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What will the future of travel look like? TPG asked 16 industry experts

April 28, 2020
21 min read
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As the world waits out the COVID-19 crisis, there has been an unprecedented rupture in travel that reaches every corner of the globe and every part of the industry.

We asked leaders in the hotel, cruise and airline spaces to share their thoughts on the future, including their predictions for when and how we’ll travel again. (TPG's founder and CEO Brian Kelly recently shared his own thoughts about the future of travel.)

Our panel of travel experts also spoke about why they love to travel and how this passion will get everyone back out on the road, out to sea and up in the air.

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TPG: Tell us why you love to travel

David Neeleman, entrepreneur and founder of JetBlue: I’ve loved to travel since I can remember. My birthday cake when I was 5 was an airplane. Travel is so important. It’s crucial that we get out of our day-to-day bubbles to see foreign lands, meet new people and appreciate different cultures.

Christina Cassotis, CEO of the Allegheny County Airport Authority, which owns and operates Pittsburgh International Airport: I love to travel because I was born into it. My dad was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps and [he] was recruited into the airlines in the early ‘60s when I was little. He flew for Pan American World Airways and finished his career as a 747 captain with United.

Rudi Schreiner, president and cofounder of AmaWaterways: I grew up in Vienna, at the heart of the Danube River. My love for travel via rivers began in 1975 when I went to South America for a journalism assignment on the Amazon. It was there where I designed my first ship, using what I could find to build a raft that would take me up and down the river during the next seven months. Soon thereafter, I started working in travel, creating unique tour experiences in Europe. In 2002, I founded AmaWaterways with Kristin Karst and the late Jimmy Murphy.

Dan Blanchard, CEO and founder of UnCruise Adventures: I've been on boats all of my life and took three years away from the desk to sail around the world with my family. When I came back, I founded this company because I wanted people to experience what I just had -- getting up close and personal with remote places and a connection to culture and nature.

Jamie Baker, airline analyst: I’ve certainly met interesting people that have never traveled, but I’ve never met anybody boring that has. I keep a fairly rigorous travel schedule for work, so family vacations are the payback for the events I routinely miss: the nights at home, the parent/teacher conferences, the gigs and the sporting events, and so on.

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Ben Baldanza, former CEO of Spirit Airlines, board member of JetBlue and Six Flags: I typically travel for both business and pleasure and am often on planes at least 15 times a year. I like to travel because business requires it, and I like to visit new and interesting places for fun.

Colleen McDaniel, editor-in-chief of Cruise Critic: I’ve always loved travel, from the first family road trip to Disney World to my first overseas visit (to Italy) to stay with a foreign exchange student who lived with us in high school. I thankfully met a partner who lives for travel in the same way I do. Our first trip together was a cruise and we fell in love with the simplicity of it: a vacation where you unpack once, visit great destinations around the world and have virtually everything included.

Laura Davidson, owner and president of LDPR: I'm on the road a lot, and the winter trips to the Caribbean, spring trips to Cape Cod, summer trips to Australia, fall trips to Montana and others are the best kind of "business trips" I can think of. I love to travel to discover people and places and find the fun angles to promote my clients and encourage others to travel there.

Pauline Frommer, editorial director of Frommer’s: I grew up in the travel business, going around the world with my father, Arthur Frommer, founder of the Frommer’s guidebooks. We now run the company together, and we’re proud to be a journalistic voice in travel. I love travel for so many reasons. It has taught me about the world and about myself. Travel has made me a more tolerant person because I know, viscerally, that there’s often more than just one good solution for any problem and more than one way to lead a good life.

Misty Belles, managing director of global public relations at Virtuoso: This year marks my 21st year here, which means I’ve seen the travel industry encounter and successfully recover from previous crises from 9/11 to the 2008 recession as well as pandemics such as H1N1 and SARS. My love of travel began at an early age as my parents would pile us into the car and drive from Texas, where I grew up, to national parks from Glacier to the Colorado Rockies to the Grand Canyon.

Tom Garzilli, chief marketing officer at Brand USA: When I was a kid, my dad ran hotels in the Bahamas and Bermuda. Throughout high school and college I worked for his wholesale travel company. I joined the travel division of American Express then cofounded a destination marketing agency which served U.S. and global destinations for more than 20 years. Seven years ago, I thought I might retire from the industry but received the amazing opportunity to join Brand USA. I’m so glad I took it.

Jennifer Hawkins, owner of Hawkins International PR: The most exciting thing for me is being able to travel for fun with my family. My daughter (15) and son (14) have been traveling around the world with me since they were babies. In the '70s, I was living in Chicago as a young girl in grade school and my dad took me out of school to travel to Europe with a Eurail Pass and a backpack. It was very unusual for a provincial Midwesterner to be taken out of Chicago public school to travel spontaneously without an itinerary for six weeks. It changed my life and outlook on the world.

