Africa Travel Week

Luxury travel in the time of COVID-19

Luxury during a global pandemic. Is there such a thing? Moreover, is it even proper to think about luxury at this time? For some, musing about and indulging in small luxuries is an escape from difficult times. If you’re in the luxury travel industry, this is a crucial time to reflect, writes Jean Carmela Lim.

COVID-19 could very well be the biggest and most difficult setback the travel industry has ever experienced. UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organisation) Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili has stated that with this global pandemic, tourism is among the hardest hit of all economic sectors.

Looking at the figures, the UNWTO has predicted a decline in international tourism between USD $300-450 billion, which is almost a third of what was generated in 2019 ( USD $1.5 trillion).

When they analysed previous market trends, they found that this means COVID-19 could bring about a loss of five to seven years’ worth of growth.

We are currently in the midst of riding out the pandemic, and while it is too early to make a full assessment of the impact COVID -19 will have on tourism, those of us who are in a current business standstill can use this time to think about how we can move forward.


From offering your facilities for non-critical care patients and medical personnel, to providing meals healthcare emergency workers and local communities, there are ways to get involved.

Since the dramatic increase of COVID-19 globally, governments worldwide have started working on medicalisation of hotels. This is needed in order to ease the strain hospitals are facing as they struggle to fulfil the beds needed as COVID-19 rapidly spreads.

In New York, one of the very first hotels to respond by opening its doors to healthcare workers was the five-star Four Seasons Hotel on 57th street. Ty Warner, chairman of the company that owns the Four Seasons said in a statement that he offered the hotel for New York to use after hearing a call to action made by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Other hotels in New York have followed suit. The Plaza, The St. Regis, and YOTEL announced that they would provide their facilities for non-critical care patients and medical personnel.

If your hotel or company is not in a capacity to shelter people during this timethere are many other ways to help. For instance, the Kimpton Fitzroy London is serving free breakfast and lunch to healthcare emergency workers. In Las Vegas, major resort and hotel brands including Caesars, MGM and Wynn, have donated more than 400 000 pounds of food to local charities. In Sri Lanka, Theva Residency and Flameback Eco Lodge have chosen to support their local communities with food during the lockdown period.

Help doesn’t have to be monetary. The Hari in London is also offering to make grocery, pharmacy and post office runs for those who need help.

The effort to help goes beyond hotels. The Cape Town International Convention Centre (home to Word Travel Market Africa) is to be used as a temporary 800-bed hospital for Cape Town. ExCeL London, (where World Travel Market London is held), now houses the world’s largest critical care unit. 


Over the last five years, we have seen trends in luxury travel change at quite a fast pace, with all the changes happening organically without a major disruption like a global pandemic.

It wouldn’t be surprising therefore, that what the market has perceived to be luxury travel will once again get re-defined. Exactly what these changes are remains to be seen, but Druvi Gunasekara, Managing Director of Boutiques in Sri Lanka, shares her outlook. “Tourism will bounce back, and travellers will likely feel more secure in opting for more private accommodation in villas and small boutiques as opposed to high inventory properties until confidence returns.”

She also adds that local agents will be the ones who will need to go the extra mile to ensure guests are safe from the start of their itinerary until departure.

The past years saw a focus on adventure and personal experience in luxury travel trends. Moving forward, will there be a focus on health and hygiene? It will be interesting to see how luxury travel will be re-defined once again.


Now that most people are indoors and very likely spending their time online, there’s no better time to make your brand’s social media presence felt.

And what exactly does a luxury travel brand post on social media in the midst of crisis and uncertainty?

There are three travel brands that stand out in maintaining their social media presence at a time like this. They were careful not to be blatant in marketing luxury during this time yet provided an aspirational and reassuring message to their target market and clients.

British leisure travel group TUI Travel posted a short and simple message right after they had to suspend majority of all travel activities to comply with requirements from respective governments that they travel to.

It’s a simple message that provides encouragement and reassures clients that they will be back to business when things are better.

More than this message, what makes the TUI Group impressive is their transparency and real-time update on their webpage. They keep regular updates about retrieval operations, bringing their clients safely back home. They also created a video of TUI Cruises’ farewell of their last guests before the travel restrictions.

Virtuoso Travel has also provided a similar message on their social media pages.

And on top of this, Virtuoso Travel has made the best use of its company blog during this time, posting very timely articles like “How to Stay Social While You’re Social Distancing” and “What We’re Doing Until We can Travel Again”, which not just gives tips on what people can do at home, but also encourages travellers to stay home.

Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani message of support

Southern Sun’s Elangeni and Maharani hotels have come out blazing with a powerful message of hope and solidarity to inspire South Africans, by simply leaving a few lights on. The hotel group changed the facade of the hotel, by constructing a heart and the words, hope and love by switching off some lights and leaving others on in the hotel rooms.

While we are no doubt facing uncertain times in the industry, one thing is known: Tough times don’t last so this will pass. In the meantime, stay hopeful and healthy.

Jean Lim

Jean Carmela Lim is the voice behind luxury and adventure travel blog, Holy Smithereens. Since a childhood trip to Hong Kong and her first typewriter, Jean has spent a lifetime pursuing her passion of travel writing. With a background in the airline industry and government travel, Jean now creates travel content full-time on blogs and social media, exploring life's unforgettable moments through luxurious travels both near and far.