Travel Outlook: Digital planning to lift bookings in 2021

Written By: Ronald Owili

Jiten Vyas, Regional Group Chief Operating Officer - Australasia, China, Africa and Europe & CIS, VFS Global.

The tour and travel industry couldn’t be more upbeat about the development of COVID-19 vaccines and subsequent mass vaccinations currently underway in various countries to aid recovery after the sector was brought to a halt last year.

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With some countries having begun vaccination of their citizens, news of a new COVID-19 variant now threatens to dim hopes of an expected rebound in international arrivals by the second half of the year after a turbulent 2020.

According to VFS Global, the world’s largest outsourcing and technology services specialist for governments and diplomatic missions worldwide, the aftermath of COVID-19 lockdowns will cause a significant shift in perception of holiday destinations, caution around air travel, increase in preference for ‘safe and trusted’ destinations, and hygiene concerns.

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“The travel industry will continue to adopt an increasingly digital ‘contact-less’ approach for most things – from travel planning to customer engagement, with greater assurance for sanitation standards, and possibly expanding terms of travel insurance,” said Jiten Vyas, VFS Global Regional Chief Operating Officer.

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Vyas says tourists will be dissuaded from unplanned travels such as impromptu long haul travels and instead they will be warier of where they stay, travel, and eat while opting out of any accommodation or transport that they haven’t had the time to carefully vet.

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He adds, “We expect to see an increase in solo/small group trips, well-researched and exclusive accommodation that allows you to check the health and sanitation standards beforehand, private transport (cabs, cycles, walking) – anything that helps one avoid sharing space with too many people and strangers.”

Tourists are also expected to give popular joints in their destinations a wide bath in an effort to minimize risks of contracting coronavirus, a move that is likely to reduce spending and receipts for host countries even as bookings begin to pick up by June this year.

Similarly, VFS projects many operators in the sector to enhance the digitization of their businesses such e-Visa applications, airport check-ins, hotel bookings as well as payments.

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“The summer holidays account for 60-65% of the yearly business for travel companies and tourism boards – which is a travel peak period across the globe. Having missed that window in 2020, however, we are likely to witness a similar peak period when international borders open for long-haul travel and people deem it safe to travel,” Vyas added.

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, the industry lost $935 billion in 10 months to October last year, as arrivals fell 72% as destinations lost 900 million visitors due to COVID-19.

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