Even though right now booking a holiday abroad could land you with a £5000 fine, travel brands are readying themselves for the prospect of resumption of service in the not too distant future.

Online booking platform Airbnb has said it is preparing for a "significant" travel rebound as the world emerges from lockdowns. We’re also seeing new travel trends emerging, such as ‘bleisure’ trips where people are taking advantage of remote working to go on working holidays, as well as a resurgence of the road trip.

But, regardless of any prospective upturn, the world of travel faces dramatic change and brands need to adapt fast.

Travel brands are dealing with a new type of consumer – one that has to be tested, vaccinated and insured and has a different set of needs, concerns and expectations. Whereas previously travel brands competed on cost, the new battle ground is likely to be service and delivering value through enhanced service propositions. It’s no longer about the cheapest flight or hotel. To add value, brands have to step up in terms of safety, flexibility, and the experience they offer.

Obviously, travelling in a pandemic, with different countries emerging at different rates, means health and safety is a key priority for consumers.  Restrictions around travel, the necessity for Covid passports, lockdowns, and increased uncertainty overall, make travelling an infinitely more daunting and logistically challenging prospect for consumers.

Travel could also become more of a luxury enterprise, in the immediate future at least. The industry has been devastated by the pandemic and travel companies will need to recoup these losses. The entire model for operators such as airlines and hotels is based on maximum capacity, a model that is clearly hampered by the pandemic, social distancing and public-health protocols. In addition, many brands will need to dig deep in order to mitigate or circumnavigate the logistical issues around European travel brought on by Brexit. These extra costs will inevitably be passed on to the consumer.

Forward-thinking brands will start to consider to what degree they can curate the customer experience. Holidaymakers will require more hand-holding and guidance on planning aspects of their stay and their journey to safeguard their health and to ensure they have the best possible experience, with the ability to avoid queues and crowds as much as possible. Brands will have to work much harder to give travellers the reassurance and support they need. 

There was a time when designing a holiday, from booking flights and accommodation to arranging activities, was left to the travel agent. With this sort of personal assistance, customization and added support back in demand, and a shift away from the self-serve models, we can also expect to see a resurgence of that travel advisory role.

In order to own and manage the end-to-end experience, travel brands will have to work more closely together. This will create increased opportunity for brands partnerships and collaborations, across everything from airlines to Ubers and from hotel groups to content publishers. New York-based airline JetBlue Airways recently teamed up with a variety of partners to launch a new one-stop travel booking website, called Paisley, where travelers can book hotel rooms, car rentals and other add-ons, such as theme park tickets. Meanwhile, Airbnb partners with Flipboard, a news aggregator, to help serve Airbnb users with lifestyle content tailored to their interests.

A key issue yet to be properly debated is around data. Airline passenger data is already shared with governments, but now with requirements for tests and vaccinations, brands are helping with the acquisition and management of health data. This raises major issues around trust and privacy, with governments in different countries sharing health data and travel brands operating as an extension of public health management.

Along with the pressures, this brave new world of travel will present many opportunities. But in order to navigate it successfully, no brand can afford to ignore the new rules of engagement.