Few if any industries have been as affected as severely by the pandemic as the travel industry. According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), international passenger travel plunged by 74% during 2020, while in April and May when travel was virtually suspended around the globe, a 95% Y/Y fall was witnessed. In Latin America and the Caribbean specifically, airlines operating in the region during 2020 carried a mere third of the total passengers transported during the previous year.
The UNWTO’s January survey of tourism experts shows a varied outlook for 2021. Nearly half of those (45%) surveyed foresee better prospects for this year than last year, while 25% project a similar performance, and 30% expect a worsening of results. Considering the industry nosedive taken in 2020, a tourism ‘rebound’ in 2021 would not take much.
In April and May when travel was virtually suspended around the globe, airline traffic fell 95% Y/Y
More telling is that a growing number of experts are expecting a delay in when the rebound will happen. Half of survey respondents now expect a rebound to occur in 2022 rather than this year, an increase from the 21% of respondents that said the same in the October 2020 survey. The remaining half of respondents still see a potential rebound in 2021, though this number is farbelow the 79% that expected a recovery in the October.
Since January, however, there have been growing reasons for optimism. Vaccination efforts in major travel source markets like the U.S. and U.K. are well underway, and airline executives have noticed signs that pent-up travel demand is returning. “We’ve seen some glimmers of hope over the last year, but they’ve been false hope,” said Delta Air Line Chief Executive Officer Ed Bastian. “This time it looks to be real.”
A growing number of experts expect the travel and tourism rebound to be delayed
Whether you tend towards the more pessimistic or more optimistic outlook, there is no debating the financial opportunity tourism presents during what are times of severe economic hardship for many countries. But fully opening the economies of countries with low vaccination rates risks severe health repercussions for the local population. On the other hand, enforcing stringent social distancing measures would reduce the potential economic benefits of tourists and could compel vaccinated travelers to take their vacation elsewhere.
Countries that have reopened their borders to travelers during the pandemic are unlikely to close them once increased global vaccination makes travel safer. With early evidence suggesting that vaccinations effectively eliminate virus transmission, governments face little risk of increased transmission by allowing immunized parties into their countries. However, it is certainly conceivable that countries that have maintained close borders, such as Montserrat and Trinidad & Tobago, or strict lockdowns, such as Barbados, will restrict travel even when vaccines are widespread in source markets.
The ICT and BPO Connection
So how does the future of travel connect to the region’s ICT and BPO industries? Equal Times outlines the situation like this: “With tens of thousands of jobs linked to the tourism sector lost due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Jamaican government has heralded the island’s fast-expanding BPO sector as a much-needed source of jobs.”
Highly trained, service-oriented, and experienced professionals find themselves out of work in countries such as Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Mexico. This newly expanded talent pool has enabled service providers to raise the bar with voice and back-office CX standards as well as related service delivery while still providing quality, cost-effective solutions. With consumer spending slowing over the past year, strategists are looking for ways to remain not only competitive but also secure longevity for their organizations.
While depressed travel has exacted a severe economic toll on the region, the BPO industry has benefitted from an influx of new talent
It goes without saying that with crisis comes opportunity. Jose Alvarez, Senior Director at Athena Global Advisors, has seen this already within the region’s telecommunications sector. “Customers have come to expect a white glove treatment at every brand touchpoint. From customer care to onboarding, customers have not only come to crave but expect individualized attention. With customers adapting to remote brand experiences, there is a real opportunity for companies to capitalize with their response to these shifting customer expectations,” he said. ICT corporate leaders in the region have taken this opportunity to reevaluate their CX approach, resulting in a renewed commitment to providing their customers the resources necessary to enjoy a seamless brand experience.
While depressed travel has exacted a severe economic toll on the region, the BPO industry has benefitted from an influx of new talent. The convergence of CX reassessment and an expanded BPO talent pool has created an ideal match of supply and demand for some companies in the sector.
With the overwhelming majority of countries still months, if not years, away from establishing a new normal, these trends will likely continue to prove true for the foreseeable future. When travel does indeed reach pre-pandemic levels and travel sector jobs return, many of those who have entered the BPO industry for work during the past year will seek out these opportunities.
“The shifts in consumer expectations we have seen over the past year are not going away after the pandemic” — Athena Global Advisors CEO Maggy Wilkinson
At this point, BPO supply will likely deflate but the demand for seamless omnichannel CX will remain, according to Athena Global Advisors CEO Maggy Wilkinson. “The shifts in consumer expectations we have seen over the past year are not going away after the pandemic. Customers will continue to expect remote experiences, whether it be a call with a customer care agent or an interaction with a brand on social, to match the care and attention inherent with in-person brand experiences,” she said.
It will be fascinating to observe how the BPO and ICT industries handle this shift in equilibrium when it occurs. For now, though, an intersection of supply and demand appears to be taking place, and corporate leaders that capitalize on this will reap the benefits.
With help from Heather Littlejohns-Adamson