Last year was not a fantastic year for travelers.
Maybe that’s why so many are putting their hopes in 2022.
Travel bookings and requests are increasing, say travel insiders, in an upward path that, if realized, can both benefit and challenge travelers in 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 the New York-based travel company Hotels Above Par.
“People want to make up for lost time,”[ads1]; he said, adding that potential customers have stated that their desire to travel next year is greater than ever before.
Ben Drew, president of the TripAdvisor-owned travel company Viator, said in December that the demand for upcoming trips is “extraordinary”.
Beach and mountain destinations are popular, with bookings increasing 1665% to Tulum, Mexico (see here) and almost 700% to Denali National Park from 2019 to 2021, according to Viator.
M Swiet Productions | Moments | Getty pictures
“Travel came roaring back,” he said. “Even in the face of omicron, travelers book more experiences than at this point in the pre-pandemic 2019.”
Viators 2022 data show that bookings also increase from summer to autumn, a time when travel usually decreases.
Although he acknowledges that 2022 may “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 news of a business boom is likely to be music to the besieged travel industry’s ears, it can be problematic if it happens too quickly, said Manoj Chacko, executive vice president of business management company WNS.
“The speed and power of demand may put some players in the tourism industry on guard,” he said. “Airlines, for example, may struggle to re-hire pilots. In addition, pilots may need additional training and skills refresher programs.”
Airlines are not the only part of the tourism sector that may struggle to hire employees this year.
Around 62 million travel-related jobs were lost in 2020, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. While many of these jobs are now returning – in October, the WTTC estimated that the industry’s employment rate would rise by 18% by 2022 – former employees are not rushing back to their old roles.
Burned by layoffs across the industry, some workers settled into other industries. Others are reluctant to take front-line positions in a time of growing customer anger and aggressive behavior.
Spain, Italy, France, the United Kingdom, Portugal (see here) and the United States are some of the countries facing a shortage of employees in the tourism industry, according to the WTTC.
Gonzalo Azumendi | Stein | Getty pictures
One in 13 travel-related jobs in the United States is expected to remain vacant, according to a staffing report from the WTTC published in December. In Portugal, the numbers rise to 1 in 9, according to the report.
“It’s hard to find chefs and enough servers to handle the increase and rebuilding of industry demand,” Jon Bortz, CEO of the US-based Pebblebrook Hotel Trust, told CNBC’s “The Exchange” last year.
To fill the gap, employees work overtime and managers “take turns,” he said.
For travelers, a shortage of workers can lead to travel delays and reduced services, from fewer restaurant reservations to the elimination of daily cleaning services.
“We were one of the first industries to be hit; we’ll probably be one of the last to fully recover,” Bortz said. “We will definitely ask our customers to be patient.”
A push for tech
Lack of workers underscores the industry’s transition, which began long before the pandemic, to using technology to perform certain jobs in tourism.
Tasks such as providing room service and cleaning airports can be performed by robots, said Rachel Fu, head of the University of Florida’s Department of Tourism, Hospitality and Event Management. Hotels can also use “concierge robots” to help customers book, she said.
“Using AI wisely can significantly reduce labor costs without sacrificing the level of personalized services,” Fu said.
This can help companies close some job gaps, but innovations that directly affect travelers can be even more important as companies continue to fight for tourist money.
Some hotels allow guests to check in and out, book airport transfers and arrange spas via apps, such as the one from the luxury brand Four Seasons.
“Unlike many other hospitality apps, Four Seasons Chat is run by real people on the property,” said Ben Trodd, senior vice president of sales and hotel marketing at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.
A technology called “HoverTap” makes elevators non-contact. These elevators are made by the technology company NZ Technologies and are in use in Canada, according to the company’s representatives.
“We will see many more non-contact elevators next year,” said Nima Ziraknejad, the company’s founder and CEO.
Here’s how they work:
Elevators are just the beginning. The technology can be used on any surface with high touch, said Ziraknejad. The company plans to expand to self-service kiosks at airports, restaurants and hotels, as well as ATMs and entertainment systems for airline seats, he said.
Soon, companies that have these technological advances will have an advantage over those that do not, WNS ‘Chacko said.
“In some countries, passengers are still expected to fill out paper forms and follow the standards for officials who physically handle passports and other travel documents,” he said. “Elsewhere, for example in Spain, most information … can be uploaded to a single app.”
As customer expectations and the availability of non-contact technology increase, these advances will “surely emerge as an important competitive differentiator,” he said.