Only a few months ago, the notion that a virus could send us home from work, keep us separated from our friends and families, and put a pause on all global and regional travel seemed wholly unthinkable.
Now, months into “Isolation Nation,” the idea that we could once again board a plane and go somewhere new feels just as unlikely.
But we are wanderers, pioneers, and travelers at heart — not just us here at Brand Bureau, but all of us here on earth. It’s in our nature. It’s part of who we are. We believe that this is not the end of travel, only travel as we know it. When we begin to venture further from home and re-explore the world before us, the companies and brands that persevere will be those that have changed with it.
For hospitality brands, messaging around safety has always been a catch-22 — we want to soothe the fears of nervous guests without introducing those same fears to guests who might have otherwise been unconcerned. Today, though, the paradigm has shifted, and what was once considered overly cautious or “germophobic” is now the responsible stance to take.
Many travel brands have carefully crafted messaging around their mission, destinations and sustainability practices, but few have the lexicon or communication tools to smartly navigate conversations around human health, safety, and hygiene. As the economy re-opens and travelers seek out brands that can satisfy their wanderlust (without putting their health at risk), the brands that succeed will be those that can relieve this new source of anxiety while maintaining an authentic brand personality and sense of hospitality.
Relocation > Vacation
Despite these troubled times, it’s hard not to appreciate the silver linings of this new way of life. Many of us have proved we can maintain productivity and connectivity while working from home — or, indeed, just about anywhere. At the same time, we’ve seen the pace of the world slow to a near standstill, and a renewed appreciation for life’s “simple” pleasure: time with family, access to the outdoors, a home-cooked meal, reading, writing, walking…
Smart travel brands will tap into these increasingly desirable luxuries. Less of a fleeting adventure, and more of a shift in lifestyle. We’ll replace exotic travel destinations with closer “upstate” escapes; urban experiences and cultural immersion with residential destinations and immersion in nature, be it beach, country, or mountain. Equipped with a strong internet connection and a bit of peace and quiet, we expect an emerging class of travelers to take advantage of this new, semi-nomadic way of life.
Rise of the Travel Club
Over the past few years, membership clubs have experienced a bit of a renaissance, bringing together like minded individuals over shared interests and activities. So far, these clubs have seemed niche or even peripheral, but in a world where who you’re rubbing elbows with could have literal, physical consequences, membership takes on a whole new meaning.
Beyond accountability, the beauty of membership is that it creates a self-fulfilling experience, connecting individuals socially, emotionally, and digitally outside of a planned trip or event. It makes members feel heard, seen, and appreciated — an increasingly rare luxury as we remain distanced and isolated. We expect to see growth and diversification of existing travel clubs, but also imagine smart travel brands will introduce new membership programs to keep their consumers engaged, inspired, and loyal.
Journey as Destination
With COVID-19, the biggest barrier to travel is travel itself. The forms of transportation we’ve relied on for decades — commercial airlines, national railways, intercity busses — remain high-risk hotbeds for contagion. It’s becoming increasingly clear that with proper precautions, space, and hygiene, we can slow and prevent the spread of COVID-19, yet these are factors that public transportation authorities have little control over.
On the other hand, private jet providers have already seen a surge in demand. As people begin to move about — whether out of boredom or necessity — private rides will become the new norm. Perhaps we’ll see revolutionized car rental spaces and experiences; or more millennial-focused economy lodging options. As airplanes begin to feel less essential to travel, airlines are going to have to figure out a way to go beyond addressing new health and safety concerns to create a comfortable, desirable experience guests actually want to travel on.
Wanderlust for Wellness
People have always traveled for the promise of health and renewal, in search of the apocryphal fountain of youth. Today, wellness-seekers travel far and wide for isolated meditations and yoga retreats; nutrient-rich hot springs and organic farms are the sites of world-renowned 5-star hotels. Healthy living has infused itself in our everyday lives; it only makes sense that it has become a part of our vacation goals and practices, too.
The best way to get healthy is to stay healthy — a promise we expect more destinations to build experiences around. From scientifically-driven diagnostic destinations that leave guests with a holistic understanding of their physical health status, to nature retreats and excursions designed to build strength and boost our immune systems through meditation and holistic therapies, there is a vast and nuanced world of health and wellness travel to explore. Today’s offerings only begin to scrape the surface.
COVID-19 has shaken the travel industry to its core, but at the end of the day, the need to explore, connect with others, and indulge our wanderlust will persevere. Travel may never look the same as it once did, but we are human and travel we will. The brands that succeed in this landscape will be those that not only help us safely navigate this new world, but those that inspire us to do so, too.