“There is no going back to travel pre-Covid. The pandemic was petrol on the fire, not the fire itself.” The Explorer Society co-founder and chief explorer Cameron Neil explains why the expected post-pandemic boom may just be heading in a different direction to where it was before.
Travel as we know it is dead. Long live travel.
To say the past eighteen months have been transformational is an understatement to say the very least.
From a fateful Friday the 13th in March 2020 to now, the travel industry as we know it has undergone both massive and dramatic changes.
There have been mass staff departures, company collapses, erratic borders and more pivots than a dance floor in Buenos Aires. The travel landscape coming out the other side will be markedly different from the one going in. But, in reality, these changes are long overdue.
In fact, the pandemic hasn’t changed the industry for its own demands but instead pushed ahead changes that were already in motion.
When I was a kid, the television only had four channels, five if it wasn’t too windy. If we wanted to watch a movie, we had the selection from the cinema or the video store. That was the entire world that was available to me.
Nowadays I have three paid streaming subscriptions and an assortment of free streaming services on hand.
I can watch the type of entertainment I want, whenever I want to watch it. I can cater my viewing to the mood I’m in, the time I have to spend, the location I’m in or even whether my three-year-old son is refusing to fall asleep and we are trying to keep the volume down.
Why on earth would I watch free-to-air TV without any choice over the content or the timing?
Travel is no different.
Long gone are the days when people wanting to travel were restricted to a limited number of choices in destinations largely unknown. There is both more choice and more information available to travellers than ever.
Why then would we assume that they would continue to book the same repeating circuit designed to cater to the general audience when they can instead have a holiday designed solely for them?
Why would they want to fight the crowds to experience a facsimile of authenticity in overcrowded piazzas?
The “standard tour”, before seen as the thing to do, will become the thing to avoid.
This is especially true post-pandemic when the thought of being confined to a coach with 40 other sneezing travellers makes people squirm. Instead, travellers will create, with the help of experts, the private trips and tailormade holidays that best reflect their interests and passions.
The same thing that happened to entertainment, to cooking, to fitness and even to news will happen to travel if it hasn’t already.
Not only that but for us at The Explorer Society it is far more interesting for us as travel experts, and often more beneficial, to customise a trip for a client’s interests than it is to simply place them on another tour cycle.
For all our talk of fulfilling our client’s travel dreams companies often prefer to squeeze people into pre-formatted itineraries so that they can instead dream of stable sales projections and growth.
There is and always will be a place for tours
Tours enable time-poor, low confidence, gregariously social or carefully budgeted travellers to visit places around the world. But, as an ex-girlfriend once said to me, it’s not what you do but how you do it.
Tours, and tour companies, need to adapt to the new movement in client customisation and celebrating the destinations as more than just part of a portfolio.
The pandemic has given people a chance to get off the treadmill and realise that their travel choices were often dictated to them, rather than by them. In addition, it’s also given the locals in these over visited places a chance to realise that the money brought in by tourism isn’t worth the destruction of what made their home, their home.
For all the talk of dolphins swimming in the canals of Venice, it is more the ability to walk around their own city and not have it literally sink beneath the weight of overtourism that has seen Venetians make dramatic changes to their acceptance of tourists.
I expect the locals of Reykjavik, Dubrovnik, Amsterdam and many others to do the same.
The scale of this grows exponentially when you realise that not only does this affect how you visit destinations but what destinations you visit at all. Both Europe (specifically the UK) and the US have largely dominated the media we historically consumed.
Today, thanks to the internet, the wealth of knowledge available and the increasing ease of travel has meant that destinations off the beaten path have been given their chance to attract visitors.
We are explorers at heart
At The Explorer Society, we will travel to astonishing destinations, without a European or US location in sight. No longer do you need to feature in an Indiana Jones film in order to attract visitors to your wonders, like Petra once did.
Travellers are looking for unique destinations away from the crowds. They are also seeking real experiences within them, not just glimpses from the coach window.
You can see the market for this growing, led by people like Lisa Pagotto of Crooked Compass. She has long championed the immense wonders of alternate, or stigmatised destinations, for people willing to travel beyond the norm.
Whilst the dominance of Millennial travellers might seem some way off, it’s worth remembering that some Millennials are already in their early 40’s.
We can’t rely on the lucrative Boomer travel trend and their travel preferences to sustain the industry forever. These younger generations are desiring in-depth experiences and choosing companies that are focused on customised, ethical and immersive travel.
In addition, these changes are also coming from within these travel companies as these same generations move into positions of change. Look at the great work Chimu Adventures has done with their local community programs in South America and focus on helping people.
James McAlloon was putting his legs through hell across the Australian outback for a great cause whilst the rest of us were making sourdough.
Intrepid Travel are leading the way with their attempts to make travel beneficial to all involved in the industry and championing responsible travel. These companies aren’t outliers. They are the future of travel.
There is no going back to travel pre-Covid. The pandemic was petrol on the fire, not the fire itself.
We are all looking forward to the recovery of the industry and the projected boom in travel.
However, the boom just maybe in a different direction to what it was before.
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