Roger Dow is CEO and president of the U.S. Travel Association, which represents the entirety of the travel industry to and within the United States.
When he thinks What the Future, he believes people will start traveling again faster than many experts think.
Kate MacArthur: How does vacation travel survive this hit to business travel?
Roger Dow: The vacation industry is going to be the first one back, and we’ve already seen that. It’s a three- or four-leg stool in the travel industry. They can’t succeed on just one of them. Business travel worries me on a couple of fronts. Most companies have told their people they can’t travel, don’t go to meetings or events. No matter what we do as an industry, until corporate travel policies change, we’re just talking to ourselves.
The other thing is for so many destinations, we’ve seen a phenomenon of combining that business trip or meeting with a leisure trip, especially for a lot of younger people. A good percentage of leisure travel just doesn’t happen unless someone’s tying it to that business trip.
MacArthur: How much can vacation travel make up for these losses?
Dow: After Sept. 11, domestic leisure travel, especially from the high-end travelers, really made up for the loss of international visitation. So we’re going to see that same thing happen. That’s going to be a plus for domestic travel. You’ll see the same thing happen in other countries.
MacArthur: How will this affect affordability?
Dow: Right now, travel is going to be extremely affordable. There are deals out there—a lot of them. When the [hotel] chains and the airlines start seeing the business turn upward, they’re going to start repricing in fall and early next year. But that window is going to disappear at some point. We’re going to come back to more standard pricing, probably toward the end of this year and into 2022.
MacArthur: Are we talking a longer-term trend of 2019-level pricing or more expensive pricing?
Dow: We’re going to get back to 2019 pricing probably toward the end of 2022 and definitely into 2023. Because of the demand, domestic travel—you might even say the high-end areas—will charge more in 2022 and 2023, because that domestic traveler that has money to spend is going to start pricing out some of the bargains. I’m going somewhere next weekend with my wife and another couple in Florida. I saw rates that were $1,000 a night, and I’m in the business.
MacArthur: When will business travel and conventions come back?
Dow: We’re not too far off from the small corporate meetings this fall, but we are another six months to a year on the large conventions. You’re going to see the first set of meetings be hybrid meetings. The unfortunate thing for us as the host is that’s a much more expensive meeting to hold because it’s not cheap to do these virtual meetings.
MacArthur: If companies embrace working from home going forward, how might that affect business meetings and travel?
Dow: Virtual has done well because we’ve got decades of knowing one another, but that’s going to disappear fast. And then that face-to-face, that need to be together is definitely going to happen. But it’s going to start a little slowly. Then what’s going to happen is XYZ company is going to say, “Hey, I just lost share at ABC company because my competitor was face-to-face and shaking hands and cutting the deal while I was trying to get my Zoom set up.”
MacArthur: How will the culture of what we expect as a guest change?
Dow: Health and safety is the new hospitality. Touchless is a change forever. We’re probably going to see many more things on your phone, checking in on your phone, using your phone as your payment system. Biometrics are going to take off. People are going to be demanding more touchless, more biometrics, more technology and all that’s there.
MacArthur: Let’s pretend that it’s 2023 and we’re past COVID-19. What will our travel culture be like?
Dow: People are going to realize how much they missed it and how much they treasure being together. Travel is going to come back, though maybe not the dream vacation, which will come years from now. The next couple of years are going to be more family travel, more going to see America, the national parks, the beaches. You’re going to see a whole new cottage industry of specialized travel, whether it’s environmental travel, safe travel, family travel. We might even go back to more travel professionals and more groups. A lot of the companies that have a great reputation for taking good care of their people are going to do very well.
MacArthur: Last summer when we did our pandemic travel webinar, we were talking about cruising. How you think they’re going to survive this?
Dow: It’s going to be slow for them coming back. It’s like [The Peanuts’] Lucy moving the football. But when they come back, there’s an interesting thing: Cruisers are very dedicated people. My friends in the cruise industry tell me their future bookings are off the charts. The cruise industry counterintuitively is going to do very well, not next year, but two, three years from now.