Post-Covid Tourism & Travel Trends to Look Out For
Tourism has undoubtedly been one of the hardest hit industries due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Sri Lanka, tourist arrivals from January-March 2020 were a mere 1/2million in comparison to 2.3 million in 2018 and 1.9 million in 2019 (Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority / SLTDA). Coronavirus has impacted every economy and every individual on this planet, however with vaccination rates improving each day, people are now wanting to leave the safety of their homes, to explore the world once more. However our collective experience with the Covid-19 pandemic will most likely change HOW we choose to travel, as well as the kind of travel experiences we will seek.
Conscious Travel – Exploring The World Whilst Doing The Right Thing
Repeated lockdowns and being restricted to the four walls of their homes or apartments experienced by most people in the last couple of years, has provided much needed pause to reflect on the things that actually matter. As global travel ground to a halt, it gave us an opportunity to reflect on what travel meant to each of us and how it was impacting the world around us. As a result, post-covid travel is likely to be more in the style of “slow travel” – the type of travel where you’re conscious about the impact your travel has on your own holistic wellbeing but also on the environment, local community and the world around you. The pandemic has made us all realize how fragile our lives and the world around us is, and that we are truly responsible for looking after it. As a result, tourism operators will need to step up their game in terms of how their day to day operations positively impact local communities and the environment around them. ‘Conscious Travelers’ will demand that tourism operators are more conscientious in their efforts to minimize their carbon footprint, stop using single-use plastic, provide jobs and other benefits back to local communities, treat animals kindly and protect and conserve the natural environment around them.
Experiential Travel – Immersive Experiences Bringing Countries and Cultures to Life
Covid-induced reflection has also made many realize our own mortality and with it has arrived a deep desire to experience the world with authenticity and to experience everything the world has to offer by immersing ourselves in the experience. This means a lot of travelers would rather spend the time thoroughly experiencing and enjoying local culture, food, history and nature at a destination, rather than travel ‘superficially’ i.e. tick-off a check list of “top tourist attractions”. Experiential tourism gives tourism operators the advantage of being able to sell unique experiences to their guests, rather than just a hotel room and meals. The Sri Lanka Tourism Revival strategy by Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority highlights this growing trend “The identification of Unique Selling Proposition (USP) of the destination is key and Sri Lanka Tourism needs to focus on experiences-based tourism activities, giving increased attention in the niche segments of tourism.”
Wellness Travel – In The Pursuit of Holistic Wellbeing
“Quarantine Fatigue’ refers to the negative mental and physical effects that have been brought on by the pandemic. For most people, being in consecutive lockdowns has been a stressful experience, heighted by the inability to spend time with loved ones and being kept away from enjoyable pursuits like outdoor activities, fitness and yoga classes, attending social events etc. As a result, society at large has become increasingly exhausted and anxious. Wellness Tourism has been a growing market for the last decade however, Covid has really put new life into this travel category. More people are now likely to want to spend their time and money on travel experiences that improve their mental, physical and emotional wellbeing, placing high demand on yoga and wellness retreats, spiritual events and ayurveda and spa retreats. Sri Lanka’s traditional medicine & ayurveda spas, buddhist temples, yoga & meditation centres, all set against the backdrop of the island’s inherently beautiful natural landscapes which are soothing to the mind and soul, gives Sri Lanka’s tourism industry an added advantage in capitalising on the rising demand for Wellness Travel. Recently Sri Lanka was rated #4 in the World’s Top Wellness Destinations. Operators must take heed and if you don’t already have a wellness offering within your business, it’s time to diversify and take the plunge.
Adventure Travel – Seize The Day!
Travel experts are noticing that more people are embracing adventure experiences than they may have done 18 months ago, possibly because we’ve all realised that “YOLO” (you only live once!), so we should make the most of it and live life to the fullest. For some that means climbing the highest mountain, going paragliding, trying out white-water rafting, kite surfing, rock climbing – the options are endless. Sri Lanka is well equipped to handle this surge in adventure tourism – hiking in the Knuckles mountains, white-water rafting at Kitulgala, rock-climbing in Sigiriya, kitesurfing in Kalpitiya – operators within these areas are likely to see an increase in demand for their offering and operators in other regions which have the potential to provide exciting outdoor experiences for thrill seekers, should look to diversify their travel offering.
Nature Travel – Letting Nature Heal Your Soul
There is no denying that spending time in nature provides therapeutic benefits. Science has proven that nature can actually heal and that is exactly why most of us yearn to spend time in the great outdoors when we feel emotionally and mentally drained. Many of us were denied this privilege during the pandemic which made a lot of us realise that having access to nature IS actually a privilege and should not be taken for granted. ‘Nature travel’ or ‘tourism that is based on the natural attractions of an area’ is therefore likely to be in demand in the post-Covid era, as more people will simply want to unwind, unplug and relax in nature, making up for lost time. Sri Lanka’s abundance of natural landscapes and rich biodiversity positions the country well in this category. Tourism in Sri Lanka has predominantly always been nature-based, what the industry must therefore focus on, is making these nature-based experiences sustainable, to support future growth in this sector.
Sri Lanka’s tourism industry has always been resilient. We have faced a 30 year civil-war, a tsunami, the Easter-Sunday attacks and now the Covid-19 pandemic and yet Sri Lanka is still one of the top destinations for global travelers. Recently being ranked 5th out of the ‘20 Best Countries To Visit in 2021’ by Conde Nast Traveler’s People’s Choice Awards demonstrated this. The Covid-19 pandemic has provided a unique opportunity for Sri Lanka’s tourism industry to reflect on its future. Industry operators must pay attention to the changing needs of international travelers and invest in creating experiences that meet their diverse expectations. We must prioritise improving service standards, making travel experiences authentic, community driven, environmentally friendly and ethical, in order to meet the rising demand for sustainable travel. Sri Lanka Tourism Alliance’s Conservation Tourism Trailblazers Webinar featuring leading tourism operators, highlighted how to run a profitable and sustainable tourism business in Sri Lanka. As borders begin to slowly re-open and global travel resumes in the post-pandemic world, simply promoting destinations and accommodation will no longer be sufficient. Sri Lanka’s tourism industry should leverage our natural advantages like nature, culture, community and traditional knowledge, to capitalise on these new travel trends.