Family reunions and 'workations': how the pandemic will change the way we travel

Travel patterns are being permanently altered, says Brian Chesky, Airbnb’s CEO

A growing number of people are coming to Saint Lucia for extended stays that combine work and leisure, according to Windjammer Landing Villa Beach Resort. Courtesy St Lucia Tourism Board
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The pandemic will permanently change the way we travel, according to Brian Chesky, Airbnb’s chief executive.

He predicts that people will place more focus on spending time with family and friends, and shy away from the world’s big cities, seeking out smaller, lesser-known destinations. Flying around the globe for business meetings will also become a thing of the past, he said at the Reuters Next conference on Thursday.

They're not yearning to see Times Square. What they are yearning to do is to see their friends and their families.

Travellers are “yearning for what was taken away from them,” Chesky said. "They're not yearning to see Times Square. What they are yearning to do is to see their friends and their families they have not seen in a long time."

Airbnb was hit hard in the early days of the pandemic, with business dropping by 80 per cent in eight weeks. However, as travel restrictions were lifted around the world, many people felt safer staying in homes than hotels, which resulted in Airbnb posting a surprise profit in the third quarter of 2020. In line with Chesky’s predictions, the San Francisco home-rental platform witnessed increased interest in properties outside of major cities.

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Airbnb Chief Executive Brian Chesky poses for Reuters in Los Angeles, California, U.S. November 17, 2016.  REUTERS/Phil McCarten/File Photo/File Photo
Airbnb chief executive Brian Chesky. Reuters

Chesky’s sentiments are supported by other industry experts, who foresee a rise in “reunion holidays”, as families that have been separated for months come together in safe, private settings.

“We are witnessing growing interest in three-generational villas where whole families can come together and reunite after a year spent apart,” says Simon Ball, owner of luxury villa rental agency Tuscany Now & More.

“It goes without saying that people are going to want privacy and luxury, which go hand-in-hand, but people are also looking for a unique experience, a way to treat themselves after such a gruelling year.”

Sean Moriarty, chief executive of Quinta do Lago Resort in Portugal, concurs. ”Our guests want to learn new things, experience a bit of adventure and seem to be really appreciating quality, family time. We are already witnessing a rise in demand for outdoor living, enriching experiences and a relaxed lifestyle.”

Also expected to grow in popularity is the "working from holiday" trend, or the “workation". With many people no longer tethered to offices and with quarantine rules necessitating extended stays in many countries, travellers will take the opportunity to combine business and leisure in far-flung destinations around the world.

"Over the last few months, we have seen a growing trend in extended bookings, with people looking to work from the resort,” says Michael O’Sullivan, general manager of Windjammer Landing Villa Beach Resort in Saint Lucia.

“In light of this, we have launched a new Work from Windjammer package, which is tailored for families with working parents or elder siblings. Our villas lend themselves perfectly to these sorts of holidays, where family members can work from home using spare rooms as offices and still spend quality time together.”