Heather Balsley, SVP of global loyalty & partnerships, InterContinental Hotels Group: While I spend a lot of time in hotels, I also love to camp. I’m a backpacker at heart, and my entire family loves sleeping outdoors, which helps me appreciate a great hotel room more than anyone!

Lou Hammond, founder of Lou Hammond Group, a marketing communications firm: Travel is an indispensable part of our lives and we recognize that, beyond the joy one feels, travel bonds us globally like no other business. It gives us an understanding of the world and cultures that brings us together in the most meaningful way.

Maud Bailly, chief digital officer at Accor Hotels: As far as I can remember, I've always enjoyed traveling, since I love to discover new cultures and new languages. Travel makes you think differently, reconsider some of your choices, and feeds your capacity of reinventing yourself.

Related: 14 ways to give back during the coronavirus outbreak

TPG: When do you think we will be able to travel again – regionally and internationally?

Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line: As Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald has said, travel will return when travelers are ready to return. Some of that is beyond our control and relies on effective management of COVID-19, including testing in the short-term and eventually vaccines. But what travel suppliers CAN control is our response, and new procedures and protocols to build and maintain the confidence of guests, employees and government officials is key. That’s what we’re using this pause in service to address.

Neeleman: Isn’t that the 64-million-dollar question! I think 2020 is probably going to be the year of the car – for at least the next few months anyway. It might be to be like the '50s again -- "See the USA in your Chevrolet" -- until we work out what travel is going to look like in a post-coronavirus world. I do think domestic airline travel will pick up again in the second half of this year. As for international travel, that comes down to customs and border controls in each country.

Brett Snyder, founder of Cranky Flier: I don't expect we'll see the return of much international travel until summer at the earliest. It's hard to know without knowing the ultimate trajectory of the pandemic, but restrictions and xenophobia will drag this out longer.

Cassotis: I think it's going to be slow, and I think it's going to have a lot to do with when people feel comfortable from a health perspective. That could be longer than we originally anticipated. We at the airport authority in Pittsburgh aren't expecting any meaningful growth at least until the summer is over.

Schreiner: Experience has shown me that travel will rebound quickly, as it has in the past. I think we’ll see European river cruising begin in June or July. However, recovering European countries could turn away Americans for a time since they lag on the virus curve and different parts of the U.S. are harder-hit than others.

Blanchard: I think more people will be looking to stay closer to home and get acquainted with like-minded travelers in smaller groups and more experience-rich outings. Our focus is on domestic travel for the next few months.

Baker: At some point, businesses are going to ask employees to start returning to the office. Shortly thereafter, they’ll tell employees to get back out on the road. But families may not initially share that same confidence. I expect short-haul business demand to recover first, while short-haul leisure demand will recover next. International recovery should lag, given those itineraries typically get planned pretty far in advance. Given uncertainty as to whether COVID-19 returns, initial trips are likely to be relatively short and close to home.

Baldanza: I expect domestic travel will return for leisure traffic in summer 2021 but business travel will take longer. I also think that people will be more comfortable on shorter flights than longer flights. I don't expect pre-COVID volume and rate for all travel to be back until 2023 or later.

McDaniel: It would be fair to assume that travel’s return will be highly dependent on the local policies and procedures of destinations across the globe. Some destinations might come back faster than others, depending on where each place is in its rebound.

Hammond: If I were to know that, I would be King Solomon and always win in Vegas. As soon as the green light shines, certainly regional and domestic USA travel will flourish particularly with transportation by car.

Davidson: Three key buzzwords we are hearing: trust, safety, flexibility. This is what will be important to consumers. Airlines, hotels and destinations must inspire this confidence in order for people to travel again. That, combined with attractive airfares, deals and incentives, should ignite the travel market again.

Frommer: The most honest response: Who knows? What’s been so frightening about this situation is that so much of what we must do depends on a submicroscopic entity we can’t even see. That being said, I have a guess that people will start traveling again domestically and regionally in mid- to late summer. There are rumblings that Europe may not let Americans in until September, since the virus is so widespread here and our testing is still almost nonexistent. I wouldn’t be surprised if other areas of the world adopt the same stance.

Belles: Regional travel is poised to come back first. When shelter-in-place restrictions begin to lift, people will look to escape from the reality they’ve been facing. We anticipate they won’t want to venture far from home, preferring long weekend stays to drive-to destinations and the corona-cation will be born. As for international trips, Virtuoso travel advisors feel optimistic about pent-up consumer demand and they expect new bookings to resume in the next six to eight weeks. Nine months out seems to be the sweet spot for these bookings, which means people have their eye on holiday travel and early 2021 getaways.

