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Travel industry strategies for a post-coronavirus world. As a physician by first training and a Futurist advisor / keynote speaker on industry trends and strategy to over 400 of the world's largest 2000 companies, with a proven track record of longer term forecasting over the last 25+ years, here are some guiding principles for airlines, rail companies, auto companies, hotels, leisure and hospitality industries beyond COVID.

The global crisis will accelerate many pre-existing travel industry trends, Most mega trends described in my books, including The Future of Almost Everything, will continue to shape the world as before, but the COVID pandemic will bring forward the timings of many key events. 

Here below are notes I made on 25th March 2020:  judge for yourself how right they were.  Travel and aviation industry trends unfolded during April to July 2020 much as I described below.

I predicted many times future global threats to the travel industry from new pandemics

I have warned for over two decades about significant threats to the travel industry from new mutant viruses which appear roughly once a year, usually emerging in Southern China (for reasons unclear), just one of many potential Wild Cards that could strike down successful global business.  For example, when the SARS outbreak began to threaten our world in 2003, my media warnings about the threats from new mutant viruses reached an audience of over 300 million.

As we saw in 2003, the travel industry, including hotels, hospitality and leisure, is uniquely sensitive to worries about contagion, spreading infections around the world. For good reason. In 1918-1919, in the age of horse and cart, steam ships and steam trains, Spanish Flu swept then world globally in just a few weeks and months, causing tens of millions of deaths.  I have a travel App on my iPhone which shows all planes in the air anywhere in the world - astonishing to watch the vast number of people flying at hundreds of miles an hour from one nation to another posing a much greater risk of rapidly spreading pandemics.

And we also saw major disruptions for other reasons - ranging from the fears following the 9/11 terror attacks, to problems during the 2008-2009 banking crisis, to EU flight disruption from volcanic eruptions in Iceland.

One reason I am so sensitive to the threat from new pandemics like COVID is that 32 years ago, my own medical practice, looking after people dying of cancer at home in London, was hit by a new mutant virus called HIV - 85 million deaths since then. And 31 years ago, I started in our family home an international foundation called ACET preventing HIV spread and providing practical support in many of the world's poorest nations such as Uganda, Nigera, DR Congo, India, Thailand and so on as well as in nations like the UK and Ireland. So yet another new illness, like COVID, is no surprise.  It was only a matter of when.

Need for Agile Leadership and Dynamic Travel Company Strategies

I have also warned many hundreds of times at global corporate events over the last 20 years that:

"The world can change faster than you can hold a board meeting. The days of having only one business strategy for a travel company are over.  You need plan B, C, D and E as well - because there is no time to plan when crisis hits, and in our hyper-connected world, the impacts are even greater and faster. That's why we need Agile Leadership and Dynamic Strategy."  I was not just talking about viruses - but a host of Wild Cards which can have gigantic impacts at the speed of light across nations and industries.

Book your own board strategy review and COVID update - contact Futurist and Physician Dr Patrick Dixon 

COVID pandemic will sweep uncontrolled across most emerging markets, rapidly

Whatever happens in the EU, North America, Japan, Australia and so on, 85% of humanity lives in emerging markets, many of whom have very limited health care facilities, and which are likely to see very rapid, uncontrolled spread, at a time when developed nations are still employing all kinds of radical strategies to flatten their own peaks of cases.  

The result will be that so-called herd immunity (when 70-80% of a population has immunity from previous infection) develops much faster in poorer nations, albeit with huge death rates amongst older and more vulnerable people.

Having said that, many emerging nations have high birth rates and young populations, combined with poor access to health care which means that older people with complex medical conditions tend not to live for many years in such situations. This means that the proportion of the population in such nations who would be likely to be severely ill with COVID illness is likely to be much lower.

What this all means is that regional travel business will be starting to return to normal much sooner between some of the poorest nations (within 3-5 months from their first major cluster of cases), who will be impacted by many deaths, but whose "community resistance" will climb rapidly to COVID.

However there are many unknowns - for example how long immunity lasts after infection before someone can be hit again by the same virus or a slight variant.

All travel and tourism business in developed nations likely to be impacted longer than in many emerging nations

Developed nations with the most powerful anti-infection strategies will have populations which are largely without any antibodies, for many months, maybe over a year.  Maybe longer.  Depends on many factors.  That will create an ongoing vulnerability to further rapidly growing clusters of infection, some of which may also become national threats, which may continue to disrupt travel or make travellers nervous. The only answer to this will be very large scale vaccination, when the technology arrives.

Google N1N1 and look at Wikipedia entry to understand this more - repeated clusters some time after pandemic.

For these reasons, paradoxically, travel business disruption may be much longer, and repeated, in many of the most developed nations, compared to some of the poorest nations.

Global Crisis will accelerate many pre-existing travel industry trends

Many things will change less fundamentally than you might imagine - in March 2020.  Others will change faster and further than many expect.  The key is knowing the difference.

Most mega trends described in my books, including The Future of Almost Everything, will continue to shape the world and how people travel as before, but the Coronavirus pandemic will bring forward the timings of many key events in the travel sector.


Airlines will consolidate more rapidly in Europe - following US picture over the last decade.  Larger airlines will be most likely to be rescued by government.  Borderline-non-viable airlines will be allowed to fold.

Physical travel agents will lose out even more in most nations to online travellers, with big jump in online hotel and air ticket sales which will only partially reverse after the pandemic has ended.  

Even faster growth of virtual working and virtual teams.  This will take the edge off growth of business travel but not as much as some expect, because of the human instinct to "breath the same air" when making big decisions.  In most nations of the world it will remain very hard to close important business deals without eating and drinking together.  Building trust is fundamental, and that will continue to mean global business travel, lots of it.

