The Coronavirus pandemic has been unprecedented, not in the scale of the disease, but the scale of the response. It has shut down the world on a level never seen before and could have a profound impact on the way we travel in the future. It is important to remember that we will travel again and the travel industry will resume, but some changes may be with is for a long time yet.
The travel industry has been forced to its knees, shut down on a scale never seen before, even after other public health emergencies of international concerns, terrorist attacks or global emergencies. Even 9/11 didn’t shut down the industry on such a scale. And just like 9/11, airports, airlines and travel providers are introducing entire rafts of new policies in an effort to try and keep up, and as the travel industry struggles to get back on track one thing is certain, some of these changes will be with us for a long time yet.
Let’s be clear, we will absolutely get through this crisis. The evidence suggests that Covid19 is nowhere near as deadly as initially thought, mortality rate is far lower than initially thought, infection rates may be a lot higher than initially thought which means that the already 98% mild to no symptom percentage may be even higher, and the already quite high 15% antibody herd immunity rate may be higher too. New cases are on the decline and the world is starting to come out of largely useless lockdowns, very slowly but still. This is not the world ending apocalypse the media keep telling everyone it is.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to have a huge impact on the travel industry, so how will travel look in a post coronavirus world?
Good and bad players.
This may take some time to play out but the sentiment of the travelling public has been pretty clear, they will be far less quick to forgive and forget the brands and operators that really screwed them over this time round.
I know that this is said quite a lot and never really happens, which is the reason Ryanair are still operating after treating customers like garbage all the time, but this time there is something different. This time there were a lot of airlines that acted appallingly in the midst of an international emergency, refusing refunds, leaving passengers stranded, actively lying about their legal obligations to provide assistance to passengers who found themselves stranded and afraid. In contrast their were a lot of brands and even a few airlines who stepped up and really did their best, even going above and beyond in extremely difficult circumstances.
The fact that this was a global emergency adds that extra element for travellers that won’t allow them to forgive as easily this time round. The really big bads like Ryanair will recover eventually but I think there will be a lot of loyalty shifts in the months after the crisis, and a lot of operators will be hit hard because of it. The smaller ones may not even survive it.
It pains me to say it but a lot of operators and brands simply won’t survive after this, and if the smaller ones didn’t earn traveller loyalty during the crisis, they can’t rely on them to come back and save them afterwards. The World Travel and Tourism Council estimates that there will be up to a million jobs lost every single day with a total cost of 2.1 trillion USD to the world economy just in 2020 alone. A lot of the smaller hostels, family run guesthouses, smaller tour operators and restaurants or food stalls will just disappear. They just won’t have the money or the profits to survive this. The guidebook and travel blog industry will have a severe culling too, a raft of travel magazines and online publications have already shut down, Lonely Planet itself has already closed some offices and shut down the forum, and frankly the majority of blogs aren’t set up in any way to weather any loss of income and will just disappear, and for those that do survive there will be very lean times ahead.
A smaller industry.
All this adds up to a much smaller industry for the foreseeable future, especially since everyone is still firmly in panic mode and any recovery is very slow in coming. Lockdowns are not being lifted, borders are not being opened and advisories are not being dropped as quickly as they should be which means a recovery is highly unlikely to start until late summer. Coupled with the fact that the economy is going to take a besting and people have lost jobs all over the world, travel just isn’t going to be a priority, which means that even if people start travelling and things start returning to normal over the summer, a recovery is likely to take much longer still, maybe not even this year. This is why it is so important that if you have the means after all of this and you are travelling that you do support local travel industries and operators as much as and wherever possible. If that means buying vouchers for future travel, postponing trips where it is practical instead of cancelling, or if you do plan to travel as soon as possible then look at all the smaller local businesses that will be really glad of your cash.
A rise in staycations.
As people do start to travel again once restrictions and lockdowns are lifted I think most people are going to travel more locally at first and international travel will take a lot longer to recover. This is for two main reasons, firstly the cost, staycations and local travel will be cheaper for those who may have taken a hit or two financially, and secondly a lot of people will still be very wary. The international media and governments themselves really ratcheted up the scare factor during this crisis and people will still remember how the travel industry reacted. Travellers won’t want to risk their health or risk being stranded somewhere again with airlines and insurance companies screwing them over. A lot of trust needs to be won back and a lot of fear needs to be managed in the short term. That is great news for the local staycation industry though.
A decimated cruise industry.
The cruise industry was never really the best idea even before this, but given that cruise ships are floating biological weapons at the best of times and ended up being quarantine prisons for a lot of people at the start of the crisis, people will not forget that in a hurry and the cruise industry will not recover anytime soon. To be honest that’s something I’m not too sad about.
More airport shenanigans.
One of the things that is likely to change a lot in the short term, with lasting repercussions in the long term, is the security and infection control policies and procedures in airports and on airlines.
