It seemed very recently that everyone wanted to travel. Whether by plane, ship, train or car the common thread of thought was “I need to go THERE!”
According to all experts and industry insiders, we were in a new golden age of travel; as a travel agent, I would agree. Tourism was one of the top 3 growing industries for the last few years-in 2018 tourism outpaced every other sector for overall growth; accounting for a total of accounting for 3.9% of global GPD. The WTO (World Tourism Organisation) predicted 1.6 billion tourist arrivals for 2020 and a projected $2.0 trillion spent on travel globally. Growth was increasing at 4% percent or better and people I spoke with were planning on exploring the world! I was no different. I have an ever-growing list of places I REALLY want to see! Ireland, Chile, Curacao, Argentina, America Samoa. With the ability to feel connected with places virtually and through an unprecedented portal of information and experiences instantly available the mood of many people was the desire to physically connect with these places, people and experiences. Today’s travels were known as “Collectors”. People valued experiences and adventures more than things or objects. A second “Golden Age” of travel had arrived! I was excited; as a travel writer and agent I saw a path before me of experiences; albeit, not always my own, but I would be part of it. I would help plan, execute and research the hell out of any place people I knew and loved would want to go! From the wonderful San Juan Islands of my home state, Washington to far off Norway. I had a part-time job I loved and enjoyed enough free time to dive in deeper to my first love of travel planning and writing. And then, Covid-19 happened. And that, as they say, was that.
The U.S. Travel Association put out a post that highlighted the impact of Coronavirus. Travel spending has been falling for 8 consecutive weeks-down 89% from last year, new bookings down 87% from the previous year. Concern about contracting the virus is slowly decreasing-down to just over 70% as of this writing. People are more willing to visit parks (31%) or stay in a hotel (17%). These numbers are still very low and many people have true economic concerns, but the desire to go forth and see what is out there is still part of people’s DNA. So what is next for travel in the age of COVID? Will it ever be like it was? How long will that recovery take? As a traveler, will there be deep cost advantages to traveling now? What are tourism destinations doing to keep visitors safe?
Travel Going Forward
In the short term, and I am hoping the long term, travelers will explore close to home. National Parks, campgrounds, close outdoor areas and outdoor venues that are less likely to be crowded will see huge growth. Road trips will see a spike in numbers, Air BnB’s will continue to stay on the uprise. That being said, roughly 60% of people will only travel to hotels or house rentals if there’s a sound cleaning and sanitation plan, a plan for keeping employees healthy and limiting crowd size. Digital and no contact check-in will be the norm; even after the Pandemic. The concern of overcrowding will stay at the forefront of people’s minds for a while. Thereby, once well-traveled cities like New York City, Venice and Shangai will continue to see soft numbers and have a very slow recovery. As will international travel, cruises and any venue that would normally draw a large number of people. Think the Sapporo Snow Festival in Japan or Mardi Gras. According to my research airline tickets will continue to stay low through 2021 and the check-in process will be smoother and streamlined (Hallejuah). Ticket changes and cancellations will be more flexible and people will want newer and less crowded planes. However, experts say that in the long run ticket prices could go way up as airlines try to recoup losses or one airline buys out another and owns a larger share of the market. Two things travelers are definitely looking for is good insurance and a flexible cancellation policy. Honestly, I agree with them. These things for too long have not favored the traveler. Travel insurance is not usually very expensive and has great value. As a travel agent, I have seen way too many people lose out on thousands of dollars due to strict cancellation policies, lack of insurance or not having a good understanding of what their insurance covers. If you cancel your cruise because you couldn’t get the time off of work or your dog got sick your insurance won’t cover that! Take the time to really look at travel insurance, if you can get a good travel card with optimum insurance and protection I would highly recommend it.
For airlines, cruises or tourist destinations to draw people they will need to focus on peace of mind for their guests, more support for travel disruption, offer technologies that at touchless and more hands-off, be heavily focused on hygiene and safety, add on perks and offer better fare. Many experts feel that business travel will be the slowest and least likely to recover. Also, that as flights are less frequent direct flights will not be as easy to come by. Prices are great for travel now and may continue to go down, especially on cruises, tours and international flights. Before you book be aware of some things.
- Is there a quarantine period? Some countries, territories and states are mandating a quarantine time for passengers that fly in.
