COVID-19 is wreaking havoc on every industry – but the industry most impacted is undoubtedly the travel industry. Travel restrictions and movement control orders are severely cutting into the once-thriving industry, as travellers stay home.

With the travel industry accounting for 10 percent of the world’s GDP, the entire travel ecosystem is impacted. Airlines, hotels, tour operators, shop owners in tourist areas, the list goes on. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) has warned the COVID-19 pandemic could cut 50 million jobs worldwide in the travel and tourism industry, with Asia the worst affected region. WTTC’s managing director Virginia Messina told Reuters that the industry could take 10 months to recover once the outbreak is over.

In looking at travel trends over the last few months, we can see how companies can use this to plan their strategies during this period, and be prepared for the recovery once the situation stabilises.

According to data from Sojern, travel intent varies by region as the virus raced across the globe, starting in China, spreading across Asia, then jumping to Europe, and finally landing in the Americas. Generally, Western nations put stricter regulations in place, while citizens of Asia Pacific countries hurried to return home.

At this time, China is showing signs of stabilisation as the rate of COVID-19 infections drops in the country. However, universities around the world are closing for quarantine measures, leading to an increasing number of Chinese students flying back to their home country. Similarly, Chinese expatriates are returning en masse as other countries initiate lockdown measures, amid the Chinese government’s call for citizens to return.

Hong Kong, Singapore, and the Philippines, as well as South Korea, Malaysia, and Taiwan all have had early exposure to COVID-19 due to their close economic ties with China. However, they have had success slowing the spread of the pandemic due to fast, decisive measures. Strict travel restrictions, quarantine periods, and even city-wide lockdowns have seen these countries “flatten the curve”.

The data shows an interesting trend: flight searches spike each time a travel restriction is announced, followed by a sharp decline. This is in no way signalling a recovery for the travel industry – airlines have slashed capacity by as much as 96 percent. While this is painful for the travel industry, governments are indeed taking the health of their people and travellers very seriously – this is the best indicator for a true, long-term, sustainable recovery.


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