5 worlds millennial travellers could face in our new normal

At first an impossible thought, global pandemic forced millennials into a life of zero travel. But as the world begins its recovery, what does travel look like in a post-COVID world? We consider five scenarios using our millennial crystal ball...

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How the world will travel again post COVID-19 is anyone’s guess. This is unprecedented territory — our world had become more globalised than ever, then it all stopped almost overnight.

There are a lot of articles flying around predicting doom and gloom. But us millennials are used to working with what we’ve got, and using technology to help. So we’ve had our eyes firmly fixed on the trends that might carry us into this new post pandemic world. Welcome to our millennial crystal ball, where we offer some food for thought on what the future may hold 🔮

Here are 5 worlds millennial travellers could face.

#1 — A world where digital nomadism hits mainstream

Aside from those in industries hit the hardest (like hospitality and travel) — all my friends with office jobs were able to continue in their roles — from home. With digital nomad life already being an aspiration for a lot of millennials, the lockdown has finally forced older generations to appreciate how it can work.

In this world work and travel are blended — it’s no longer something only hipsters in Bali do. People of all ages spend months in different cities — all while working remotely, without skipping a beat. These ‘new nomads’ could re-inject the economies of the cities they land in. The losses of countries that relied on tourism in the old world could be off-set by these new workers.

With freedom of workplace more easily in reach, this satisfies our millennial wanderlust. Peak hour commutes become a thing of the past, we have more power over our carbon footprint and the ‘city centre’ becomes much bigger. Millennials spearhead this new way of living — we’ve been writing about remote working for years. And for millennial built brand Airbnb, stays of 30 days or more were already 15% of bookings.

#2 — A world that’s more settled, more localised, less globalised

There’s an argument that our millennial preference on ‘experiences’ over ‘things’ stemmed from two factors: (1) the global financial crisis and (2) the rise of the technology-enabled sharing economy. With the pandemic providing us another global crisis will we… revert back? Meet a world where millennials *gasp* buy houses rather than avocado on toast.

Well, maybe not quite. In Australia, the housing market could drop 30% in the next 3 years. So millennials face a great buyer’s market. But, millennial darling brands are also ‘growing up’— see Airbnb’s new move, where the company is betting on millennials favouring long-term stays over the high turnover rates of hotels.

Another foresight by Airbnb could come into further focus — neighbourhood guides. With more local travel, towns will focus on profiling their neighbourhood. They’ll showcase what makes them unique, with travellers eager to learn. Instead of ticking off as many countries as we can each year, we’ll tick off local experiences. Our wanderlust will shift. Smaller towns and cities will get a surge of tourism, and our dispersion will shift city centres.

#3 — A world where innovators and tinkerers thrive

Many articles have painted a bleak picture of future travel. One with sudden border closures and mandatory quarantines… Where flight prices go sky-high, and re-designs for socially distanced flights are condemned by airlines and not economically viable.

But constraints are where creativity flourishes. Us humans are a crafty bunch: meet the travel renaissance. In this world we’ll see novel innovations from creative tinkerers, small businesses or startups. Or partnerships with big players. All to find ways to keep travel accessible (and safe). Hints at this future are found in the travel start ups breaking through the pandemic.

Digital transformation was fast-tracked in the lockdown world. Large travel brands also downsized. Meet a world where greater focus lies on efficiency and customer value (over getting lost in too many moving parts). Travel companies will reduce, restructure and rebuild.

#4 — A world where the travel industry goes niche

Global lockdown collapsed the travel industry. Travel agents were stood down, airlines cut their workforce and tour operators were left to pivot their business. In a few short weeks, travel demand simply, fell off a cliff. But with many people who work in travel suddenly faced with free time, there is a wealth of knowledge, experience, skills standing idle.

Welcome to the world where more distributed travel entrepreneurs and innovative experiences rein. In this world, those idle travel skills will be put to use in different ways. Gone now are the days of super global operators like Contiki and Topdeck. Authenticity in travel (already a growing trend pre-COVID) will emerge front and centre. ‘Real’ travel stories will be provided to hungry millennials by less centralised operators. Human to human connection will be top of mind once again.

We can look to existing examples which are run solo or by a couple of passionate travellers—TBA escapes runs all-female tours and in 2019 Flying the Nest ran their first small group expedition. Larger operators are rethinking their approach too, like how to restructure their tour packages or offer local weekender tours.

#5 — A world where sustainable tourism is the only tourism

A byproduct of our always-on, ‘scrolling-through-endless-feeds’ life meant some of us were ticking off travel destinations like it was a game. But others were getting away from the screen and getting closer to nature. Interest in nature travel, solo trips, and off-the-beaten-path adventures was growing even before the pandemic.

In this world we approach travel with a ‘quality over quantity’ approach. We travel where there are wide, open spaces and less risk of crowded streets. Adventure travel with small groups rather than mainstream mass tours becomes the normal. Sustainable tourism is now more visible to the mainstream everyday tourist.

With countries more cautious than ever to allow people into their borders, our trips will be infused with volunteer or business work. #slowtravel will be the new trend — we’ll live in a place for a few months helping out in the local community, rather than passing through for a few days. Countries who relied on tourism in the pre-COVID world now benefit from ecotourism and sustainable practices.

Only time will tell what elements of these possible worlds come into play. Regardless, with any crisis we learn to accept — now it’s time to adapt. So let’s do what we do best and #hustle — let’s make the most of what this new normal will bring for the travel industry.

Which of these 5 worlds are you looking forward to?

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