A Four Phase Theory to the Return of Travel in 2021

Eric Oppegaard


Implications and recommendations for hoteliers when moving through phases of COVID-19 recovery

This time last year, hospitality professionals and beyond were speculating about how and when travel would return. As government restrictions and health agency guidance fluctuated throughout 2020, Amadeus published a four phase theory to help hoteliers better understand the implications of the crisis and formulate a recovery plan.

Today, as the race to vaccinate the world continues, we’ve taken another look at these four phases and updated them to reflect the current situation. With recovery happening at different times for each country globally, hoteliers can use this as a guide to adapt plans as they move from total lockdown, into local, domestic, regional, and – finally – global reopening.

Lockdown – Hotels remain impacted with limited business

As countries battle third or even fourth waves of infections, lockdowns and quarantine orders are sometimes necessary in the fight against COVID-19. Lockdown may be country, region, or even city-specific. It’s likely that borders remain closed and essential travel further than the local area is not permitted. Those that do want to enter may need a legitimate reason for doing so and are faced with testing and – potentially – quarantine upon arrival. Hotels may be closed or used only for quarantine purposes and social gatherings are not permitted.

Recommendations for hoteliers in this phase:

  • Upskill or train any available staff in preparation for an efficient reopening. Focus on updated hygiene measures or any changes to your operations.
  • Revenue managers, or anyone with access to data, should regularly review their forward-looking occupancy data to establish booking trends, lead times, and most profitable channels particularly once reopening dates are announced. Hoteliers in a new Amadeus poll ranked Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) as the most important distribution channel for their business in 2021, so be prepared to employ a diverse channel mix.
  • Analyze your existing database and consider whether your primary audience has changed. Did you historically target business travelers and need to pivot to leisure? What motivations will drive bookings in the future? If there are changes, spend time thinking about how to communicate in a way that resonates, or how to capture new audiences during reopening.
  • Use this time to think of additional ways to drive revenue once open, for example through creating new event spaces for different sized groups. Loyalty will also play an important role in a successful reopening, so if you don’t have one already, consider launching a loyalty program that rewards repeat visits.

Local Reopening – Growing business from nearby visitors

In this phase, cases are dropping, or vaccination rates may allow for some easing of restrictions. This includes the return of non-essential travel within the local area. Testing or proof of vaccination will still be a requirement, and quarantine could still be imposed on those visiting from higher-risk areas.

Hotels can reopen to those within the local area, and while the numbers or allowed capacity will vary, groups and events may take place.

Recommendations for hoteliers in this phase:

  • Focus your marketing budget on local leisure travelers within driving distance. Think about what promotions would appeal to this market (such as free parking) and communicate this across a variety of channels. With the desire to travel increasing, also consider ways to secure future bookings from those who cannot yet travel by offering irresistible early-bird deals or flexible cancellation policies.
  • Use forward-looking, on-the-books data to accurately anticipate changes in demand and pay close attention to patterns, such as booking windows, to understand current consumer confidence levels.
  • Actively communicate with your relevant database and let them know you’re open. Build messaging that appeals to their motivations for travel, such as reuniting with loved ones.
  • Ease guest concerns on-property with robust sanitization protocols. Show guests what steps you’re actively taking to make their stay as comfortable and safe as possible.

Domestic Reopening – Increasing revenues from greater available demand

An extension of local reopening, lockdown restrictions continue to ease within regions or countries. Cross-border travel remains limited but an increase in domestic flights may occur. Hotels are open and the limitations on hospitality reduce, with events allowed for up to 100 people indoors and 500 people outdoors on average.

Recommendations for hoteliers in this phase:

  • As occupancy increases, hotels can continue to rehire staff if possible. Ensure that each new staff member receives the same training in order to maintain new hygiene and safety standards.
  • Consider reopening other parts of your property, such as wellness centers or social spaces as more guests return and anxiety towards travel subsides. 91% of travelers feel technology will increase their confidence to travel, so look at ways to build this into their experience such as with online check-in to reduce staff interactions.
  • Consider your current pricing strategy and compare it with your competitive set. Instead of dropping rates that will be harder to recover in the longer term, build promotions that appeal to the needs of your target audience.
  • Actively communicate with your groups and events database, encouraging those who canceled to rebook and remind them of the space available.

Restricted Regional/Continental Reopening – Occupancy boost as guest confidence grows

In line with increased vaccinations or a reduction in cases, in this phase, inter-region or even international travel may once again occur. Countries may opt for travel corridors/bubbles or traffic light systems, backed by health passports such as the EU Digital COVID-19 Certificate, in order to reduce testing and quarantine for foreign visitors. Overall hospitality capacity increases, with the opportunity for large-scale outdoor events to return.

Recommendations for hoteliers in this phase:

  • 41% of travelers are keen to book international travel once allowed, so pay close attention to feeder markets, and prepare for when more countries are able to visit your property.
  • If possible, increase advertising to help your property stand out from the crowd, and limit spend to markets that are able to travel to your property. Focus messaging less on hygiene and more on your property’s unique features that differentiate it from the competition.
  • Increase revenue through ancillary services such as local tours. Learn more about how Amadeus Sherpa can help this process by facilitating the selection and booking of on-destination experiences.
  • As occupancy increases, so might the strain on your housekeeping and operational teams. In case of reduced staff or labor shortages, look at ways you can automate practices and optimize efficiency using technology.

Global reopening – A return to new normality

In this final phase, the world reaches its “new normal”. Global restrictions on travel lift, though testing or health verification may remain in the short-term. Limitations on gatherings are removed and all hotels can open. With 32% of hoteliers worldwide believing we will always need significant elements of hygiene measures, it’s likely some parts of the travel experience may not return to pre-pandemic norms.

Recommendations for hoteliers in this phase:

  • Data will be essential even as the world opens up. Continue to regularly review a variety of data sets and monitor to what extent traveler behavior alters in the long term as a result of the pandemic.
  • As restrictions ease, global business travel may pick up, so increase advertising spend on the GDS and reach back out to travel agents booking in your market.
  • Automate and personalize guest communications pre, during, and post-stay to continue nurturing relationships that drive loyalty.


By making decisions based on stages of recovery, it will be easier for hoteliers to successfully navigate reopening and to rebuild their business. If you’re looking for further insight and guidance on how to prepare for recovery, visit our Rebuild Travel hub to access a range of complimentary eBooks, reports, infographics, and more.