Cautious optimism for travel operators in 2021 but a hazardous journey ahead, says RSM

The travel, leisure & hospitality and retail sectors will all experience marked increases in consumer demand by mid-summer 2021 if current projections persist says RSM. 

The uptick in demand in these sectors hardest hit by the pandemic will be driven by the unleashing of household savings and business activity moving towards a more solid, albeit changed, environment following a successful vaccine roll-out by summer. 

The leading audit, tax and consulting firm is forecasting a year of relatively strong GDP growth in 2021, with the possibility of a stronger pace of economic activity in the second half of the year linked to the production and distribution of a vaccine and a sustained increase in household spending near to 5 per cent.

For travel operators who are robust and sufficiently agile to weather the many challenges that remain, this gives reason for cautious optimism. Nonetheless, they will need to be able to respond quickly to pent up demand and there are regulatory changes which could hinder recovery. 

Ian Bell, head of travel and tourism, said: ‘Survival will still be the aim of the game for travel businesses as we enter 2021. This will likely be the case until at least Easter when there’s hope of the beginnings of a rebound if customer confidence returns. But how quickly the industry can turn on its heel to meet demand will be critical. Those running on skeleton staff will need to recruit quickly and more demanding regulatory challenges could play against the sector too. 

‘Now is the time for agility, but with Brexit and the potential visa implications it brings, and the lack of consistency or support from government agents, it’s unlikely travel businesses will be out of the woods come summer. Talks of a vaccine passport and the reduction in the quarantine period are good footings to start the year on. But it all comes down to how quickly the nation can be vaccinated and consumer confidence returns before there’s any hope of a boost in booking patterns across the sector.’