Are you chained to your desk and dreaming of a vacation? As the world gradually returns to some semblance of normality, travel is proving to be a high priority. However, you should be warned: your next trip may not look exactly like your last one.
The long term impact of COVID-19 will be felt throughout the travel industry in many different ways: some arguably positive, some definitely less so. Here are 5 changes we’re likely to see for the foreseeable future.
Continued Reduction in Flights
As we know, at the height of the pandemic, flight schedules were almost entirely cleared. That doesn’t mean we should assume a return to crowded airports anytime soon, though. Airlines will continue to operate on a reduced schedule to avoid further losses as the travel industry recovers. This especially applies to airlines that mainly run long-distance international flights.
There may be a corresponding change in consumer behavior. Those who accumulated frequent-flyer miles unthinkingly in the past have now had exposure to another way of life. It remains to be seen whether they’ll resume their old habits to the same extent. Of course, the airline industry will hope that they do; in the USA alone, the pandemic has resulted in over 90,000 job cuts.
As a result of the recent global crisis, there is a renewed focus on sustainability efforts. Decreased flights may be bad news for the travel industry, but it’s great news for the environment. According to the Global Carbon Project, carbon dioxide emissions from aviation were cut by up to 60% during the peak of lockdown.
The Birth of Travel Bubbles
Countries didn’t suffer COVID-19 equally, and they won’t recover from it equally either. While some developed countries hoard vaccines in quantities that far exceed their population, the Global South has struggled to obtain sufficient amounts to control their ongoing outbreaks. This is despite the establishment of the Covax scheme which was designed to ensure fair access.
Naturally, this disparity will have an impact on the range of travel destinations available. Governments worldwide are likely to continue imposing strict restrictions on the countries worst affected in order to protect their own populations. One way this may manifest is in the birth of “travel bubbles,” small groups of countries who make mutual agreements that allow their citizens to travel between them.
Eventually, we should be able to travel widely once again. However, the timescale for this transition depends on how developing countries are supported to (or prevented from) accessing vaccines and implementing comprehensive vaccination programs. It makes sense that there won’t be gap year trips to India while the people there continue to suffer a devastating COVID-19 crisis.
Domestic Tourism Increase
Since international flights are largely non-existent, there’s bound to be a trend toward domestic travel this summer. It’s not just safer to travel at home right now, it’s also cheaper, and this is a major factor in its favor. Bearing in mind that the economic damage inflicted by the pandemic resulted in huge job losses across industries, it’s safe to assume that those who travel soon are likely to do so on a budget.
This could be a huge boost to the domestic tourism industry, but service providers who are used to targeting a foreign audience may need to change their approach to attract a different clientele much closer to home. Marketing will play a role in encouraging people to view more local locations as potentially desirable vacation spots.
After so much time spent stuck indoors, we’re likely to see an upswing in travel to the countryside. Mass tourism is still to be avoided, so this is an opportunity that could be exploited by providers who work off the beaten track. Given the current circumstances, it would make sense that escapes to exotic resorts be replaced by rural road trips for determined travelers.
Divergence in Government Responses
Government regulation shut down travel when the pandemic struck, and this relationship between the state and the travel industry will continue to have huge importance. The global economy depends on travel, so this will be a key focus for governments as they try to recover post-pandemic. The approach that they will take depends on their ideology, and it’s likely to fall into one of two very different camps.
Some countries will rethink their tourism strategy to protect their population and the environment. They will encourage local holidays to keep tourist money circulating within the borders of their country. Although it could make their country a less desirable location, they will maintain strict health protocols as a preventative measure.
The opposite approach is similarly inevitable. Seeing that there’s less competition for tourists, other countries will reduce their protection to encourage as many visitors as possible. They will offer the cheapest deals possible in a bid to revive the same dangerous levels of hyper tourism that existed pre-pandemic, regardless of the risks.
Faced with these two styles of government intervention, the onus will fall on travelers to adopt a thoughtful approach and make responsible choices. This is when we will see whether the increased awareness of sustainability and safety issues due to COVID-19 will result in lasting behavioral changes or not.
Those of us who lived through 9/11 can testify to the huge changes that took place at airports in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy. Many of the procedures we take for granted today were introduced in response to the threat of global terrorism, and the international crisis of COVID-19 is set to have a similar long-term impact. At the moment, many airlines around the world require a negative COVID-19 test for passengers to fly. This requirement is likely to gradually relax as vaccination efforts accelerate; however, we shouldn’t expect to ditch our masks anytime soon. Safety measures will remain in place for the time being. In fact, if they want to fill some seats, it may fall to airlines themselves to reassure potential passengers of their commitment to biosecurity.
Post-pandemic, the one thing that hasn’t significantly changed about travel seems to be our appetite for it. We’ll still find a way to holiday, even in the new normal.