Just what's going on in the world of tourism and travel? After a succession of record numbers of visitors and bookings for the coming months, everyone was expecting a pause, or even a simple normalisation of activity. This would be justified by the rise in the price of services, a form of anxiety in a troubled social context, which leads to decisions being made as to which outgoings consumers have to cut back on.
In fact, none of this is the case: everything is going well overall for hoteliers, accommodation providers, and service providers throughout the tourism chain. After an already exceptional year in 2022, the 1st quarter of 2023 marked a new upswing, and the outlook for the coming quarters is very encouraging. Although there are varying degrees of satisfaction here and there, the general feeling is one of satisfaction.
Making up for lost time can no longer be the only explanation. More than a year has gone by since the restrictions were lifted. The most optimistic will insist on the fact that travel, and more generally holidays, are essential moments in everyone’s lives. As a result, demand is and will remain strong. The need to get away will endure even if prices continue to rise.
The most sceptical cannot help but notice the fragmentation of consumer society. Fine travel, prestigious destinations, and top-of-the-range services are not experiencing a crisis. It's true that there are fewer customers in travel agencies, but they're still making money.
What's more, ‘popular’ holiday packages have never done so well. Record numbers of campsites now boast a new clientele, special offers from major travel distributors have met with success, house swaps and holiday lets have enjoyed a massive increase... Are the middle classes, usually so hard to pin down, slowly moving towards more low-cost holidays?
All other things being equal, the atmosphere feels similar to that period, which followed the First World War. It was the era of the Roaring Twenties, when impulses and party spirit were unleashed. In Paris, as in Berlin, you had to live, have fun, and spend money because tomorrow wasn't a given. At least for those who could afford it, the working classes struggled to get by.
In the United States, morality thought it could control excesses by introducing prohibition. This simply opened the door to the massive racketeering, as well as underground bars and speakeasies, which are now popping up all over the place in every major city. Coincidence?
This crazy period was brutally interrupted by the Great Depression, the rise of extremes, and the impoverishment of the population. History is always repeating itself, but we can still hope that the world will learn from its excesses.
So, what can we fear in the short term? That tourism, hospitality, and travel will be called into question? Certainly not! There is every reason to believe that tourism in all its forms will continue to flourish for some time to come. Take a look at the latest Hospitality Operator Forum.
Luxury and the top end of the market remain powerful driving forces, and a summary study shows a revealing parallel between the sale of luxury brand handbags and that of overnight stays in palaces and 5-star hotels. Coincidence again, you might say!
The sky seems to be the limit for growth, but hospitality for the rich can’t be the end-all and be-all of our industry. This is especially true as the majority of overnight stays cater for a wider demand, from budget to midscale.
It has to be said that, for the time being, we are heading for a two-tier sector, which is itself a reflection of a two-tier society. Which future events should we fear? Climate change, which knows no borders or social classes? Artificial intelligence, which will call into question many of our professional certainties and which risks creating a form of deflation? The rise of populism, which wants to take the reins of political power as it did in the 1930s?
For the time being, it’s a good idea to ride the wave. It's a promising one. However, just as surfers watch out for the rollers that could swallow them up and the coral that could rip them to shreds, we need to be alert to the warning signs and the first changing of the tide.
At a time when ChatGPT claims to be able to synthesise and anticipate everything, it’s up to us to show you that it’s just a new tool. It is an intelligent tool to be sure, but only a tool all the same, and one that we’ll put to use in helping decipher a complicated future. Join us at the Hospitality Operator Forum to discuss these trends.