2020 was not a good year for the forces of globalization. Coming into the year, the situation already seemed bleak - nationalistic policies and trade wars had started to have an impact on goods flows; migration was turning into a political (almost tribal) issue; renewed focus on ESG considerations began to have an impact peoples' purchasing decisions.

The months that followed knocked the wind out of globalization's sails. With borders for people all but shut and international travel discouraged, migration fell to an all-time low. At the same time, supply chains became entangled (see Trend 4: Infrastructure supply networks evolve, for more on this), sending waves of disruption across the ports, airports and logistics sectors.

Interestingly, the impact on ports, airports and logistics companies has been uneven. The aviation and tourism sectors have been the hardest hit by the pandemic. Yet, while passenger volumes plummeted, some were able to benefit from the increasing demand for air cargo services, allowing a welcome opportunity to shore up revenues and better sweat assets.

As markets seek to define the 'new normal' in international travel, we expect to see governments and aviation authorities start to collaborate to harmonize regulation and standard operating procedures across countries. Much like the historic loss of trust experienced by the industry during the spate of hijackings in the 1970s and the period following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the industry will need to find ways to rebuild confidence in air travel.

Ports also saw a drop in trade, reduced volumes and congestion as supply chain networks became disrupted. In many cases, support from port authorities, governments and policy makers has helped. But the sector is heavily dependent on end-user industries and trade so, depending on the prime commodities they handle and their location in the supply chain network, some ports may take two to three years to revert to pre-COVID levels.

Airport and port operators have recognized the need for technology and automation as a way to create greater resilience and stronger response mechanisms (see Trend 4: Infrastructure supply networks evolve). Over the coming year, expect to see greater investment into digital and smart ports, airport automation and the development of institutional mechanisms for improving collaboration between supply chain actors.

Given the magnitude of the disruption and the critical role played by ports and airports in the global supply chain, we expect to see stakeholders (including governments, regulators, investors and service providers) start to place a greater focus on driving enhanced financial and operational resilience across their assets and networks.

Indeed, we believe this year will see port and airport operators start to consider the art of the possible - looking for ways to unlock value from data, contributing to a greener and cleaner environment and planning for an eventual return to stable growth.