01 Oct 20
Pondering the future of Travel
Recent months have seen our world turned upside down in so many ways and scenes once unthinkable have become commonplace on our nightly news. Travel and Tourism was an early casualty of the coronavirus and may bear it’s mark much longer than many other industries. So what will travel look like in the months and years to come?
We’ve witnessed empty streets in Paris, New York and even Venice, that venerable but perennially besieged tourist mecca now stands empty and forlorn. I wonder what the locals must be thinking? No doubt they are worried about their livelihoods and the loss of income, but perhaps they’re also secretly enjoying having their beloved city back to themselves for the first time?
And will those feelings and experiences translate into much tougher limits and a say on how their city accepts tourist arrivals in future? Those forces were already at play in tourist hotspots pre-Covid-19, but will there now be an impetus for a changed landscape in travel as in many other walks of life?
Where can we go?
Before we consider whether our intended destinations might have tourist quotas, we’ll first need to figure out where we can go and what the journey there looks like. Interstate travel should be the first to open up in the weeks or months ahead as people plan to travel within their own countries first. Soon after it’s predicted that safe corridors of travel will be the first option extended overseas. The ‘Trans- Tasman bubble’ between Australia and New Zealand may soon be extended to include Pacific islands as well, where no virus cases exist. Certain countries in Europe are already planning this approach, with the Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia being the first to open up to one another. Slovakia and Czech republic are already in talks and it won’t be long before other European and Asia-Pacific countries with virus numbers controlled, soon follow suit. Destinations such as Japan, Vietnam and Nepal with relatively low or very low infection rates should soon be a possibility we hope.
The new airport experience
Airports in different parts of the world have already started novel ways to screen and disinfect passengers and common areas. In Hong Kong the International Airport is trialing a new full-body disinfection booth – a bit like a spray tan booth apparently – that provides a temperature check and a 40-second spray disinfection for each member of the public. (You won’t need that pre-flight perfume spray at the duty free shop now – and you probably won’t be allowed to do that either!). Queues, it goes without saying, will follow the same procedure as your supermarket with allocated spacing and plexiglass screens in place.
There has been talk of an ‘Immunity passport’ that would enable individuals to travel assuming that they are protected against re-infection. But the WHO does not think there is enough evidence to support this theory of immunity yet, so don’t hold your breath for that option. Eventually the availability of an effective vaccine will do the most to open the doors back for full resumption of travel globally. But it maybe possibly take years before it becomes commonplace to be able to travel anywhere freely again with this precaution in place. In the meantime travellers may have to make their own calculations on whether they are prepared to self – isolate for a period as the price of their travels. Short breaks flying abroad may disappear as a consequence. That has to be a good thing for our environment and we will have to savour less frequent flying but longer trips. That makes for a better travel experience anyway.
Is the heyday of cheap airfares over?
Planes will be thoroughly disinfected on all common surfaces. Your smiling ‘hostie’ may not seem as charming in future due to the fact they’ll be wearing a face mask – and chances are you will too, with some talk of making them also compulsory for passengers on flights. Korean Air is going a step further with its attendants issued with head-to-toe PPE to wear during flights. Personally, I’d find that a bit disconcerting but it may greatly reassure others. Each to their own!
You may find that you have a lot more elbow space though. Airlines are currently considering whether the middle seat in a row should be left empty so that people don’t have to share the armrest and to help keep social distancing enforced. So those days of a stranger falling asleep next you and slumping on your shoulder may become a distant memory. Will this also exacerbate the growing tendency for people to ignore their fellow travellers and bury their head in the in-seat entertainment? Or have we grown more gracious now and appreciative of human company after our time in isolation? I sincerely hope it’s the latter. If nothing else, we can chat about how expensive those air seats have become now…
The last two decades saw an unparalleled boom in air travel and in 2019 we enjoyed record low prices for long haul flights, with flights Australia – Europe for as low as $1100. There is talk that the heyday of cheap airfares is likely to have passed us by now. When large scale flights resume, it may be unlikely you’ll be able to score those kinds of bargains again. Whilst aviation fuel is at record low prices that factor alone is unlikely to translate to similar cheap fares, as airlines will need to recoup the huge losses they are currently making with their fleets grounded. Add in the potential of empty middle seats due to social distancing requirements and you have a recipe for expensive fares. Cheap air fares relied primarily on full planes and a healthy dose of competition. It’s anybody’s guess what the airline operating landscape might look like after COVID-19 but less competition on some routes and, worst case scenario a monopoly, rarely works in the customer’s favour.
Your experiences on the ground
Once on the ground what you experience next depends on what type of holiday you book. The talk in recent days of plexiglass screens at restaurants and beaches across Europe may not correspond to many people’s idea of a care free holiday atmosphere. Hotel buffets may also become an endangered species everywhere as utensils once commonly shared are now forbidden. Room service may be a lot more in demand. The hotel bar is unlikely to disappear though, that would be a step too far for many holidaymakers to stomach! Cruising and coach tours will need to adapt their strategies to entice people back and simultaneously keep their distance whilst in large groups. The bad press the cruise industry has had in recent months may put some off cruising for good – and not just for health reasons, as some of the damaging environmental practices of some big cruise lines have been put under the spotlight lately as well. It’s also been estimated that a cruise passenger emits more than 3 times the carbon footprint than someone travelling on a 747.
Walking trips, I am happy to say, will probably be in vogue as people can have all the space they desire while out on the trail and more freedom than most other forms of travel will allow. One trend I hope will continue into the future is that people will value the simple freedoms they have rediscovered by being out walking or on a bike in their neighbourhoods. Record numbers of people, especially family groups, have hit the trails to improve their health and discover the world at a slower pace. One would hope that this grounding experience means we will all share a fuller appreciation for the wonders of our world and sharing with it other people when we go travelling again.
That will make all the other stuff we’ll endure worthwhile!
NOTE: This is a speculative article only, based on various industry sources and any opinions ventured are just that, not facts!