Many global trends will be relatively unaffected by COVID Pandemic

85% of humanity will still be living in emerging markets.

Most new middle class consumers and travellers will still be found in tomorrow's emerging markets.

The irresistible human desire to explore will drive growth in leisure travel and tourism - when this is all over.

Airlines will still rush to find ways to be more energy efficient, including experiments with new fuels.

Auto industry will still rush to electric vehicles, driven even faster by government regulations which will effectively outlaw new sales of carbon-burning vehicles within 20 years in many nations.

Governments will take radical action to support national economies

Expect Central Bank lending rates at almost zero interest or going negative to mitigate economic impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Expect large-scale printing of money (digital equivalent is so-called "quantitative easing") in an effort to encourage retail spending, leisure spending, travel, tourism and so on.

Whatever it takes to try to prevent this Coronavirus causing deflation and major recessions.

In the 2008-9 crisis, governments were worried about "moral hazard" - risks of bailing out banks and other financial institutions who may have contributed to the crisis any poor risk taking. If the bail outs were too generous, the argument went, banks etc might become even more careless in future. Hence moral hazard inhibited what governments did.

But this time around, there is no moral hazard.  There is no risk of rewarding poor behaviours in the past.

And because of huge steps taken to reduce risks in the banking sector, global banks are in a much stronger position on the whole than in the last, to withstand economic shocks.

The global economy was growing nicely before the crisis and many nations were seeing stable growth with low inflation, job creation etc, so the fundamentals are there for a strong recovery SO LONG AS governments manage to prevent massive closures of perfectly viable businesses, which would otherwise have a really great future.

Increased government debts will create pressures on spending for a further decade

The longer term impact of the COVID pandemic will be additional government debt, on top of debt created when fire-fighting the last global economic crisis in 2008-9, much of which had not yet been repaid. 

What it all means is that when all the COVID crisis has finally resolved, governments will be shorter of funds than they expected, paying more in interest than they expected, and needing somehow to reduce government deficits each year to zero, to then start repaying debt.

All this will be painful with pressures on government spending whoever is in power, plus higher taxation or combination of both - so expect added pressures for more air taxes, carbon taxes, hotel taxes, tourist taxes and so on.

Impact of Coronavirus Pandemic on Manufacturing, Logistics and Supply Chains

The COVID pandemic will accelerate the longer term trend in many larger industries such as the Auto industry to shorter supply chains, within regions amongst small clusters of nations. While the pandemic will cause short term disruptions to manufacturing of many kinds, and while this will cause some company failures, most larger manufacturers will weather the storm, with some government support.

While some have worried about exporting or importing infectious coronavirus on shipped goods, research shows that the virus loses infectivity within a day or two on all smooth surfaces, and in a much shorter time on absorbent surfaces like tissue paper.  Since transported goods are almost always in transit for far longer than this, there is no reason to think that fears of infection should itself disrupt shipping or most air freight.

A lot of supply chain trends will be relatively unchanged when the pandemic is over, indeed during it.  For example, this face remains true: moving a container 150km by lorry from Birmingham to Southampton costs the same as moving the same container 10,000km by sea from Southampton to Beijing. It will continue to be cheaper to transport melons from Istanbul to Naples than to drive melons from a village up in the Italian mountains, to the same market.

This overwhelmingly huge difference in freight costs will be one of the single greatest drivers of future global trade, despite increased energy costs and the Coronavirus pandemic. It is the primary reason why global trade has grown at twice the rate of global production over the last 30 years.

Expect over $28 trillion a year of global trade by 2030, up from more than $18 trillion in 2019. Global trade will continue to grow around 25-35% faster on average than the entire global economy. For two decades, the use of shipping containers grew twice as fast as international trade, as companies seized the opportunity to be more efficient. But the container revolution is now complete, and so the growth difference will ease.

Regional trade will grow – and global trade will slow - impacting air freight and shipping

Ten years ago, many global manufacturers were stampeding to move factories to China and other parts of Asia to save costs, while banks were shifting call centres and IT support to India. Several years ago I predicted that outsourcing would go into reverse, which has happened. Asia is becoming more expensive. Long supply chains are easily disrupted. Cultural gaps, tariff barriers and varying exchange rates can be troublesome. Local demand in Asia is growing.

So we will see more clusters of regional suppliers, delivering components to make products to be sold in the same area. And as I say, the Coronavirus pandemic will accelerate this trend.

That is why ‘south to south’ trade will grow significantly (e.g. India to Brazil, China to Malaysia, or South Africa to Tokyo). Such trade doubled from 12 to 24% of global trade from 2000 to 2011, and will increase to more than 40% by 2030. Half of all trade in Asia is already within the region.

A significant amount of offshoring is already being replaced by nearshoring or reshoring of manufacturing – ‘jobs moving back home’. Jobs are also moving around Asia. So Intel has built a new $1bn chip factory in Vietnam, just a few miles from the border with China where labour is twice as expensive. Samsung witched almost all manufacturing of electronic goods out of South Korea to many other lower-cost locations within Asia.

Impact of COVID pandemic on how people pay for travel, tourism, leisure and hotels

Hundreds of millions of bank notes were destroyed in China during the Coronavirus pandemic because it was feared that they would be vectors for virus transmission.  The COVID pandemic has shifted tens of millions of shoppers online, using the web in ways they never have before, and these habits will endure.  At the same time, many consumers have shifted to cashless payments to avoid ATM machines or physical banks, especially using no-touch payments.

Book your own board strategy review and COVID update - contact Futurist and Physician Dr Patrick Dixon 

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