Since the pandemic took hold in March 2020, border closures and stay-at-home orders have caused economic disaster across much of the travel industry.

In November, although some countries remained closed to tourists – from Australia, Bhutan and China to Japan, New Zealand, Taiwan and Vietnam – borders reopen, testing requirements are easing and the end of Covid restrictions seems in sight. Then Omicron burst in. Reversing plans and wreaking havoc again, the new, ultra-infectious strain of the coronavirus has resulted in a new round of curfews, lockdowns and travel bans in its wake.

So what could 2022 hold for one of the world’s largest industries? We’re probably all anxious to go on vacation, but the New Year isn’t off to a good start. Big airlines have had to bring their fleets to a standstill as they seek to merge, and even holiday giants such as Germany’s Tui have had to lay off staff as bookings have dwindled.

Small operators continue to struggle

In the UK, the booking platform Hoo says even the global vacation rental boom has not saved the hotel industry from a 73% drop in occupancy from 2019. And small businesses Vacationers everywhere – the kind with owners who know all of their employees and suppliers, from airport greeters to camel guides – have had a particularly dark time.

“For 22 months, me, my wife, my sister and all of our employees have been desperately worried about our jobs, our livelihoods and our future,” says the owner of a family business organizing an active holiday in Scandinavia who asked remain anonymous. . “Every day is like waking up from a bad dream only to find yourself in a nightmare.”

Some of the changes the travel industry has had to make as staff shrink and costs need to be cut were inevitable, he says. “The end of the era of ridiculous night stand services, for example. I am more worried about the current collective mental health of the industry. I know good people who are broken, good people who have given up and others who are slowly falling apart under the weight of it all. The pressure has been relentless. “

“Hope for the best but prepare for the worst”

Hoping for the best but preparing for the worst has always been the unofficial motto of the travel industry. After all, these are the people who, at the best of times, have to regularly see, soothe, and restrain their guests through everything from canceled flights and flooded rooms to crocodile attacks. Companies that survive – simply – have done so by adapting nimbly to this The Economist calls “our new era of predictable unpredictability.”

Navigating through so many changes, cancellations, refunds, postponements, 100% flexibility had to become our new standard

Lisa Fitzell, General Manager, Elegant Resorts

“The way we operate completely changed when the pandemic struck in 2020,” said Lisa Fitzell, managing director of UK tour operator Elegant Resorts. “Navigating through so many changes, cancellations, refunds, postponements, 100% flexibility had to become our new standard. We have introduced low deposits, legitimate refunds, deferred balance payments. The way we operate internally has changed, all in order to be able to pivot and adapt to new rules and constantly evolving trends. “

Book today, fly tomorrow

These new trends include the desire to travel on a short-term basis, with the “book today, fly tomorrow” approach increasingly common when vacations are possible; a desire for remote and peaceful destinations rather than anywhere with crowds; and for group bookings. “Whether it’s extended families or a group of friends, we’ve seen a real increase in meetings and groups of 14 or more,” says Oliver Bell of Oliver’s Travels in London.

At luxury travel operator Carrier, managing director Mark Duguid sees his wealthy clients want bigger, better and longer vacations. “The demand for secluded accommodation in stunning landscapes far from city centers is greater than ever: lodges surrounded by nature, isolated chalets, luxury barges, boutique hotels off the beaten track,” he says.

Original Travel, another operator in the UK, has responded to a similar desire among its customers to end “disposable travel” with a Travel Less, Travel Better collection of philanthropically oriented “slow travel” vacations.

The rise of “slow travel”

Jonny Bealby, founder of Wild Frontiers in the UK, says the main change he has seen is in ethical and sustainable tourism. “Customers are now looking to make the most of their vacation with minimal air travel. They ask for trips such as our Slovakia bear walking tour giving back to local communities through host families, local drivers and local guides.

And if people take a long-haul flight, they want to make the most of it, says Jeremy Clubb of South American specialist Rainforest Cruises. “We have seen a dramatic increase in the average price spent on experiments – 180%, in fact. Is it because people have more disposable income because they haven’t gone on vacation in the past 22 months? Or are they splashing because they feel they deserve it after a rough time? Who can say? But people are definitely adopting bucket lists.

Even the best-planned trip can of course go wrong, and travelers are increasingly reluctant to take risks. “We meet many new clients who have never used a tour operator before and who understand the benefits of a seasoned sailor,” says Tom Marchant of luxury travel company Black Tomato.

True Traveler’s Covid-friendly insurance has also benefited from the change, said chief executive Tim Riley. “People are really taking the time to read their policies now. “

In search of well-being

A photo of the two bedroom overwater suite at the Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru in the Maldives (Courtesy: Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru) *** Local Caption *** WK03JA-TR-INSIDER-MALDIVES.jpg

Unsurprisingly, wellness vacations saw strong bookings. Resorts in the Maldives, such as the Joali and the two Four Seasons properties, have remained open during much of the pandemic. And from the retreat queen’s huts to Euphoria Retreat in mainland Greece, which launched its Feel Alive Again program to help guests “negotiate the post-pandemic world with fresh energy and vigor,” small, quiet spas have survived. by providing a true refuge for those desperate to escape the stress of confinement.

However, yacht charter companies have proven to be the big survivors of the pandemic. “The demand has increased dramatically,” says Nicholas Dean of charter and management company Ocean Independence. “It’s the totally exclusive element – the ultimate bubble. Guests have their own crew, their own boss and no need to go ashore. Nothing else is even remotely similar for those who want to travel safely.

“We have seen a much higher demand for superyachts, especially for multigenerational family groups,” agrees Dora Vulic of Sail Croatia. “There is also a greater awareness of environmental initiatives and our new fleet reflects this. Solar panels, water purifiers, electric hybrid motors and much less plastic on board are now commonplace. “

The pandemic has been a major catalyst in the digitization of travel services, with documentation, access to rooms and proof of vaccine status all transferred to our phones. Lynn Hood, COO of Focus Hotels, points to an increase in simplification, especially with hotel catering offerings, and a move away from cash payments.

However, it is the change in mentalities that could prove to be the most directional in 2022.

The little things in life

“I think people are more considerate than before the pandemic,” says Sean Moriarty, general manager of the Quinta do Lago hotel in the Algarve. “It made everyone appreciate the little things in life. People care more about the planet.

Kirker Holidays philosopher Ted Wake says: “We have all become much more aware of the extraordinary privilege of being able to glide effortlessly from A to B. And in the future we may choose to ration ourselves, to indulge ourselves. for more authentic experiences, take slow travel seriously. Frivolous indulgence belongs to another era.

Perhaps the last word, however, is worth going to Raki Phillips, Managing Director of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development: “Even before the pandemic, there was an epic shift in tourism aspirations, growing boredom with it. the homogenization of trips, each destination – and a desire to escape the state of mind of the resort.

“Covid has only accelerated this change. I think it’s important for destinations now to truly embrace the qualities that define them. This is the key to sustainable and transformative travel.

Update: December 25, 2021, 4:39 a.m.