- What is your exposure risk? Does the place you plan on visiting have a large outbreak? Are the restaurants and hotels taking extra precautions? If you get sick are the hospitals overrun?
- What are your options if your flight is canceled or the hotel closes down? Cruises, for example, are offering cancellation for up to 48 hours before departure date-but you don’t get your money back, you get a future cruise credit.
- Is your destination still in lockdown? Not every place is opening up at the same time or at the same pace. Likewise, how that destination is functioning varies from country to country, even state to state. If you want to go on a beach vacation, make sure your beach is open and if they are limiting visitors to small numbers. Make sure you take a mask in case it is required by the place you are visiting. Find out if there is mandatory testing.
Are there things that might never come back? Maybe. A breakfast buffet? Cramming people into tight airplane and concert seats? Some people say yes; I am conflicted. If overcrowding and jamming as many people as possible into a space never comes back I am great with that. I kind of like buffets; so do many parents who travel with kids and teenagers! However, I don’t suspect I will see a buffet for a long time.
What Will Happen to the Cruise Industry?
Perhaps there was no bigger growth in the travel industry that the cruise industry. The number of ships being built was staggering; with some ships adding 2 to 3 new builds a year for the next 5-7 years! Thirty million cruised last year and before the Pandemic that number was easily going to be passed in 2020. But with these giant ships housing thousands of people in a contained space, all the news coverage of the cases of COVID-19 that swept the Diamond Princess and the ships that floated aimlessly at sea for weeks; the cruise has suffered a huge blow! Most major cruise lines won’t be sailing at all until summertime. But, like every other aspect of travel, cruising is by no means dead! I have not canceled my cruise to Alaska. Even before the Coronavirus, I could see a split in ocean-faring travelers. A boutique, or small cruise experience, is preferred by many people; and for good reason. A more intimate experience, more things are included, you feel you have more room to move around and are not running into walls of people on the Lido deck. A smaller ship invites a more personal experience and people feel more involved and part of the whole experience. What cruisers enjoy is more peace and quiet, access to more remote and exotic places, a more luxurious experience, bigger cabins and these ships focus more on the destination and the experience of those places than on broadway shows and 7 waterslides. I believe that these smaller ships will see a speedier recovery than the 5000 passenger mega-ships. I am curious if these companies will lower their fare to attract a more mainstream traveler or attach more perks. Most of these boutique vessels have decided to keep no sail orders in place through the end of June, such as Viking; while AmaWaterways will cease operations until the end of July. These smaller ships will clearly be able to recover revenue before the mega-companies like Royal Caribbean and Carnival Corp. But, as a whole, no one really knows what will happen next in this industry as whole countries look to stay closed and there doesn’t seem to be long term or cohesive plans on reopening to tourists.
Travel By Train.
I love traveling by train! It’ easy, relaxing, comfortable and inexpensive. In the face of this epidemic, Amtrak announced requirements of masks for all passengers on trains, in the stations and public areas, the reduction of staff and reduced availability, they are also cashless now. On their website they posted a whole video about how diligently they clean and aim to keep passengers safe.
As far as I can tell, every company is adhering to CDC guidelines and even implementing stricter ones themselves, but I don’t know if there are universal enhanced or newer standards in place. Also, remember, the CDC is a U.S. Government entity and their standards only apply only to U.S. based companies.
What I see happening is virtual experiences and tours (already being offered), people traveling locally, to see family or close friends, and road trips. Our family has had some great road trips: To the coast, Leavenworth, Olympia, going on hikes and zip lining. Take the time to explore what is in your own back yard. I have found local publications in the library that has a whole calendar of events and festivals I didn’t even know about! The time will come for us to roam blissfully, a little more carefully, throughout this amazing planet; and I can’t wait! Until then, try things such as making beachy cocktails, learn some customs of a place you have always wanted to see, keep an eye out for great deals, if you feel safe enough to do so, and think about a great space nearby to visit.
For a list of places that offer virtual reality tours of museums, theme parks and zoos check out this link. https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/travel/a31784720/best-virtual-tours/
For the full article, that I referred to earlier in this post, from The U.S Travel Association click on the below link, I found it insightful.
Please feel free to share any concerns or ask questions. I always love to engage; I usually learn a thing or two.