The Future of Travel and Tourism

Looking Ahead: This article is part of an occasional series of bicentennial stories in which GW experts share their thoughts on what we can expect on a variety of topics as the George Washington University moves into its third century.



Larry Yu

Liang “Larry” Yu is a professor of hospitality management in the School of Business

By Liang “Larry” Yu

The COVID-19 pandemic decimated the international travel and tourism industry, and there is now hope for a gradual recovery of tourism due to increased vaccination rollout globally. As airlines return to more countries and cruises plan to start services to selected destinations with fully vaccinated passengers, what does the future hold for travel and tourism?

Travel demand will return significantly, though with varying levels of recovery in different consumer markets. Domestic leisure travel will lead the recovery, as postponed weddings, family reunions and other landmark celebrations will be rescheduled.

Then new demand for leisure travel will surge. After being confined at home and limited to local activities, people want to explore nature, experience wellness and adventure travel and gain authentic experiences in destinations. Independent travel and small group tours will be preferred over large package tours. However, the recovery of business travel will lag behind. With the effective use of virtual conferencing technology, business organizations will adjust corporate travel policy to balance face-to-face and virtual business meetings to reduce travel expenses and protect the planet—since less travel means less carbon dioxide emissions.

International travel will gradually rebound when countries reopen for tourists. Some countries will require proof of full vaccination (vaccination passport) for the foreseeable future. Tourism destinations demonstrating effective management of the pandemic—with deep cleaning, sanitation, ventilation and adequate medical services—will appeal to tourists who are mindful of health protocols and safety mechanisms. Tourists will place a high priority on transparent and trustful communication and information from the government and the tourism industry to build confidence for travel to international destinations.

Moreover, learning from the COVID-19 health crisis, tourism destinations will invest in smart destination management systems (SDMS), using an integrated digital communication and management system connecting all stakeholders to share real-time travel information, manage crowds and ensure sustainable growth; this effort will improve tourists’ experience and reduce pressure on the local community.

The pandemic helped tourism service providers leverage technology to improve management, communications and seamless service to enhance tourists’ experience and satisfaction. The application of contactless technologies will accelerate, including keyless entry, a voice-command device to access amenities and chatbots for online customer service. The promotion of virtual reality (VR) 360-degree tours and festivals by destinations around the world has become popular with people sheltering at home during the pandemic.

Tourism businesses will continue to use VR technologies to offer virtual tours of destinations and hotel facilities, virtual activities and virtual travel information searches and booking. The tourism industry can position this highly technology-dependent virtual presentation as the best alternative to the real visit. Smart operators can nurture consumers’ loyalty through virtual tourist experiences and influence their decisions to visit the destination in person later on.

While this pandemic tends to re-shape the demand and supply profiles of the global tourism industry, it has also made us all reflect on the economic fragility and inequality within destination communities around the world that depend on tourism and the critical importance of sustainable tourism development and consumption.

There will be a heightened awareness of future shocks disrupting tourism businesses, including potential climate change effects. Consumers will be more socially and environmentally conscious and mindful of an equitable and inclusive tourism economy, company values and behaviors, and responsible travel. Tourism organizations will refine their crisis management plan and strategy to create a socially conscious brand and will collaborate to mitigate the negative impact on local destinations. Tourism in the post–Covid-19 era will contribute to an inclusive global economy.