Tourism in the UK is in suspended animation while we are all waiting to see what unfolds once Coronavirus subsides. There will undoubtedly be far-reaching impacts on our industry and although the situation feels dire at the moment, there will be a recovery for our sector which has proven time and time again to be resilient. Through Digital Visitor’s involvement with many industry networks and associations, we’ve collated information from a variety of sources to bring together our predictions on domestic tourism, post-COVID-19.
Some countries are already moving forward and have announced exit plans and I am sure the UK Government will follow suit very soon. In the case of the Czech Republic, exit plans have even been brought forward following a positive reaction to initial first steps. Outdoor areas of zoos and botanical gardens are already able to open and many other leisure facilities will be able to open by mid-May, including museums, galleries and art halls.
What we can say with certainty is that International tourism, both inbound and outbound, will be severely reduced for the rest of the year. People will not be allowed to travel for some time and even when they can, will they want to, or be able to? Some may be nervous of travelling for a variety of reasons including a fear of a resurgence of COVID-19, a lack of knowledge of a destination’s healthcare system and uncertainty as to whether future outbreaks will be covered by travel insurance.
We may see fewer carriers servicing fewer routes for the foreseeable future. The airline sector has already seen some permanent casualties, with many airlines seeking substantial government assistance. Recently Easyjet advised that it will keep middle seats empty to allow for social distancing after lockdown is relaxed. Reduced capacity will have an impact on price and I wouldn’t be surprised if airlines take this as an opportunity to remove less profitable routes altogether.
Whilst all of these points will contribute to a decline in international tourism, as confidence returns people will want to travel, have experiences and will want their holidays. There will be a replacement of holiday type rather than removal and so here are some of our predictions for the Domestic tourism industry for the rest of 2020 and the near future.
Following weeks of confinement, it is highly likely people will want to be out in the open and visiting the beautiful rural and coastal areas this country has to offer will be top of many people’s agenda.
We have an amazing tourism offering in the UK, which is often overlooked for the guarantee of a sunnier climate further afield. The lack of international travel will mean that people will be exploring our shores more than ever and there is a great opportunity for destinations and all types of providers to maximise this trend, not only for this year but right through 2021 and beyond.
Outdoor holidays will see a boost in bookings, especially in the early days of recovery. Camping and caravanning are focused around the outdoors, tend to be in amazing locations and they provide elements of social distancing with your own pitches, accommodation space and amenities, such as cooking.
I have seen many neighbours getting their tents out in their gardens and witnessed much more of this on social media, so I imagine people will be taking this further than their own back gardens when they can. The combination of being away in the glorious outdoors whilst keeping social distancing boundaries will be appealing to many and it’s also affordable.
Multi-generational and friend trips and holidays will increase
For most of us, being separated from loved ones over this time has been difficult and more people than ever will want to spend time together, sharing experiences and holidays with the people they’ve missed the most.
My mother has already had to miss celebrating one of her grandson’s birthdays and this will be the same for her daughter-in-laws birthday, and of course my own!
It is very difficult for people who are completely isolated and once restrictions are lifted, spending time with friends and relatives will become a regular appointment in many people’s calendars. Of course, this will be especially true if said friends and relatives live in remote and beautiful locations.
Extension of traditional holiday periods
Having already missed out on the Easter holidays and almost certainly the upcoming May half-term, I would expect to see an impact on traditional holiday periods later in the year. September and October often provide good weather and so many people will be looking to take more breaks outside of traditional key holiday periods.
This will certainly apply to couples and non-family audiences, but all audiences may look to take advantage of this even if it means taking their children out of school. In the grand scheme of things is an additional week out of school going to make such an impact when we are learning that we can home school for extended periods if we have to? Even if it is somewhat stressful at times!
This extension of the season will be important to help tourism businesses that need to make up for lost revenue in the early parts of the season and will hopefully go a little way to building up some reserves of cash to aid survival during quieter months.
Adventennials! Yes ok, that’s a ridiculous term, but this is an incredibly important point. Millennials are notoriously less risk-averse as a whole, they are used to travelling more, travelling to unusual places and participating in more adventurous activities and so their risk boundaries go further than many other groups.
I can see that millennials, including millennial families, will be the first to really embrace getting back to some semblance of normality and will be willing to travel further, do more and take more risks, or at least perceived risks, earlier than other age groups.
Large destinations will rely on locals
Big centres of population, for example, London, Birmingham and Manchester, will experience an exodus of people who have been confined there. Equally, for the rest of the population, there will be an avoidance of heavily populated areas, a desire to stay away from large busy destinations.
Whilst I do believe this is the case, it’s not all doom and gloom. After weeks of lockdown, people are going to be desperate to get out and in the early stages of recovery, people will stay local and for tourism businesses, targeting existing audiences, both residents and commuters will be important.
This is the opportunity to remind them what a great place they live and/or work in and how they can make the most of it. Thinking local will be a big part of recovery whereas previously things on your doorstep might be overlooked, now they will be seen as an exciting opportunity. The daily commute will be viewed differently so engage with commuters, encourage them to stay after work and entice them back at different times.
As recovery gains momentum, people will travel further afield and it’s important to make it easy for them. Provide example itineraries especially around themes or specific interests, highlight transport links and highlight things that will be important to everyone, such as great outdoor spaces.
Scotland to fly high
Scotland could benefit hugely – over the last few years Scottish tourism has been very strong and this will only intensify. The natural beauty combined with huge open, remote and quieter spaces will hold an even greater appeal, especially to audiences in the North of England who may previously have looked South for their trips.
Overtourism in popular destinations areas is a concern
Popular areas will experience numbers going from zero to crazy in a very short time and this may cause problems, not only for those visiting but also for the local communities who may well be resentful to the visiting hordes.
What could the impact of this overtourism on local communities be? Think of Venice before the crisis.
It is important to think about ways in which the volume can be spread over a period of time and encourage people to visit places outside of peak times and explore beyond the usual popular spots.
Impact on group travel
Attitude to group tours will change, especially coach tours. The idea of being confined in an enclosed space with lots of strangers will not be as appealing to as many people as before. Although coach operators may well already be planning to take the ‘Easyjet’ approach of leaving adjacent seats free to provide travellers with greater peace of mind.
There is however an opportunity here, as travelling with groups of family and friends will be of more interest and whilst demand for traditional group trips may decline I can see a demand for smaller groups of ‘known’ people increasing.
Domestic tourism covers a wide spectrum and I appreciate this article only scratches the surface of a complex offering. These are the top-line trends that we believe will impact domestic tourism over the coming months and years, and therefore we hope these insights have given you food for thought, and enable you to better plan for the future success of your tourism business.
Digital Visitor prides itself on its strategic thinking and digital marketing capabilities, and we are here to support our industry at a time of great challenge and great opportunity. If you would like to discuss any of these viewpoints and figure out how your organisation can capitalise on the new landscape we will soon find ourselves in, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Simon is one of the founders of Digital Visitor and has over 20 years marketing experience in the tourism sector, particularly with destinations and visitor attractions.