Garzilli: There is no clear answer yet as to when travel will resume. When it does, I am confident that it will spool up steadily and that the market will quickly return to pre-virus global tourism levels. People want to travel, and the time we have spent isolated in our homes only makes this yearning grow.

Hawkins: People are going to gravitate to open spaces and national parks, beachfronts and lakes. Airlines need to be leaders in getting people back to international travel – they need to have more flexible cancellation and change fees and rules. Travelers won’t want to invest in international travel planning if they don’t feel that they have flexibility.

Bailly: It seems like China is slowly returning to normal – we are reopening our hotels there and have seen a lot of positive bounce-back. However, it is far too early to say when other regions will be able to follow. I hope that people will be able to travel to some extent this summer, probably domestically for most, but it’s important to take things one step at a time. We are optimistic but not naive, so we will carefully follow advice from governments and the international community to make sure we set the pace right and reopen our hotels in a way that is safe for all our guests and staff.

Related: When will we start traveling again? American and United Airlines hint at the future.

Where do you personally plan to go for your first trip?

Neeleman: Everywhere! I was just in Brazil last month meeting with Azul [Airlines] and I’m sure it won’t be too long until I’m back in Portugal.

Snyder: Technically, I'm still supposed to be taking a Baltic cruise in Europe in July. If that somehow happens, I'll be amazed and thrilled. But in my mind, I've resigned myself to that not likely happening. Domestically, I'd like it to be Hawaii. I was supposed to be taking my team there in early May to celebrate a great 2019. That is obviously now postponed. I mean, I'll be happy to go anywhere.

Cassotis: I'm going to Boston because that's where a lot of my family is and I would like to see them in person. Domestically, I look forward to trips to Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Florida – places where airlines are based so we can start talking to them in person again and visit the carriers that are serving our airport. Internationally, I'm eager to get back to London and Beijing and get the business going again.

Schreiner: Kristin and I were fortunate to visit Africa in January, and we have very fond memories of that trip. Once the travel restrictions have been lifted, I plan to visit Austria for my brother’s birthday and high school reunion.

Blanchard: To southeast Alaska, of course. The wilderness areas I experience there are always beautiful and uncrowded. Stepping into nature and venturing off to new places that most people don't go.

Baker: My first business trips are likely to be domestic, but the family is planning for Bali in August and Morocco for Christmas. The benefit of airline status is free award redeposits. So I typically keep 500,000 to 1,000,000 miles ticketed at any point in time, to help reduce the risk of devaluation.

McDaniel: I’ve been taking this time to daydream about some of my most favorite travels and those I’m looking forward to taking once I’m able. My top priority is heading home to see my family and loved ones in Wisconsin. This time has been especially hard to be so far from them. For leisure, my regional list includes a return to Portland, Maine, a spot I’ve been vowing to revisit after a quick port stop in 2019.

Hammond: We are very fortunate as the South has many small towns to explore in an easy fashion. Speaking of “easy,” that will be key to getting people out and about so planning can be immediate and without fuss.

Davidson: My first local trip will be out to Chatham Bars Inn on Cape Cod for my postponed anniversary weekend getaway. Then a family trip up to Weekapaug Inn at Westerly Beach in Rhode Island. Another great "regional" beach trip for us. Then in September, we are going over to Scotland where my son will be starting school at the University of St Andrews.

Frommer: The first regional trip my family will take will be to visit my mother-in-law outside of Philadelphia. Going farther will be trickier. I was scheduled to visit northern Michigan -- the Traverse City area specifically -- and do a radio broadcast from there in late spring. Not sure if that’s going to happen, but I hope it will. That part of the country is gorgeous, with lots of history and culture, and would be a balm to the soul.

Belles: Given my mid-Atlantic location, I have my eye on a getaway to Montage Palmetto Bluff in South Carolina. Aside from the gorgeous setting, I could use some southern hospitality and cuisine, because their “home cooking” is somehow much better than my own. For domestic travel that’s a flight away, I will head with the family to Copper Mountain, Colorado, this summer, which always includes a stay at the Four Seasons in Vail. And for my first international outing, I am hopeful to get back to Paris as soon as possible.

Garzilli: I look forward to visiting my family in New York and traveling the country and the world to see friends and industry partners as we rebuild the tourism business.

Hawkins: I will probably first go to New England this summer, then travel to California to see family. I had a trip to Spain planned in the spring and had to cancel, so I would like to get that rescheduled. I also have a trip to Jamaica in June planned but will likely postpone.

