Thinking Forward: COVID-19 and the Adaptability of the Tourism and Hospitality Industries – with Nick Petit, CEO, VAMONDE

Since the onset of COVID-19, KARV Communications has remained in close contact with members of our global network, including industry leaders who are thinking beyond the immediate impact of the pandemic and focusing on strategies for emerging and thriving in a new business landscape. Leadership in the era of COVID-19 requires evolved approaches to implementing adaptive business models for 2020 and beyond.

We spoke with Nick Petit, CEO of VAMONDE, a destination marketing platform that connects destinations and attractions with digitally savvy visitors through experiential content, about some innovative practices the tourism and hospitality industries are implementing to ensure the safety of consumers and to help ensure that the two sectors rebound.

Q1: How would you describe the current state of the hospitality and tourism industry?

Bluntly – the $1.5 trillion industry is crushed. Nearly every business from global travel giants to solo tour operators has been massively impacted. As we have seen, without government support from bailouts to PPP programs, most of these businesses have been increasingly vulnerable to folding. The American Hotel and Lodging Association recently released a report on the state of the domestic hotel industry some seven months into the pandemic, citing such troubling statistics as 40% of hotel employees are still not working.

Will we ever be the exact same again? No. Will the industry rebound? Yes, of course. But it will take 5 to 10 years. Our societal needs and economic behaviors have been reset by decades. Our assumptions of what a recovery looks like need to be reshaped as well. New behaviors will be accelerated by innovations that spin out of both the traditional travel and sharing-economy industries.

Q2: Looking around the corner, what changes should we expect to see in the tourism and hospitality industry in the near future? What are some key developments or innovations you are anticipating, watching for, or working toward?

The economic severity of COVID’s impact has humbled but far from shattered my optimism. This period of contraction will undeniably be followed by expansion. People still will need and want to travel. Travel will just be different. While I believe deeply in the importance of face-to-face interaction and the power of touch, we will live in a contactless future. We have already seen some fascinating innovations and demonstrations of adaptability. In New York, for example, we are seeing the implementation of Tourism Recovery Improvement Districts, which would effectively have hotels charge additional “bed-fees” that would be reinvested in regional marketing campaigns.

You’re possibly already using contactless payment tools from credit cards to mobile devices. You can bet on this expanding and eliminating most person-to-person contact points across the tourism industry. Travelers in the planning phase will assess the quality of medical services to determine appropriate destinations. En route, checking your luggage, ID verification and in-flight food and beverage will all be reexamined. And while in-destination, expect massive changes in digital health to enable you to literally bring your doctor with you.

At VAMONDE, our growth has accelerated around the digital museum and tour space and obviously slowed around airlines and hotels. People are looking for outdoor experiences, hotels and other forms of accommodation with balconies and backyards. We’re likely to see a substantial increase in bookings for yoga, spa and other wellness retreats as a direct result of the pandemic impacting our emotional and mental health. Finally, cities and destination marketing organizations will use our location-aware content delivery tools to help travelers safely navigate cities, find resources and avoid congestions at key attractions.

Q3: What will your industry look like a year from now? Five years from now?

One year from now operators across the board will still be at a fraction of their 2019 run rate. 50% down in 2021 isn’t off the table, but more likely 25%. Travel behaviors have already changed – the RV business and camping are huge. Drivable destinations will be the default vacation plan for families. Large conferences and conventions are in real trouble. Even when things settle down a bit, businesses are not keen to take on the liability of flying employees to large conventions, and working professionals are not eager to put themselves at risk for their employers. The biggest loser in all of this is convention cities like San Diego, New Orleans, and Chicago, where a huge percentage of the economy is driven by business travel.

As a U.S.-based tourism and storytelling software company, we are very much keeping an eye on which countries are looking to re-open for American tourists over the next year or two, as well as how they communicate the updated rules. There has been confusion over recent months as to which destinations are open, whether Americans are able to fly transit through major international hubs, etc.

Q4: What messages do travelers need to hear to return? How are you reaching them with this message, and what response are you seeing?

It should not be surprising that all travelers—both tourists and businesspeople alike—feel more secure visiting a destination they feel has demonstrated a real commitment to ensuring their safety. As such, it is critical that all players across the tourism and hospitality universe, whether it be hotels, rental agencies, restaurants, amusement parks or museums, clearly and effectively communicate what policies and procedures they have put in place to protect consumers. Being flexible (and empathetic) to the inherent challenges of traveling during a pandemic via enhanced customer service and flexible rebooking policies is important as well.

Ultimately, people really want to travel. It’s part of our nature. Our economy, our family, our ability to relax on a quiet beach depends upon it. As such, the tourism and hospitality industries will adapt. The ways we travel and the frequency will be different, but the industry will find a way to move forward.