Just a few weeks ago, it looked like things were looking up for the travel industry.
Despite the pandemic, the summer season has gone well in many places.
And the ski resorts were also preparing for a smooth season, having had to cancel it entirely in Austria, for example, during the first pandemic winter. But then the number of COVID-19 infections rose again, reaching record levels in Germany as well.
And now the omicron variant of the coronavirus is on the rise as well.
Many countries are therefore reintroducing travel restrictions. Israel, for example, no longer allows tourists to enter the country; the UK has been listed by Germany as a viral variant area, and the Netherlands will remain stranded nationwide until mid-January.
Many of those who would normally have planned a trip now during the peak booking period therefore prefer to keep their options open for now. This is a trend that is likely to continue throughout the year. “We will certainly have to continue to show a high degree of flexibility and spontaneity in our travels,” tourism researcher Markus Pillmayer from the Munich University of Applied Sciences told DW.
Vacationers are uncertain and book at the last minute
This is straining the already struggling tourism industry. Massive revenue losses are looming for another year.
If you ask the German Travel Association (DRV) how the industry sees the year ahead, the answer is “cautiously optimistic”.
Compared to the first pandemic year, 2021 has seen a “marked recovery,” DRV spokesperson Torsten Schäfer told DW. However, the spread of the omicron variant is confusing many travelers and leading to increasing reluctance to make reservations for 2022.
Anyone who books vacations is therefore doing so within shorter and shorter deadlines. The largest German tour operator TUI has also confirmed this. Nonetheless, he expects to reach “a largely normalized booking level” by summer 2022. Traditionally popular holiday destinations in the Mediterranean region, such as the Balearic Islands, Greece and Turkey, are already in high demand. Austria, Switzerland and Italy also remain popular, TUI said.
And the national holidays will also play a major role in Germany, as they have for the past two years. “Home vacations have experienced a real renaissance,” says tourism researcher Pillmayer. In his opinion, this is a trend that is here to stay. Nonetheless, he says, the national tourism industry also continues to grapple with short-term regulations and political decisions. “Terms and conditions continue to be dire for the industry,” says Pillmayer.
Long-distance travel remains difficult
Those who want to go further often encounter even greater obstacles. Many countries continue to maintain entry restrictions, some, like Thailand, even tightening them because of omicron. Thailand had only reopened its borders to overseas vacationers in early November, but now tourists must return to quarantine.
Australia, New Zealand and Israel also do not allow holidaymakers to enter.
Other popular destinations such as the United States or the Maldives, on the other hand, have reopened. But that can change quickly.
Since the start of the pandemic, as a safety measure, vacationers are increasingly booking package tours or booking through travel agents. Major tour operators such as TUI also offer flexible cancellation policies and cover some of the costs incurred for quarantine at vacation destinations.
The vacation countries that will be able to gain the trust of travelers will also depend on how the local government and the tourism industry deal with omicron, says tourism researcher Pillmayer.
The vaccination status of vacationers themselves is also becoming increasingly important. Countries like Costa Rica and the United States only allow fully vaccinated people into the country, while on the Cape Verde Islands, for example, arrivals must not only be fully vaccinated or recovered from infection. for COVID-19, they must also show a recent negative test. Most operators also require travelers to be fully vaccinated on cruises.
Those who wish to travel to Germany will likely also need to get the vaccine. Almost everywhere in the country, vacationers need to be vaccinated or picked up.
From December 28, the rules in Germany will be further tightened. For example, only 10 people will be allowed to meet privately. The possibility of a general vaccination mandate is also under discussion.
The tourism industry is understaffed
The extent to which the tourism industry in Germany can prepare for fully booked hotels and restaurants remains questionable. Many employees have now turned their backs on industry and turned to the retail trade or the automotive industry, for example. According to tourism researcher Pillmayer, the situation is dramatic: “We are no longer just talking about a shortage of skilled workers, but a general shortage of employees.
In a recent DRV survey, two-thirds of tour operators and 50% of travel agencies said they lost employees during the pandemic because they decided to leave the industry. Sixty percent of those surveyed also said they had difficulty filling vacancies.
Finding replacements is difficult, says Pillmayer, in part because the industry has suffered reputational damage from media coverage and political decisions. New workers can only be attracted with higher wages, says the tourism researcher – so vacations are likely to become more expensive. Recruitment drives will also be needed, he said. “People will have to look around the world – and are already doing it – even more than they already did before the pandemic,” Pillmayer said.
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