If there is one single industry that has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic, that would be the hospitality industry. From the azure waters in the Maldives to the pristine white sandy beaches of Sultan Palace Kikambala, scores of people working across the industry’s value chain including holiday home resorts, hotels, tours, and travel, among other sectors have lost their livelihoods.
The virus has racked up a massive bill in terms of revenue lost since the commencement of its stay in early 2020. The East African, a regional newspaper, reported that hospitality industry players estimate the loss to be more than Ksh150 billion ($1.36 billion). The effect of this loss is evident when one visits top tourist destinations like Mombasa, Maasai Mara, and Naivasha. The containment measures by various governments not only in Kenya but across the world has taken a huge toll on the industry. Once vibrant establishments have been since shut down or operate on an extremely limited scale, surviving on a few tourists who are going against the odds to travel for holidays.
Even as the industry seems to be grinding to a halt and players struggling to stay afloat, it is important to focus on the future and think ahead. The most critical question that each industry stakeholder should ask at this stage is: how can the hospitality industry position itself for the future? Unfortunately, nobody knows when this dreaded virus will dissipate into oblivion. The epidemiologists opine that the virus will be with us for several years before its fully contained. This makes Coronacation the new normal for the hospitality industry. Below are a few projections on changes that we should expect going forward.
A Rise in Domestic Tourism
For a long time, the domestic tourism market has been ignored by most hospitality industry establishments. When asked, the majority believe that the domestic tourists have a relatively weak spending power as compared to the foreign tourists who jet in with dollars in money bags. Put in other words, foreign tourists have high profit margins than domestic tourists. For any business, this is perfectly logical, undoubtedly. However, the high prices have continued to lock out local tourists who would wish to visit the beautiful destinations across the country.
Nevertheless, the tides are changing. The arrival of COVID-19 has exposed the vulnerability of overreliance on foreign tourists. Having smelled the coffee, agile businesses in the industry quickly reinvented their packages to cater for local tourism. Many more are realizing the great potential that lies in domestic tourism. All that is needed is a mass-market product that would continue to drive reasonable profitability. Domestic tourism will rise and continue to take hold going forward.
There Will Be a Boom in Airbnb
There is no doubt that Airbnb has greatly changed the way we enjoy our holiday experience. Before its advent, holidaymakers had to put up at the hotels which were quite pricey leaving one with little extra cash to explore other interesting things within the locality. With the reduced cost, thanks to Airbnb, many more people are now going for expeditions. Solo travels/trips have become conventional. As hotels plan their recovery, given the devastating effects of COVID-19, we are likely to see a boom in the uptake of Airbnb vacation as people avoid crowded places and also try to save cash during these tough times while living fully.
When the world went into lockdown, the hotels closed, and international travel ceased. Those who still wanted to travel, although within the country, opted to do road trips instead. This has slowly morphed into a more permanent feature of holidaying experience. It is not an entirely new way of holidaying because it existed before but on a small scale. However, right now, it has become a mainstream feature where people either make road trips and return home or spend the night in an Airbnb if they cannot make it back. This will continue to hold as people seek out novel, richer experiences by visiting different places locally that are not on the conventional tour circuits.
COVID-19 Vaccination to Be Part of Visa Requirements
The announcement of the COVID-19 vaccine came with so much relief. It provided real hope in containing the pandemic after several months of groping in the dark. As the rollout continues, it has since emerged that most of the developing countries are not able to inoculate their entire population in good time due to cost barriers. This is going to adversely affect international travel. Vaccination will be part of visa requirements and travellers who will not possess a COVID-19 vaccination certificate will not be able to travel.
In the end, we will increasingly see well-to-do countries, mostly in the west, reopening borders among themselves and locking out the rest of the world who are inoculating their population slowly. Currently, one cannot travel without a COVID-19 testing certificate and in some countries, mandatory quarantine is required. These measures, although justified, will further complicate international travel and tourism. Already, there are countries with very tough visa requirements and additional conditions that will be a nightmare for globetrotters. We will see the operationalization of green zones, countries, where large swathes of the population have been immunized, will cooperate among themselves for the foreseeable future. Thereafter, when the vaccine has been widely deployed, the COVID-19 vaccination certificate will be introduced as part of visa requirements. This may last forever.
Indeed, there is no doubt that travel and tourism will be changed forever. Players in the industry must prepare to operate in the new dispensation. This should involve constantly tracking the changing taste and preferences among holidaymakers. The majority of these new behaviours formed during a pandemic are likely to last going into the future. To survive, it would be prudent to formulate a responsive business model.