The past year has not been a great year for travelers.
Perhaps this is the reason why so many people are pinning their hopes on 2022.
Travel bookings and inquiries are increasing, according to travel insiders, on an upward trajectory that, if realized, could both benefit and challenge travelers over the coming year.
“People want to make up for lost time”
Travel in 2022 will be even busier than before the pandemic, said Brandon Berkson, founder of New York-based travel company Hotels Above Par.
“People want to make up for lost time,” he said, adding that potential customers have said their desire to travel next year is greater than ever.
Ben Drew, president of Viator, a travel company owned by TripAdvisor, said in December that demand for upcoming trips was “extraordinary.”
Beach and mountain destinations are popular, with bookings up 1,665% in Tulum, Mexico (seen here) and nearly 700% in Denali National Park from 2019 to 2021, according to Viator.
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“Travel has come back with a vengeance,” he said. “Even in the face of the omicron, travelers are booking more experiences than they are now before the 2019 pandemic.”
Data from Viator 2022 shows that bookings also increase from summer to fall, a time when travel typically slows down.
While acknowledging that 2022 could “bring challenges,” Drew said he expects it to be “a chapter of resilience, resurgence and growth for the travel industry.”
Is the industry ready?
While the news of a business boom is likely music to the ears of the beleaguered travel industry, it could be problematic if it happens too quickly, said Manoj Chacko, executive vice president of the management company. commercial WNS.
“The speed and strength of demand could catch some players in the travel industry by surprise,” he said. “Airlines, for example, might find it difficult to rehire pilots. Additionally, pilots might need additional training and skills upgrading programs.”
Airlines aren’t the only part of the travel industry that may struggle to hire staff this year.
Some 62 million travel-related jobs were lost in 2020, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. While many of those jobs are now back – in October, the WTTC estimated that industry employment levels would increase by 18% in 2022 – former employees aren’t rushing to return to their old roles.
Scorched by layoffs across the industry, some workers moved to other industries. Others are unwilling to take front line positions in a time of growing customer anger and aggressive behavior.
Spain, Italy, France, UK, Portugal (seen here) and the US are some of the countries facing staff shortages in the tourism industry, according to the WTTC.
Gonzalo Azumendi | Stone | Getty Images
One in 13 travel-related jobs in the United States is expected to remain vacant, according to a WTTC workforce report released in December. In Portugal, the figures stand at 1 in 9, according to the report.
“It is difficult to find cooks and enough servers to keep up with the increasing and recovering demand in the industry,” Jon Bortz, CEO of US-based Pebblebrook Hotel Trust, told CNBC’s “The Exchange” last year.
To fill the void, employees are working overtime and managers are “taking shifts,” he said.
For travelers, labor shortages can lead to travel delays and reduced services, ranging from fewer restaurant reservations to the elimination of daily housekeeping services.
“We were one of the first industries to be affected; we’ll likely be one of the last to fully recover,” Bortz said. “We would definitely ask customers to be patient.”
A boost for technology
A shortage of workers underscores the industry’s shift, which began long before the pandemic, to using technology to do some work in travel.
Tasks like room service and airport cleaning can be performed by robots, said Rachel Fu, chair of the University of Florida’s Department of Tourism, Hospitality, and Event Management. Hotels can also use “concierge robots” to help guests make reservations, she said.
“The judicious use of AI can dramatically reduce labor costs without sacrificing the level of personalized services,” Fu said.
It can help companies fill some labor shortages, but innovations that directly affect travelers can be even more important as companies continue to fight for tourists’ money.
Some hotels allow guests to check-in and check-out, book airport transfers, and make spa appointments through apps, like the one from luxury brand Four Seasons.
“Unlike many other hotel applications, Four Seasons Chat is powered by real people on site,” said Ben Trodd, senior vice president of hotel sales and marketing at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.
A technology called “HoverTap” makes elevators contactless. Created by technology company NZ Technologies, these elevators are used in Canada, according to company representatives.
“We will see a lot more contactless elevators next year” said Nima Ziraknejad, founder and CEO of the company.
Here is how they work:
The elevators are just the start. The technology can be used on any high contact surface, Ziraknejad said. The company plans to expand into self-service kiosks at airports, restaurants and hotels, as well as ATMs and aircraft seat entertainment systems, he said.
Soon, companies that have these technological advancements will have an advantage over those that don’t, WNS’s Chacko said.
“In some countries, passengers are still required to complete paper forms and meet the standards of officials physically handling their passports and other travel documents,” he said. “Elsewhere, for example, in Spain, most of the information… can be downloaded in one application.”
As customer expectations and the availability of contactless technologies increase, these advancements “will surely become a key competitive differentiator,” he said.