Industry Trends

Travel Is Back: What Small Businesses Need to Know

Aug 01, 2021 • 6 min read
Woman packing suitcase, preparing for vacation
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      Rental cars are nearly impossible to find. Campsites everywhere are completely booked. Airfare has skyrocketed. And good luck getting that hotel reservation. 

      It’s official: travel is back.

      With restrictions easing across the United States and borders opening throughout Europe and Asia, Americans can now visit more than 90 countries around the world. While travel has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels, it’s clear that demand is exploding. 

      Just look at TSA data from the past few months:

      Chart of TSA Travelers of 2019-2021

      Source: “Summer Travel Is Back, But Will It Be Enough to Boost Flagging US Airlines? Probably Not, Analysts Say,” MarketWatch.

      According to the US Travel Association, 7 out of 10 Americans are planning an upcoming vacation. “A huge, pent-up demand that has amassed in the past 12-15 months is now being relieved,” Scott Keyes, cofounder of travel site Scott’s Cheap Flights, told MarketWatch. “They don’t want a ‘quick getaway’ trip, they want it to be a bucket-list trip.”

      This is only the beginning of recovery for one of the hardest-hit sectors from the pandemic. 

      What Small Businesses Need to Know About the Travel Boom

      Travel doesn’t look exactly the same. “We spent a year reflecting. Who are we? What matters to us? Where’s my bucket list, and how soon can I get to it? With the year of isolation and missed connections, family gatherings, weddings—and also, travel’s how we heal. It’s part of getting back with our loved ones and returning to a better world,” travel advisor Erika Richter told NPR.

      Your business might already be feeling the summer boom. Here’s what you can do to capitalize on the influx of tourists to your area:

      Safety Still Matters

      Regardless of CDC guidelines and state-level policies, safety still matters to travelers. This includes evaluating mask mandates, continuing rigorous cleaning protocols, and providing signage and messaging about hygiene or vaccination information.

      Chart of Travelers

      Travel Statistics

      Source: “Make It Better, Not Just Safer: The Opportunity to Reinvent Travel,” McKinsey & Company.

      It’s not your staff but other travelers who pose the greatest threat. Since January, airlines have logged over 3,000 unruly or violent passenger behaviors (including those not following mask mandates). Airlines have started stripping passengers of frequent-flyer status or banning them for life from booking, as well as instituting fines up to $30,000. “Unfortunately, we continue to see onboard behavior deteriorating into heinous acts, including assaults, threats, and intimidation of crewmembers that directly interfere with the performance of crewmember duties and jeopardize the safety and security of everyone onboard the aircraft,” trade association Airlines for America wrote in a letter to the FAA.

      Similarly, a restaurant in Cape Cod made headlines after closing for a “Day of Kindness” following abuse from patrons. “As many of our guests and patrons treat us with kindness and understanding, there have been an astronomical influx daily of those that do not, swearing at us, threatening to sue, arguing and yelling at my staff, making team members cry,” Brandi Felt Castellano, co-owner of Apt Cape Cod, wrote on their Facebook page to announce the closure. When the New York Times asked about it, she said, “People are always rude to restaurant workers, but this far exceeds anything I’ve seen in my 20 years.”

      To create a safe environment for all of your customers and employees, work on de-escalation training with your staff, and make sure everyone knows the appropriate way to respond and deal with bad behavior. (And maybe give them a few days off after a particularly busy week if you can, too.)

      Invest in Touchless, Mobile Technology

      One technological innovation that’s here to stay post-pandemic is touchless mobile technology. Originally designed to keep employees and customers safe from potential exposure to the virus, it’s now become a must-have operational model that businesses should offer. “As travel companies redesign their traveler experiences to address risks and anxieties related to COVID-19, they should remember that the pain points and trends that existed before the crisis—such as the shift toward a more digital and personalized journey and an increased emphasis on wellness and sustainability—have not gone away,” writes Melissa Dalrymple for McKinsey

      The more your small business can decrease touchpoints and make an experience seamless, the better. Whether that’s offering QR codes in place of physical menus at restaurants, creating a showroom experience in retail stores with online ordering, or offering contactless pickup, consumers now expect these amenities as part of doing business with you.

      Give Your Team a Break

      Workers everywhere are feeling burned out from a year of uncertainty, economic decline, and physical danger—and they’re probably itching to get out of the office, too.

      Companies like HubSpot announced a “Global Week of Rest” to give all employees a chance to unplug over the summer. “We know that our customers aren’t just buying our software, they’re also trusting the people who build, support, and sell that software,” Katie Burke, HubSpot’s Chief People Officer, said in HubSpot’s closure announcement. “As a result, we need to ensure those people are well-rested and able to support our customer and partner needs for the long haul. As leaders, it’s our job to show our employees that taking time off isn’t just encouraged, it’s critical.”

      But it doesn’t have to stop your business completely. 53% of employers are providing special emotional and mental health programs to their workforce in the wake of the pandemic. You can:

      • Extend remote work or provide hybrid work options depending on your return-to-work plan
      • Institute a no-meetings policy on Fridays 
      • Add wellness benefits, like mental health programming, access to telehealth and therapy, meditation subscriptions, or reimbursement for home gym equipment
      • Invite employees on a workation or company retreat to get to know one another again in person

      American workers notoriously leave their vacation time on the table. Even before the pandemic, 55% of Americans didn’t use all of their vacation time in 2019, and 54% of workers said they felt guilty about taking time off at all. Encourage your team to take a break this summer—for the sake of their health and the health of your business.

      About the author
      Kayla Voigt

      Always in search of adventure, Kayla hails from Hopkinton, MA, the start of the Boston Marathon. You can find her at the summit of a mountain or digging in to a big bowl of pasta when she's not writing. Say hi on Instagram @klvoigt.

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