As days morphed into months, travel became a distant memory for most - with people having little choice but to bunker down in the comfort of their homes to ride out the pandemic. Now, with the spiking numbers seemingly under control, countries are beginning to reopen their borders, shifting the conversation from will we travel again to when.
The hospitality and tourism industry was one of the hardest hit. While it has been an extremely bumpy road to recovery, there is something to be said for the industry as a whole taking a moment to pause, reflect, and reinvent itself. In looking back, we as a whole can come out of this pandemic stronger, more streamlined and, ultimately, better. This is what you can expect travel to look like for the foreseeable future. Afterall, as the old adage goes: “out of the ashes rises the phoenix.”
Local Travel and Travel Bubbles
It’s safe to say we are all suffering from a little cabin fever as we all cautiously emerge from the months of lockdown. Fear not! A change of scenery is finally on the horizon, albeit a little closer to home. Trading in international jet sets for weekends away at the cottage, experts are forecasting 2020 will be the year of local travel.
So, what exactly does this mean? With air and rail transit seeming like more of a burden than it’s worth, cross-country road trips are finally making their long awaited comeback. In contrast to past industry trends, travellers will now be opting for more secluded campsites, RV family road trips and less crowded destinations. International travel has been shelved for many due to the expense, mandatory quarantine periods, ever-changing travel restrictions, as well as a lack of affordable travel insurance covering COVID-related expenses.
The rise of travel bubbles (also called travel bridges or corona corridors), see neighbouring countries opening their borders to one another, permitting free access without mandatory quarantine or health certificates. This is a positive step for the international travel market, with the EU leading the charge, encouraging Schengen countries free flow between their borders. Australia is also in serious talks with New Zealand on opening up their own little travel bubble.
Airports and Airlines
While air travel likely won’t ever face it’s final curtain call, a shared feeling of reluctance to draw a breath within the confines of an airplane cabin and most authorities continuing to advise against non-essential travel has certainly put a damper on this sector. Combined with the idea of extended waiting periods at airports and potentially higher airfares as airlines struggle to fill seats bring us full circle as to why so many are opting for staycations.
But it’s not all bad news, as airlines have made great strides over the months to ensure the wellbeing of passengers onboard. Although each airline has taken a unique approach to altering the air travel experience in the face of COVID-19, the implementation of health and safety measures have been all-encompassing. From boarding the plane from back to front and requiring passengers to complete a short health survey to replacing hot meals with lunch boxes, keeping the middle seat open, mandatory face masks and limiting alcohol served onboard, every step of the customer journey has been revisited.
These measures, it seems, combined with summer being in full swing and border restrictions easing ever-so-slightly, have slowly restored passengers’ confidence in returning to the skies. In fact, many airlines are reporting an uptick in demand, showing promise for the industry moving forward.
For those considering international travel, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) website has a useful interactive map that tracks the latest travel regulations for every country around the world.
Suggestions for any upcoming travels:
- Arrive at the airport 4 hours prior to departure
- Wear a mask from door to door. Travelling from home to the airport via bus, train or rideshare has just as much of an opportunity to contract the virus
- It is now mandatory to wear a face mask on all airlines (infants and those with medical reasons are exempt)
- Self-quarantine for 14 days on return whether or not you are showcasing symptoms of COVID-19.
In the wake of the pandemic, stringent cleaning is no longer enough to win back guest loyalty, being seen merely as a basic expectation. Hotels, therefore, are making tangible changes at every touch point as they slowly begin to reopen.
Of course, there is no blanket solution to this, though most agree minimalist design and the implementation of technology will pave the way. Hotels are turning to the former by way of reducing the number of in-room items that need to be disinfected. So, wave goodbye to scatter cushions, magazines, complimentary pens, excess hangers and shared coffee stations.
Technology, on the other hand, is expected to play a significant role in improving the guest experience while minimising face-to-face interactions. The development of apps to aid virtual check-ins, digital keys using your phone, scheduling gym sessions, reservations, ordering room service and access to concierge, are just a few of the automations you can expect moving forward.
Further changes facing the hotel sector that go beyond the obvious social distancing tables and sanitisation station at every turn, include:
- Extended dining hours
- Buffets will be replaced by plated meals or grab ‘n go
- Creative use of dining spaces (more private dining under palm trees, or secluded nooks)
- Hotel group activities will become more personalised
- High touch surfaces will get extra cleaning (TV remotes, door handles and light switches)
- Some hotels are going that step further, by allowing guests to personalise their entire experience, by dictating how much interaction they expect (eg. turn down service, how often they want their room cleaned etc.) As well as,
- Leaving rooms empty for a period of time after a guest has check out
It’s hard to deny the positive impact reduced travel has had on the planet - the pictures of clear skies in New Delhi and dolphins returning to the canals in Venice are visible proof. Another way travel is expected to change after the pandemic is that we will all move through the world with greater social awareness.
With crowds completely dissipating from the usually popular cities like Amsterdam and Paris, locals have been getting a taste of their cities without the burden of overtourism… and they are loving it. This new world has raised many questions surrounding the notion of creating policies to prevent an excess of tourists in “hot” destinations. While the design and outcome of these policies remain a point of speculation, travellers may be looking at alternative itineraries (or “second city’s”) for some time. The recognition of sustainable travel benefits is also predicted to give rise to ecotourism, with people taking fewer but more meaningful getaways.
In the end, “necessity is the mother of invention” and many of the changes implemented across the industry come as celebrated enhancements.