Tourism trends post COVID-19

August 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected tourism industries and destinations severely. It leaves also its marks on tourism trends for some more years. In the context of an ongoing study for the European Commission, a survey on tourism trends collected insights from various players in the field of tourism (see more details). 

A first analysis shows that COVD-19 restrictions and uncertainties dominate the current trends and will play a role for some more years in the tourism sector. Over the next years, they will be replaced by trends related to behavioural changes in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prominent pre-pandemic tourism trends will come back again in the medium-term towards 2030. By then trends related to digitalisation and eco-friendly tourism are expected to dominate.

COVID-19 restrictions and uncertainties shape temporary tourism trends

Several trends related to restrictions and uncertainties due to the COVID-19 pandemics are currently relevant but will only have temporary effects. The top 5 temporary trends are access restrictions for tourists and visitors, overall decline in visitors and tourists, decline in businesses and employment in the tourism sector, but still some increase of domestic tourism, and fewer tourists travelling by plane.

Other temporary trends include short-term bookings, decline of business travel, increasing demand for accommodations other than hotels, less travelling in groups, increase used of visitor management tools, increased travel to neighbouring countries, decline in over-tourism, labour shortage in the tourism sector and decline of non-European tourists.

Behavioural changes define short-term trends up to 2025

Trends shaping the short-term 2-4 years perspective of the tourism sector reflect to a large degree behavioural changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The top 5 short-term trends are overall decline in visitors and tourists, especially of non-European tourists, while there will be more tourism to neighbouring countries, decline in over-tourism destination, and less traveling in groups.

Other short-term trends include increased focus on hygiene and health procedures, decline in employment in the tourism sector, overall decline in visitor and tourist numbers, short-term bookings, risk of labour shortage in the tourism sector, domestic tourism, access restrictions for visitors and tourists, visitor management tools, growing competition from international players, and increased challenges for small businesses through digitalisation.

Digitalisation and eco-friendly tourism are important long-term trends

Long-term trends for the next 10 years highlight an increasing focus on digitalisation and eco-friendly tourism.

  • Digitalisation in tourism will play an increasing role in the next 10 years. The trends expected to thrive in the long-term include more digital and information tools in tourism, especially tools to manage tourism destinations and businesses, increased use of big data for tourism and linked to that also the need for increased digital skills of people working in the tourism sector, and an increasing relevance of high-speed broadband connection at destinations. Other long-term trends in the field of digitalisation concern growing challenges and opportunities for small tourism businesses through digitalisation, but also growing demands for new skills for employees and entrepreneurs in tourism and emerging technologies which help to create new tourist experiences.
  • Sustainable tourism is also on the rise and expected to shape some long-term tourism trends. This concerns in particular trends pointing at more resource efficiency and circular tourism, increased use of eco-labels in tourism, growing demand for local and regional products, environmental management in tourism and a growing relevance of environmental-friendly local transport (public transport or e-solutions). Other long-term trends in the field of sustainable tourism include tourists choosing destination and accommodation based on their environmental footprints and possibly less tourists travelling by plane.

Beyond digitalisation and sustainable tourism, other long-term trends include increasing competition from multi-national and international players, risk of labour shortage, as employees seek jobs in other sectors, growing use of visitor management tools (slots, maximum visitors per day, crowd control etc.) and traditional tourist destinations may risk to become less attractive.

All these trends are expected to evolve differently over the next decade. Some trends are rather temporary and face constant decline over the next years. Examples for this are access restrictions for visitors and tourists, increasing domestic tourism, few tourists travelling by plane, and traditional tourist destinations becoming less attractive. Other trends will increase over the next 2-4 years, experience a peak in the short-term and decline again in the long-run. Examples for this are declining shares of non-European tourists, decline of over-tourism, overall decline in visitors and tourists, more trips to neighbouring countries and less group travels. Some trends are on the rise and increase in importance over the next 10 years. Among these are e.g. increased environmental management in tourism, increased demand for local and regional products, increased need for digital skills in tourism, increased use for digital control and information tools, and increased use of digital tools to manage tourist destinations and businesses.

This implies that tourism industries and destinations will have to work with the behavioural changes brought about by COVID-19 for some more years, while at the same time preparing attractive offers responding to the increasing demands for digitalisation and sustainability.

The final study will become available in autumn 2021.

by Kai Böhme

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