Abta delegates urged to look beyond short-term economic storm

Dark economic clouds looming following the Covid pandemic are a short-term impact that travel must prepare for, but firms must also look at long-term trends, the Abta Travel Convention heard.

Tom Johnson, managing director of research firm Trajectory, told the annual event, that “it’s really important to understand we are playing something of a long game”.

He added: “A lot of the things that have been most impactful over the last 18 months will be fairly short-lived. These are all short-term trends, they are not going to define the next decade.

“There are some trends which had a life before the pandemic and there are a handful of genuinely new forces that have emerged.

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“It’s really important to think short-term and long-term. Short-term there’s more challenge on the horizon, some dark clouds.”

Johnson said supply chain shortages, pressures of government policy on consumers and rising prices will all have an impact on people who have been insulated from the economic shock of lockdown.

But he said this is just the second phase of the pandemic and will not be a lasting impact because “one thing that won’t change is consumers’ insatiable appetite for leisure and travel”.

Johnson said a number of things haven’t not changed following the pandemic like the ageing population and the baby boomer generation reaching retirement.

“This is a hugely important change. A grand challenge for most advanced economies. The baby boomer generation is the healthiest and wealthiest in history and they have an insatiable appetite for travel.”

Automation through technology will also continue to be a trend, although this might accelerate due to Covid, and economic rebalancing in an increasingly interconnected global world will also persist.

“The story of the twenty first century is a story of enormous growth of wealth, prosperity and opportunity in developing economies,” Johnson said.

“In some ways the world is getting smaller but on other ways it remains really fragmented. Our values are still very different from place to place and brands operating internationally have got to recognise these differences.”

Johnson picked trends that are driving change including growing concern for the environment which has bounced back since the pandemic much quicker than after the last recession.

And he said while pre-pandemic a lot of brands had got political, especially around issues like Brexit and human rights, Covid has prompted them to promote their more collectivist values.

“Now, we are seeing brands showcasing how they are helping with the recovery, how they are helping the little guy,” Johnson said.

Another impact of the pandemic that is likely to be long-term, Johnson said, is people’s desire to be outdoors, experiencing nature.

He said consumers are also more likely to want to plan to reduce risk and they are retaining their desire for digital, or online, leisure experiences discovered during lockdown.

This is being driven by a trend tracked over the last 60 years of people spending an increasing proportion of their time socialising with other people.

A “profound change” seen during the pandemic relates to attitudes towards technology, particularly among older generations which have traditionally been most reluctant to adopt digital services.

Johnson said technology was a “lifeline” to many of these people during lockdown and they adopted new skills to keep in contact with people and for day-to-day tasks like banking and booking a holiday.

And he said the changes in working behaviours are combining to drive the “deregulation of place” creating a “fourth place” – a work and leisure, virtual and real world hybrid.

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