration. But the tourism sector has still not been able to find the staff it needs and, according to the Hotel Association of Canada, 2 of every 3 of accommodation businesses see labor issues as a significant business impediment.
If demand for leisure travel continues to grow, but the supply of workers does not, this will inevitably lead to changes in the level of service and types of future accommodations developed and the types of experiences destinations are able to offer.
5. Artificial Intelligence
The emergence of ChatGPT has made artificial intelligence a hot topic of conversation for virtually every industry. AI is already starting to be adopted by travel tech companies to create bespoke travel itineraries and improve booking experiences for travelers. Expedia has created its own plugin for Chat GPT and Trip.com has created an AI generated chatbot. Other large tourism companies such as AirBnB, as well as Priceline through a partnership with Google have also stated their interest in becoming involved with AI technology.
Just as the internet changed how consumers considered, planned and purchased travel, it’s likely that AI will be just as disruptive. And based on the pervasive labor shortages outlined above, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. AI will help frontline employees be more productive and deliver more value to guests. And whereas the proliferation of social media and platforms like Instagram caused everyone to want to see the same things and capture the same photos to post online, AI holds the promise of acting as a personal concierge and helping to create highly personalized recommendations and itineraries designed around an individual traveler’s interests and aspirations, thereby better distributing visitor traffic throughout a destination.
6. Climate Change
Last year was the hottest year ever recorded, and was likely the warmest the earth has ever been in the last 100,000 years, according to a report released this week by Copernicus, Europe’s climate change service. Climate change not only has an immediate impact on destinations when it comes to extreme weather events, but could also shift long-term patterns in the destinations consumers choose to visit as these events become more frequent.
Recent data from the European Travel Commission (ETC) showed the number of people planning to travel to the Mediterranean region from June to November had already fallen 10% at the beginning of 2023 (compared to 2022) while Nordic destinations saw a noticeable uptick in bookings. As the impacts of climate change become more frequent and more acute, there is also a risk that consumers decide to reduce their travel or not travel altogether in order to reduce their carbon footprint.
While global air travel accounts for less than 2% of global emissions (in contrast to the production of concrete which accounts for 9% of emissions), it is a highly visible use of fossil fuels and an easy target. In May 2021, France positioned itself as the frontrunner in a carbon-cutting train renaissance when its government enacted a ban on domestic flights where the journey could be done by train in under 2.5 hours. This was more good politics than good policy as it only affected two routes in the entire country, but it could set a precedent for other countries to follow. On the other hand, climate change could create a new opportunity for destinations to attract a new class of travelers looking to escape the heat and travel to cooler climates. And stay longer when they get there.
These are just a few of the key trends influencing the future of the travel and tourism industry. If you’d like to talk about the trends most relevant to your destination or development, we’d love to chat.
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