The pandemic has raised awareness of the risks associated with over-crowding in popular tourist destinations. Tackling over-crowding is now seen as the third-highest ethical priority for travel companies to address, behind reducing carbon emissions and recycling waste. Consumers’ desire to avoid crowds provides operators and destinations with an opportunity to promote activities with a low environmental impact such as hikes in wide open spaces with stops at local farms.

Both widespread media coverage of drops in pollution levels and consumers noticing changes such as cleaner air have resulted in increased awareness of the impact of travel on the environment. Whilst some consumers plan to take fewer holidays for the sake of the environment, financial concerns play a much bigger role. When the economy fully recovers, the growth of the holiday market is likely to accelerate.

When demand for overseas travel bounces back and the impact of travel on the environment starts to be witnessed again, activist groups and the media will likely jump on this topic. Travel brands will have to ensure growth remains accepted by the government and consumers over the longer term, by limiting carbon emissions.

Though only a small share of UK travellers prioritise the environment in the holiday planning and booking process, the majority are open to taking steps to minimise their impact when on holiday. Learning about the local culture and reconnecting with nature on holiday have the widest appeal across ethical travel segments.

Key issues covered in this Report

  • The impact of COVID-19 on the UK holiday market and travellers’ priorities.

  • Holidaying intentions and likely behavioural changes in 2021.

  • Purchase drivers when choosing a travel company and the relative importance of brands’ environmental policies.

  • Environmental and ethical factors that consumers would like to see travel brands prioritise.

  • Opportunities to encourage ethical travel.

COVID-19: Market context

The first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the UK at the end of January 2020, with a small number of cases in February. Rapidly rising case numbers led to the first national lockdown, starting on 23 March. It wasn't until 15 June that non-essential stores were allowed to reopen, followed by pubs, restaurants, hotels and hairdressers on 4 July, and many beauty businesses on 13 July. Restrictions on overseas travel began to be lifted from 10 July 2020, with quarantine requirements imposed on travellers entering or returning to the UK from most destinations.

By September, it had become clear that the UK was at the start of a second wave, and social distancing measures were intensified. Continued increases in infection numbers led to Wales implementing a two-week national lockdown from 19 October, England announcing a month-long lockdown from 5 November and Scotland introducing a new five-level system of coronavirus restrictions. 

Despite these restrictions, however, case numbers continued to increase. All four UK nations tightened restrictions in January 2021, effectively leading to a full UK-wide lockdown.

On 22 February, Boris Johnson announced the roadmap to an easing of restrictions in England, starting with the reopening of schools on 8 March, followed by easing of restrictions on outdoor gatherings on 29 March, and with a hoped end to all restrictions by 21 June. The Welsh and Scottish governments also gave more details on their plans to ease restrictions, with both nations taking a slightly more cautious approach to the one planned for England.

The UK’s vaccination programme started on 8 December 2020, and with the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines licensed for use in the UK, the government aims to offer a first dose of the vaccine to 32 million people by mid-April.  

The UK government’s roadmap states that domestic holidays in self-contained accommodation will be allowed from 12 April, for use by members of the same household, as long as four conditions are met. These include the vaccine rollout going smoothly, no surge in hospital admissions, evidence to show vaccines are working at reducing deaths and hospital treatment and that new variants do not threaten any of the above. The rest of the accommodation sector may be allowed to open from 17 May, but will be subject to stage three social mixing rules, which limit indoor gatherings to six people or two households. On 12 April, the Global Travel Taskforce will publish a report with recommendations for the restart of international travel. After this, the government will issue further guidance on when to resume international travel, which will be no earlier than 17 May.

Economic and other assumptions

Mintel’s economic assumptions are based on the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR)’s central scenario included in its November 2020 Fiscal Sustainability Report. The scenario suggests that UK gross domestic product (GDP) will have fallen by 11.3% in 2020, recovering by 5.5% in 2021 and 6.6% in 2022. GDP isn’t expected to return to pre-COVID levels Q4 2022. The central scenario has unemployment peaking at 7.5% in Q2 2021.

The current uncertainty means that there is wide variation on the range of forecasts, however, and this is reflected in the OBR’s own scenarios. In its upside scenario, economic activity returns to pre-COVID-19 levels by Q4 2021. Its more negative scenario, by contrast, would mean that GDP doesn’t recover until Q3 2024.

The second wave of infections and subsequent lockdown means that the short-term prospects for the country are consistent with the OBR’s negative scenario, but this needs to be balanced against the fact that the vaccine rollout is ahead of even the OBR’s central scenario. Medium to long term, then, we are still basing our forecasts and market analysis on the OBR’s central economic scenario.

Products covered in this Report

This Report considers consumer and industry responses to ethical travel, encompassing the environmental, economic and social/cultural impacts of travel. A number of related terms, including sustainable and responsible travel/tourism, have also been used throughout.

Holidays refer to overnight trips of at least one night made for leisure purposes. Trips for the purpose of visiting friends and family, business or other purposes are excluded.

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