It seems as if the whole world has been holding its collective breath and is waiting to exhale. We have: social distancing, self-isolation, no gatherings of more than three to five people, and the majority of businesses closed up. Everyone wants to get out and just move around. But how far will around be? Around the neighborhood or around the world? The coronavirus has created an environment of fear and questions.
For millions, the above measures will mean their holiday plans have been put on hold, and only recently does there appear to be even a slight possibility that things might be improving, ever so slowly.
As we attempt to return to some semblance of normalcy, one of the first things on many people’s minds is: “Where can I go?” Although now it may be more like: “Where can I go that’s safe?”. Because it’s no longer just a matter of picking a destination that you haven’t been to before, or where it’s going to be ‘fun’. Now, it’s also about finding someplace where you have a smaller risk of being infected and from where you can return home healthy. This is the new paradigm for travel.
Before COVID-19, the greatest fear when climbing Mt. Everest was whether there would be a human traffic jam on the climbing ropes. Now it may be the fear of sharing a tent with strangers. Travel has always been about experiencing different places and cultures but how can you do that if you’re afraid of crowded restaurants and you and your tour guide have masks on your face? This also might be another facet of the new paradigm for travel.
The President of the U.S. Travel Association, Roger Dow, has been optimistic in his prediction: “Over the long term we will return and come back to business as usual. People have short memories and there will be a pent up desire to travel”. This is the kind of statement one would expect from a Travel Association leader, but is it realistic? It’s easy to say that people have short memories and in normal times it might even be true, but the aftermath of a global pandemic is anything but normal. Not only are people likely to still have the fear of contracting the virus, but there is also the additional concern that is completely new and unique to this event: the possibility of being stuck and even quarantined in a foreign country and unable to return home. The stories of this happening to people are numerous. It is highly probable that potential travelers will evaluate possible destinations more on a safety rating of the location than on the cost involved, which historically has been one of the most important determiners.
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But there are some indications that Mr. Dow might actually be correct. People flocked to popular sites in China when the country attempted to restart its economy after months of shutdown.
(Visitors pack Anhui province's Huangshan mountain park on April 4, exceeding the visitor limit of 20,000.)
These images are shocking. One would have thought that people, especially the Chinese considering all that they’ve gone through, would be more concerned and cautious. So there definitely still seems to be an appetite for travel, even post-pandemic.
The future is still uncertain
Air travel is supposed to start up again soon, albeit quite slowly, and it’s difficult to predict what it will be like. Will all passengers be required to wear masks? Will there be drinks or meals served? Will there be empty seats in between passengers?
Because many airlines’ fleets have been grounded, they are facing a projected loss of more than $250 billion USD. Even with massive government aid, many airlines are facing bankruptcy, especially if the ramp-up of flights is as slow as anticipated. This means fewer choices and, ultimately, higher prices are the likely consequences for passengers. At first, there may be deals to be had as airlines try to entice people back into the air but eventually market economics will kick in and if there are fewer customers the fares will have to go up.
With budget airlines facing unsustainable losses there will likely be fewer airlines to choose from and this does not bode well for the travel industry as a whole. Transportation is key to the industry’s revival after this disaster. The World Trade and Tourism Council has projected a global loss of more than 75 million jobs worldwide along with $2.1 trillion in revenue. This means that when people finally do venture out the places they travel to may look very different than before, with fewer options to choose from than previously.
Will our habits change?
There are those in the industry who are predicting, or maybe just hoping, that business travel will help save the industry. But will it really? It is perhaps more probable that companies will want to save money, now more than ever, and that their customers along with their own staff may wish to conduct more business via teleconferencing. Post corona, it is easy to conceive that people would prefer a safer, less personal form of interaction.
As many travel companies will be reeling from months of no income, there is an increased chance of tour operators going under, possibly even while people are traveling. For this reason, it could be a wise move to purchase travel insurance to protect oneself. If the prices have gone up too much, then at least travelers should be advised to use a credit card for purchases to provide some protection.
With all these changes and the residual fear so many may be experiencing, it is predicted that there will be an increase in holiday road trips closer to home. This type of travel is also usually less expensive and shorter in duration. With mounting unemployment and shrinking economies people will be looking to spend less. The current oil price drop causing reductions in the cost of gasoline should further facilitate this form of getaway.
There will probably be an initial burst of travel when lockdowns finally end due to the stifled demand. If during this time countries experience a second or even third wave of infections, it could be devastating to the hoped-for recovery. Until there’s a vaccine developed or proof of herd immunity, the tourism industry will assuredly be subject to drastically reduced numbers of travelers and revenue. Much like the rest of the world economy, it could take years to climb out of this.