The changes are already happening at a frankly ridiculous level, with reports of masks being mandatory, despite the fact they will have very little effect and probably cause more problems than they cure (I mean how many times are people going to take the things off and on for a drink on a long haul?) Airlines are saying they are going to try and social distance people by blocking the middle aisles, an ill thought out policy that is already causing problems as airlines are already backtracking on trying to make passengers pay for that, and there is no way that will last long. Airlines won’t put up with losing that much money in the long term and even just the optics of looking as if they are trying to profiteer off the virus is bad PR!
I do want to know though if airlines will finally use this as an excuse to get rid of those dreaded recliners! After all they were never fussed about getting too close to you before all this!
One thing that has become commonplace is a roll out of the temperature scanners. They are very limited in controlling any infection spread but it is something
Emirates is leading the way with the most ridiculous and extreme response to all of this with a pre boarding COVID 19 screening blood test. This is next level insane with a whole host of legal and ethical issues that I really don’t think have been thought through properly, but you can here my thoughts on that in much more detail on this excellent podcast from Kerwin Mackenzie of Passrider.com.
Worldwide border panic.
The biggest problem travellers will face isn’t at the airport or on board the plane though, it will be at the borders of individual countries. This crisis essentially shut the world down, and borders are starting to open up slowly, but the fact is many will be closed for a while yet, possibly until after the summer, and those that do open will probably impose a million conditions on entry, like you can’t enter at all without a valid GP certificate, a urine sample, a red T shirt won on the second Tuesday of every month and only after you have spun around three times on your left foot. There is no real logic or reason behind many of the decisions made but it is something we will all have to put up with for a while, and specific travel plans may need to be a bit more flexible in case our chosen destination isn’t open to travellers. The biggest hurdle is going to be the government lifting of travel advisories though, something they are notoriously slow at. Probably the one thing I am concerned about the most is the exceptional travel advisory the UK put in place. Let’s be frank with that in place there is no real chance of a real recovery for the travel industry, and it took them a decade to review the advisory against Egypt! Let’s hope exceptional doesn’t become long term.
Infection control is very likely to be a big part of our travels in the short term, and hopefully this will be one thing that does last into the long term too.
Like most respiratory diseases, COVID 19 is spread primarily through droplets of saliva or mucus, either through direct contact, someone coughing or sneezing on you, or from handling surfaces or foods were these droplets have settled. This means the absolute best, foolproof methods of protecting yourself are these:
- Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly in warm soapy water.
- In between proper hand washes use alcohol hand gel frequently.
- Wipe down any public surfaces you may have prolonged contact with such as aeroplane trays with a disinfectant wipe.
- Maintain at least 3 feet from other people on average and more if they are actively coughing or sneezing, so you can avoid inhaling the virus.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. This is how all those droplets from all the surfaces you touch get transferred to you!
- Use respiratory hygiene. What that means is if you do cough or sneeze make sure you use a tissue, dispose of it properly and immediately and then wash your hands thoroughly. Remember that old saying, catch it, bin it, kill it! It’s an old saying for good reason!
And in case this didn’t get through, the most important thing you can do to protect yourself is wash your hands! This is so important we actually had a practical exam on this technique during my nursing degree!
So you can expect to see a lot of changes from passengers who will (hopefully) be washing their hands more regularly, being far more aware of surface to body transmission and the things they are touching, and much more conscientious about disinfecting and cleaning their own personal spaces on planes, especially by wiping down the screen, trays and window areas with antibacterial wipes. And you can expect to see some changes in the industry too, hopefully airlines will be held more to account about how well and how often they disinfect their planes between each flight, you may see less human interaction in the checking in and boarding process with more automated procedures, and less contact points throughout your stay with hostels or hotels providing contactless keys or apps that can give access to rooms, or more contactless payment options.
I can imagine a lot of the industry will be using terms like clean, sanitised or covid free in their marketing materials in the short term at least.
Not all of these measures will be long term of course, I don’t expect the mask requirements to last long, US airlines are already being told not to enforce them, and good luck keeping social distancing on planes and at the departure lounges, but just like the insufferable liquid bans and security theatre we had to put up with before this, some things will become the new travel normal.
Despite a huge lack of understanding about this aspect of infection control, social distancing will be around for a long time yet. You can expect much longer queues at check in and at security as they struggle to keep people apart (I really don’t think this will be practical in the long term), and you can certainly say goodbye to buffet breakfasts if you stay at a hotel.
But perhaps one thing that may be a positive aspects of this is the reduction in overtourism. It isn’t likely that open public areas like beaches will be policed in the long term and there will always be places with crowds, but I expect tour groups to start running smaller tours, large touristy sites like the Eiffel Tower or The London Museum for example may impose quotas on how many people can enter at any one time, so it may not be a cure all but I expect social distancing to leave a longer legacy in the industry than most things.
Overall in the long term most things will return to normal eventually. The panic will end, the risk will dissipate and we won’t give this a second thought any more than we do bird flu. Either way, we are going to have a very different travel experience in the near future at the very least, but it is important to remember that no matter what those changes are, we will travel again!
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