It's not hyperbole to argue that the travel, tourism and hospitality sector can have a modern-day renaissance during the coming 12 months.
And it's a genuine one this time.
Almost two years into a global health crisis that has decimated economies, livelihoods and killed almost five million people (and left millions more with COVID-19's long-term affects), some early signs of a recovery are coming to many corners of the sector.
But business leaders now have some choices to make - decisions and shifts in strategy that will help shape travel for the years ahead in both positive and fundamental ways.
Some of those choices will not be easy, nor will that be acceptable to the status quo of those steering how brands operate now.
Yet, talk to many of the insiders, the industry analysts, the deep thinkers and those who have used the last 20 months or so to evaluate what kind of sector it needs to be and there is a sense that this is an opportunity to grasp the need for change.
Along with being stewards of travel comes great responsibility to care for the people and places that keep the industry humming.
Doing the right thing for our customers and the environment should not have to be painful. Things may never be the same, and the industry may not fully recover for years.
But after surviving all this time, there should be no hesitancy to make bold moves. In the silence of shutdowns and lockdowns, companies have had plenty of time to reassess and ideate. All our experiences – gratifying or troubled, planned or happenstance – have brought us to this very moment.
Now is not the time to loop backwards, but to look ahead, breathe deep and dive in. Look at our reflection and see the changes that have taken place, maybe without us even knowing it. Our thoughts and behaviors are different.
The industry is (or can be) a lot wiser...
Four ways to embrace the right kind of change
1. Building for a sustainable future
The climate crisis is not going away and the industry's role within it will only come under more scrutiny as each new report indicates quite how much trouble the planet might find itself in pretty quickly.
So it's time to act - beyond carbon offsets, points-for-trees and other micro initiatives. The mega-rich are throwing their best friends, celebrities and other wealthy folk into space for mere minutes, an illustration that with the right motivation that anything is possible.
Aviation talks a good game but, with the right motivation, it should be able to speed up its shift to bio-fuels at scale.
Accommodation providers can no longer provide services and facilities that do not have the best interests of the environment at heart.
Travel platforms should be more discerning with what they sell and how they sell it.
And destinations have a responsbility to their locals and visitors to ensure that the byproducts of overtourism and travel-led pollution are eradicated.
2. Fairness and opportunities for all
Huge swathes of the industry's upper echelons are led by white, old men. That's an uncomfortable truth, with few exceptions to the rule.
The role of the media in highlighting the inequalities that exist in the industry only go so far. It is now down to leaders in place to accept that brands will be better-run and more representative of their customers if diversity and inclusion are at the heart of their strategies and C-suites.
If this means accepting earlier mistakes (rather than attempting to bury them under the carpet), then so be it. A humble acknowledgement of past errors in strategy and behavior can go some way to illustrating that a modern industry must reflect the modern world.
3. Overhauling old technology, thinking about new processes
The majority of bookings are now made digitally in most developed countries - but much of the underlying technology is decades old.
Aviation has a particular problem in this regards, as many would agree, yet many tours and activities bookings are not immune to the age-old methods (ExCel spreadsheets, paper tickets, etc.) and many hotel systems cannot talk to one another in a seamless or efficient way.
This tardy approach to infastructure is changing but it can happen at a far quicker pace, with the net benefit being more efficient processes that help the end-user.
In addition, accepting that new technologies (just because something has the word "crypto" or "block" associated with it doesn't mean it should be automatically shunned, is just one example) can be used and adapted for the benefit of all is often more of a mental, rather than a technical hurdle to get over.
4. Collaboration in ways unheard of until now
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many to evaluate how they forge partnerships for the benefit of their own survival and their customers.
Competition in a capitalist economy ensures brands and organizations are kept alert but it should not impede the opportunity to establish forms of collaboration that ultimately work for the good of the industry and society.
If the industry is to take advantage of and operate within a world that is clearly more aware of health concerns than it was two years ago, then new types of partnerships might be required, unlikely or obvious.
There will be many who shun or scoff at the idea that the travel needs to change in fundamental ways.
But there are, whether they like or not, tough decisions to make across the sector that will be hard to manage and disappointing to many of those that want to see the status quo protected.
The travel, tourism and hospitality industry has a role to play - for better or worse - in the physical health and mental wellbeing of society.
These should be a challenges and opprtunities that are embraced for what they are: positive, beneficial to people and the planet - and for the long term.
What many fail to realize and subsquently accept, is that many of these of these changes may be forced on the industry anyway, on terms that are far more to difficult to work through.
The sector must act before it is left behind or left to fester in its old ways.
The Phocuswright Conference 2021
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