Balsley: Domestically, I am looking forward to our family weekend trips for soccer and volleyball tournaments for my children. We often stay at a Holiday Inn Express with their teams, and those wonderful weekends with teammates cheering on our kids is maybe what I miss most right now! I am truly looking forward to getting back to Shanghai to see my coworkers in person. We’ve been on many early-morning and late-night calls together since this crisis began, initially supporting their efforts and now learning from their experience. We can’t wait to get together face to face after so many video calls over the last several months.

Bailly: Regionally, I’ll go to Italy to attend the wedding of very close friends in Sirmione. Domestically, I’ll definitely go see my family to Brittany, in Saint-Malo city, to breathe the fresh air, walk on the beach, eat a lot of pancakes and introduce my little daughter, Clara, who is only few weeks old, to the sea! Internationally, I’ll restart a new world tour, across all Accor regions, to reconnect with the local teams, in Dubai, Singapore, Sydney, São Paolo, Rio and Toronto.Duffy: I am really looking forward to resuming my fleetwide ship visits once we start sailing again. Our crew members have been truly amazing during this unprecedented pause in our operations and I can’t wait to see them and personally thank them for their efforts which have been truly above and beyond.

Related: Where TPG staffers want to travel after coronavirus

TPG: What do you think will change about the way we vacation?

Neeleman: There’s discussion that travel might become more expensive to pay for all the new procedures as we get past this stage. But then travelers will be looking for price incentives and travel providers will want to build back their market share. So no doubt there will be travel deals to be had, too.

Cassotis: I think that people will be more conscious and more present during their vacations instead of trying to cram things in.

Schreiner: I think people will be more cognizant about the cleanliness of the places they visit and where they choose to stay, in addition to the general safety of their environment. I anticipate a boom in small-ship cruising. River ships are intimate vessels accommodating only 156 guests on average. Even on our largest ship -- AmaMagna, which is twice the width of traditional river cruise ships -- guest capacity is a maximum of 196.

Baldanza: I think cruises will be out of favor for a very long time.

McDaniel: One positive I think we can expect is a greater sense of gratitude. Once the time comes to travel again, travelers will be even more grateful for those experiences and the chance to connect with so many across the globe.

Davidson: I think many people will use travel advisors and skip the OTAs, which have proven to be very unreliable during this crisis. My FROSCH travel agent is handling all my canceled airline tickets and rescheduling everything for me, making sure there are no change fees.

Frommer: Most experts are predicting more nature travel in the short run, and that makes sense if you’re looking to avoid crowds. Additionally, we may be more careful about buying travel insurance before trips and researching the travel companies we use (as some will likely be on shaky footing financially after this is all over). And, frankly, fewer people will be traveling because of the dire financial situation ahead. So that will mean fewer overtouristed destinations for those who can hit the road -- though a sharp decline in the number of people who can afford to get out and explore is a terrible negative overall, both for the travel industry and for the human spirit.

Belles: Social distancing will change how we experience travel. Two months ago, we were fine squishing onto airplanes, rubbing elbows on restaurant banquettes and flocking to flip coins into the Trevi Fountain. Limiting capacity may become a standard practice, resulting in limited availability as well.

Garzilli: In the short term, there will be some changes in how we begin to travel again. However, over time, I believe we will get back to doing what we love and crave as individuals. Our desire to explore will not and cannot be permanently suppressed.

Hawkins: We will look for more touchless hotel experiences. How we check in and interact with the hotel [might include] apps that can be used for check-in/checkout and that also control room technology, including TV, lights, keyless doors, etc.

Bailly: I think that people will start to travel again as soon as they are able to, but they will be for sure much more cautious about health and safety. So for Accor it is critical that we put increased hygiene measures in place to reassure all our leisure and business travelers. We recently announced certification measures designed to certify appropriate safety standards and cleaning protocols at our hotels, first in France and then in all European countries.

Balsley: I think we’ll all have a new appreciation for our vacations. So many times, people leave vacation days on the books at the end of the year and lose them. For many reasons, we don’t make time for the trips we’ve always planned to make but haven’t made happen -- that trip with college best friends or [to] visit that city or country that’s always been on our bucket list. But now we all have a greater reason to make those trips happen.Duffy: I think after this situation starts to wind down there will definitely be a pent-up demand for vacations, including cruises of course. I don’t think we can suppress the love for travel that has been built up over the last several decades with easy access to air, affordable cruises, regional destinations, the interstate highway system and geographically dispersed families. We’re optimistic about the demand for 2021 cruises and can’t wait to welcome our guests onboard.


Additional reporting by Scott Mayerowitz, Ben Mutzabaugh and Gene Sloan.

Featured image by Getty Images