Forecast 2021: What’s next?
Time for all of us to dream again
VP National Sales
Before I start my predictions for scenarios for 2021, I have to contemplate first how 2020 completely unravelled for the entire travel industry, with the most disruptive economic hit ever to our business, worse than 9/11, SARS and the 2008 financial crisis combined.
I remember being at World Travel Market London in November last year and then at SATTE in Delhi in January, vaguely aware of a virus causing issues in a Chinese city called Wuhan, but it all seemed so distant and most of the world was oblivious to what the reality would soon become.
Thus, it seems highly dubious to make a forecast about 2021 that does not involve this pandemic in some manner, shape or form.
There has not been a segment of our business that hasn’t been completely gutted by this tempest and we have all watched as our friends and colleagues have been made redundant, we have seen many businesses close to folding and only propped up by some government funding but otherwise zero new revenue being generated. As we got control of our numbers and we started to open up out of phase 1 across the country, there was some very cautious optimism among us in the travel industry, but unfortunately at the time of writing, we have gone backwards in most of Canada – and across the globe – and the rest of 2020 looks to remain dire.
Many in travel have already written off 2020 and have already commenced looking into 2021 and beyond. What is this going to look like?
Awful to imagine
The worst-case scenario is that 2021 will be as cataclysmic as 2020. This would be indicative of all the vaccine research coming to zero fruition and countries being unable to manage their numbers.
This would surely be the death knell to most constituents in travel, and I believe that the agency community will be one of the hardest hit in this scenario. With almost zero revenue from March 2020 onward, and the trend continuing through 2021, it is impossible in this scenario to imagine any travel agency surviving a two-year period of zero revenue.
Compound this with tour operators experiencing the same drought a domino effect soon follows.
Even the Online Travel Agencies like Expedia and Booking.com – who have already done massive amounts of layoffs – will not be insulated from this scenario. I don’t care to dwell on this scenario, because if this is actually the future, the planet will have much bigger problems to contend with than simply travel being down: civil strife, a recession that makes the dust bowl look like a cake walk, etc.
A little too optimistic
The opposite of this scenario, the optimistic future, looks completely different. This would be a full recovery starting in the first quarter of 2021.
This would mean that the case numbers of the world have been managed between November 2020 and the New Year globally, and that the panacea, a vaccine has already been found among the handful or so of vaccines that are currently in phase 3 of testing.
This scenario would also require a monumental production and rollout of the vaccine to at least the developed world to get the global economy working again. Combined with a rigorous pre-travel COVID-19 testing program with rapid results, the human race could breathe a collective sigh of relief and we could put this horrid trauma behind us.
Between best and worst
But the more reasonable scenario is somewhat in between the doomsday and the blue-sky scenarios, and the most likely outcome for 2021.
Although the airlines are investing a lot of resources into rapid testing for pre-flight screening, this is never going to be adequate enough to compel responsible governments to open their borders to travellers or to waive the two-week quarantine upon arrival which is not in any way conducive to even a trickle of tourists rolling into a country.
Testing alone without a vaccine will never be the response the travel industry needs to survive.
This means that we are essentially reliant upon one of the vaccines being tested in the US, UK, Russia and China being approved to fight COVID-19 and to have the efficacy to eventually bring the holy grail to the planet, herd immunity.
Although one can read horror predictions of how long it will take to roll out a vaccine to 7 billion people every day in the media – and that could take a few years – for Canadian tourism purposes, what is really relevant to western countries is that the wealthiest countries get their population vaccinated and they can start exploring the world again. Canadians will flock south for a winter break again, revisit their plans to go to Europe for a summer vacation, etc.
But with first responders and those at highest risk being the first to receive vaccinations in any country, thus for consumers wishing to travel, there may be a considerable delay in getting the vaccination.
Probably Q2 is a bit ambitious to commence a travel recovery but Q3 seems reasonable for western economies. But as we become cautiously optimistic we must remain cognizant that it will take a year or two for numbers to really ramp up to 2019/pre-COVID-19 levels.
Hurdling the new bureaucracy
Other hurdles will include a possible new bureaucracy for travellers that the industry may have to adapt to, including health passports and record keeping identifying an individual as safe.
Travel is already a fragmented industry and it is difficult to see any sort of consistency being rolled out across the planet, and this will be a new challenge for all of us.
In fact, Qantas has already announced that if you are not vaccinated you won’t be flying their airline. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
Consumers are tired of quarantining and staying home. Consumers want to travel. As the Moderna, Oxford and Pfizer vaccines start to roll out, agency customers are going to start making their dreams come true again, they will want to travel and with a complex reality becoming the norm in travel, they will need agents more than ever to guide them and make them feel safe.
Ladies and gentlemen, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, we are almost through this.
We didn’t make it this far to capitulate.
Bring on 2021, bring on the commencement of a global travel recovery.
Our nightmare is nearly over. It is time for all of us to dream again.