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College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management

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Holiday travel outlook 2021

Holiday travel was curtailed drastically by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, but experts have high hopes for 2021. Tourism management professor Simon Hudson of the University of South Carolina’s College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management shares his insights on what travelers and industry professionals can expect from now through December.

What's the overall outlook for the industry this holiday season?

Certainly a lot better than last year! There is a lot of pent-up demand, and travelers are prepared to splash out on spending quality time with their families or friends. 

How will the pandemic affect travel?

We have just finished a survey of regular U.S. travelers, and it is clear that travelers are more cautious than before, and the public health conditions and hygiene standards of destinations, hotels and attractions will become a top priority. They also tell us that they are likely to avoid congested areas, prefer driving to destinations, and choose destinations where social distancing is easy. 

What trends do you expect to see in hospitality or tourism this holiday season? 

There are indications that we will see an increased demand for health and wellness travel, wilderness trips, private accommodation, and visits to national parks. Most people will travel domestically. In fact, about half of the travelers we surveyed will not consider international travel in the foreseeable future. Interestingly, for the ones that are considering going overseas, how well countries handled the pandemic will influence where they travel.

How will supply and labor issues affect the season?

Recruitment, retention and skills shortages were major workforce problems and challenges for the tourism and hospitality industry pre-pandemic, and these challenges have only worsened. Countries all over the world are experiencing labor issue in this sector. This may impact service quality. 

What can businesses do to thrive this holiday season? 

First of all, focus on health and safety, but customers post-pandemic also have higher expectations than ever before, so destinations will have to provide top-notch customer service. Businesses should also embrace technology. Technology adoption in the tourism sector has accelerated during this crisis allowing companies to offer lower-touch, customized experiences. 

Our Expert

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Simon Hudson

Simon Hudson is a professor at the University of South Carolina’s School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management. He is an internationally recognized scholar and tourism expert who has written books on tourism marketing, golf tourism, the international ski industry, sports and adventure tourism, and customer service. His latest book, COVID-19 & Travel, focuses on the effect of the pandemic on the industry.

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