Who will be the first international travellers post-COVID-19?

Douglas Nicol
August 13, 2020
A man at an airport looking up at the departures board

As the full horror of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to sweep across the world, marketers everywhere are struggling to create reliable strategies for the future. This is particularly true in the world of travel marketing. For this sector, the burning question is how long will it last and, the truth is, no one really knows.

The Spanish flu lasted two years from February 1918 to April 1920, infecting almost a third of the world's population in four distinct waves. And, while the two pandemics have followed a broadly similar pattern, the sociopolitical differences between then and now, and the virological differences of the two diseases, make it very hard to predict when international travel will resume in any kind of meaningful way.

What we can start to think about, however, is who the first wave of travellers might be, what motivates them and what influences their decision making? We’ve been examining this question as part of our extensive Course Corrector research and analytics initiative, which aggregates first-party survey, search and social sentiment data across seven different industry categories. So, who are they and where should we focus our marketing efforts to build travel products and experiences that will engage them when the worst of the pandemic is over?

HOW will First Wavers be able to travel?

What’s becoming clear is the role technology and data will have on how people travel. This is especially true if travellers have to prove they are a ‘clean citizen’ before arriving in another country. This could be in the form of immutable biological proof that a person is COVID-19 free, that they’ve had COVID-19 and have a strong presence of antibodies as a result, or that they’ve been vaccinated against the disease – when and if a vaccine is rolled out.

Already, according to CNBC, The Maldives is planning to introduce compulsory COVID-19 testing for all arrivals and The Sha Wellness Hotel in South East Spain is requiring all guests to provide two negative tests — one taken several days before arriving and another upon checking in – before they can roam freely. Biology-based tourism is here.

These are just a few of the emerging technologies that government and industry are considering.

The Immunity Passport

This controversial approach was founded on the idea that the presence of antibodies in the body of travellers who have had COVID-19 – identified by antibody finger-prick tests – could serve as the basis for an ‘immunity passport’ or ‘risk-free certificate’, enabling that person to travel. While not entirely off the table, there isn’t enough research yet to suggest the presence of antibodies will make you immune from reinfection. Concerns that people may try to deliberately infect themselves with the virus, and the accuracy of antibody tests, are other reasons this solution has been put on hold for now.

Known Traveller Digital Identity (KTDI)

A major initiative from the World Economic Forum, the KTDI has brought together public and private sector organisations like the Canadian Government and Air Canada, and the Netherlands Government and KLM. This innovative piece of tech uses a form of blockchain to allow citizens to store and share their biometric data like vaccinations and immunity tests, all managed via an encrypted smartphone app.

Touchless Travel

The need to verify the identity of travellers in a hygienic way will lead to faster adoption of biometric identification, typically using touchless two-factor methods like face and voice prints.

In each of these scenarios travellers would be asked to trade in their privacy concerns for the ability to travel, ultimately accepting that conceding their right to anonymity once within another countries’ borders is the price to pay.  

Regardless of exactly how it’s done, Scott Morrison is set to become Australia’s next biggest travel influencer – at least for a few years. Our Course Corrector initiative confirms it, highlighting a huge surge in government as the most trusted source of travel information, leaving the long-term leader Trip Advisor in its wake.

The most trusted sources for travel information

WHAT will First Wavers want to do?

As part of our research, we monitor monthly changes in attitudes toward different types of holidays and accommodation types. In cruising, the views are quite disparate. For example, the prospect of staying on a cruise ship provoked two extremes with 40% of adults comfortable with the idea and 25% extremely uncomfortable with it. While this indicates that cruising still has a lot of appeal for many Australians, it’s interesting to note that 34% of those who are comfortable with it are over the age of 55.

When looking at the style of holiday people are interested in, however, there were clear winners. A notable 57% of survey respondents want chilled-out or relaxing experiences - a surprise given we’ve spent the last few months of lockdown at home.

My hypothesis is that slow travel – with fewer modes of transport, fewer countries visited, and more time spent away from tourist crowds – will be a strong value proposition for the First Wavers.

What types of holiday experiences will you seek out post-COVID-19?

Regardless of what mode of transport people use to travel or the style of holiday they want, there is an overwhelming desire for information on what measures travel businesses are taking to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For example, hotels probably need to go beyond talking generically about increased ‘cleaning protocols’ and consider more specific forms of reassurance, particularly for extra-germy gizmos like the TV remote control and communal spaces.

Strong or low desire to understand measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19

WHO are First Wavers? 

Who will be the first wave of international travellers and what do they look like? From Course Corrector research, we know roughly 20% of people are planning to spend more on travel when they can. Of this group, 62% are males aged 25-44. Interestingly, the geographic distribution of those who are planning to spend more on travel skews heavily to Australia’s worst hit state: Victoria. It could be that first hand, or at least close to home, experience of the virus will drive travel confidence in the future.

We also looked at the emotional state of potential travellers and their relative age and saw two peaks for those optimistic about travel – those aged 25-34 and 65+.

While we expect there will be some eternal truths in travel marketing – such as the quest for authentic experiences – many other things are changing. COVID-19 is reshaping our national psyche. It seems certain that we’ll remain a nation of travellers, but we’ll be asking more questions of our travel suppliers and seeking more reassurance to reduce any perceived risk. For brands, this may mean it’s time to revisit your audiences and start to understand more about the first wave of travellers – not to mention rethink what’s important to them, what their purchase barriers are, and what experiences will make them feel truly alive.

Written by

Douglas Nicol
Douglas Nicol
Douglas is a digital, direct and CX marketer and self-confessed data nerd. He loves using data and technology to solve client problems and has a special passion for emerging technology including chatbots and voice. Douglas also co-hosts the tech and innovation podcast, Smartdust.

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