The travel and tourism industry has faced enormous hardship from the COVID-19 pandemic and will take years to recover, says Virginia Tech expert Mahmood Khan. For travelers, 2020 will be remembered as the year of canceled vacations and missed special occasions with family and friends.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has literally affected every continent and all travel destinations will need to rebuild from the ground level. Recovery will easily take two to three years and 2021 will focus on assessing the damage,” said Khan. “All travel agencies, tour guides, maintenance staff, government bodies, and modes of transportation will need to rebuild from scratch.
“For future generations, grandparents will talk about the coronavirus pandemic. Mask-wearing photos will become historical collective items just as we look back now at black and white photos of the past,” said Khan. “History will not forget it and diaries will witness the catastrophes. All travel businesses are going through a period of shock, which will take years to recover.
“Historical monuments were left unprotected in many places and the architectural beauty of many cultural destinations were left with no one to care for them,” Khan said. “Many tourism professionals may have found other work and will be unable or unwilling to return back to their jobs. All this will be a great loss to the travel industry as well as to those who preferred leisure and heritage tourism.”
In an interview, Khan said that business travelers have also changed their outlook and professional pursuits and are now used to travel restrictions, hiring freezes and remote ways of working. Opportunities for development and investment in domestic ventures took priority, which will be difficult or unprofitable to change.
“Conference and business meetings drastically suffered in 2020 to an extent that trickle-down chains and other affiliated businesses do not exist. This will indirectly affect the travel business,” said Khan. “Airlines have also gone through an unprecedented time with unimaginable losses. The recovery will be long and will need new innovative means and methods to rebuild.”
Related with travel, Khan said that the restaurant industry has also suffered inconceivable damage that has changed the age-old method of classification.
“The most to benefit in the hierarchy of restaurants are the businesses that were able to survive by using delivery services,” Khan said. “Fast-food restaurants have a different nomenclature now with third-party platforms infiltrating as major beneficiaries.
“Fine dining suffered the most damage with many going out of business or facing bankruptcies. In essence, the entire traditional classification of fast, fast-casual, casual and fine dining will need a substantial revision,” said Khan. “Ghost kitchens, free-standing delivery only services, and restaurants with less available dining area space will have a direct impact on the way travelers or diners were used to prior to the pandemic.
“As we look to the New Year,” Khan said. “it’s unreasonable to expect that a flood of tourists will emerge once vaccines are available as travelers will be hesitant, and the psychological damage to consumer’s outlook will take time to recuperate.”
Mahmood Khan is a professor and director of the Pamplin College of Business Master of Science in Business Administration/Hospitality and Tourism Management program in the Washington, D.C., metro region. Major areas of his research include hospitality franchising, services management, customer relationships, food service and operational management, and consumer preferences in hotels, restaurants and institutions.