How will the future of travel look once we have overcome the global pandemic?
The COVID-19 global pandemic is turning our lives upside down. Never before have we been forced to stay at home and practice social distancing as we do right now. And clearly, we are all waiting for the moment when restrictions will be lifted, and it will be safe to travel again.
But what might travel after the coronavirus outbreak look like?
Are we simply going back and pick-up where we have left?
What we are experiencing right now will have a lasting impact on the travel industry and our perception of travel and wellbeing.
So here are my thoughts on the future of travel.
I’d be curious if you agree or not. Please let me know about your thoughts in the comments below.
The global pandemic will leave the travel industry looking different once restrictions are lifted
Once borders will reopen and we will be able to travel the world again, we are likely to face a new reality.
In fact, the travel industry is one of the hardest hit by the current lockdowns. We don’t know how long it will take for hotels and restaurants to re-open, and especially the smaller and independent ones will struggle to survive.
There could well be those that will not be able to reopen again and those able to re-open might have to reconsider the type of services they will be able to offer, in part depending on the level of demand following the lockdown.
Short term, we might see really competitive prices in order to attract visitors to come back. However, over a longer term, some destinations might actually get more expensive as strong demand could face a reduced offer.
In addition, hotels, restaurants and other places of interest to travellers such as museums, popular landmarks and public spaces will have to come up with new ways to deal with visitors who coming out of the global pandemic are likely very conscious about large crowds.
For restaurants, this could mean to leave larger spaces between tables, thus reducing their overall capacity. The same might be true for strongly frequented places where we might see procedures in place to limit the number of people accessing at a given time.
Shorter trips closer to home will become more attractive
Travel restrictions will be lifted step-by-step and initially we might be able to travel only nationally at least for the first few weeks or even months.
However, even over a longer period I would not be surprised to see increased interest in shorter trips closer to home. Therefore, domestic travel is likely to be something to stick around for a while.
This will allow to go away but without the need to board a plane. Which does not only make travelling less expensive, it will also provide a higher perception of security. For example, being closer to home means in case anything unexpected will happen, travellers will not get stuck in a far-away place not knowing how to safely go home.
Domestic travel also offers the ability to go away more frequently for a shorter period. Therefore, weekend trips or extended weekend trips are likely to surge after the lockdown.
Finally, travelling locally will also serve the point to support local businesses, especially the smaller and independent operators that will strongly need this support once we are slowly returning to a normal life.
Flexible booking and cancellation policies will be at the centre of traveller’s interest
Cancellation policies or the flexibility to re-book without additional costs were (and still are in many cases) one of the main concerns during the Covid-19 crisis. Many travellers are still trying to figure out if and how they can get their money back for trips that have been cancelled.
Going forward, travellers will be much more sensitive regarding cancellation policies as we are currently learning that something unexpected can happen anytime.
Therefore, the hospitality sector needs to consider putting in place more flexible booking conditions to make travellers more confident to book again in future.
Flights could become more expensive after the global pandemic
Around the world, flights are grounded with just few still operating. Yet airlines have fixed costs to pay and with generally low margins in the airline business even the bigger companies will struggle to survive a disruption that could go on for months.
The sad reality is, not all airlines will survive and those that do will need significant government help to remain in business.
Once the world will return to travel again, there will be a likely smaller offer of airlines and flight connections.
Although airlines might initially try to lure travellers back by lowering prices and offer higher flexibility, over the longer-term flying might get more expensive.
Mass tourism will give way to individual, more meaningful experiences
It is not difficult to predict this one as we have seen it already happening over the past decade. And what we are going through right now will further enhance the appetite for more authentic and meaningful travel experiences.
Travellers will increasingly seek to learn more about local cultures and traditions and make a point to engage with local businesses rather than large international chains. Which does not mean large brands will fall out of favour; however they need to put increased emphasis on providing the traveller with authentic local experiences.
In general, however, local independent shops and restaurants offering traditional local seasonal food will become more important for any destination attracting international visitors.
Historic city walking tours, food tours, road trips and exploring more of the flora and fauna of a destination are all ways to explore a place beyond the tourist view. Going forward, we will see increased demand for this type of travel.
Travellers will put more importance on sustainable travel
A rising awareness of climate change already has left its mark on the travel industry, with many initiatives to implement more sustainability.
If there is anything positive of what we are going through right now, than this is the impact severely limited air traffic and people staying at home is having on our climate: The air in our cities has already become less polluted, our skies are brighter due to heavily reduced air travel and animals are returning to places where they have not been seen for years.
Going forward, travellers will make a point to choose those destinations, places and travel operators that put an increased emphasis on sustainability and combatting climate change.
Travellers and local authorities will become more conscious about overtourism
Around the world many places have increasingly struggled with overtourism.
Even before the CONVID-19 pandemic, more and more destinations have put restrictions in place to limit the influx of visitors to hugely popular sites.
In future, places like Venice, Matchu Pitchu or the Galapagos Islands among many others, are likely to have much stricter rules regarding the number of visitors and how the destination can be visited.
This might involve restrictions to enter with your own car and some of the already environmentally threatened destinations might also implement much stricter regulations to limit the number of large cruise ships accessing their ports.
As a result, visiting one of the world’s most iconic places will require a more careful planning and, in the end, could also become more expensive.
Festival and events will become more regulated and need to proof to be safe to attend
Even though we are all craving to go back to normal and no longer have to practice social distancing, it will nevertheless take some time until people will feel comfortable to frequent places with lots of other people gathering close to each other.
The awareness that large crowds pose an increased exposure to infections and viruses will certainly stick for a while.
Therefore, one of the big questions is: What will happen to the large festivals and events that see the gathering of large crowds like big sport or music events that typically attract thousands of people?
Festivals, trade shows, conferences and other events have always been many major reasons to travel and they will continue to be essential to support local businesses.
However, in future safety and sanitary requirements concerting these events are likely significantly higher.
This will pose a lot of pressure on these events, and we are likely going to see increased possibilities to join virtually along with ways of breaking those events into smaller gatherings.
Covid-19 could proof the end of ever larger cruise ships
Aiming for more individual travel and increasing local measures to limit overtourism might have a significant impact on cruise ships.
Cruise ships have become bigger and bigger over recent years, with often more than 5,000 passengers on board.
In the past, this had already led to controversies with residents and small municipalities considering the influx of thousands of day tourists a threat to the local community.
In addition, cruise ships were among those most hit by complications from the corona outbreak such as being denied accessing ports and COVID-19 outbreaks on several large ships.
This could have an adverse effect on the overall demand with some travellers deciding to avoid cruises for some time and other potentially opting for smaller cruise ships with less people on board.
The tourist industry will have to follow stricter sanitary requirements and regulations after the Covid-19 pandemic
It should go with out saying, but we all know that in the past not all hotel rooms, public bathrooms, trains or planes have lived up to the desired cleanliness; with some often-overlooked spots the source of many germs.
In future, sanitary requirements for those offering transport, hospitality and accommodation are likely to become much tighter. For example, those providing accommodation might be asked to carry out deep cleans more frequently.
Sanitary concerns of travellers might also result in the preference of hotels as they might have some concerns how stricter sanitary requirements for accommodation could be monitored by local authorities in privately rented rooms.
Social responsibility and giving-back
Over the past years, travellers have already discovered many opportunities to giving back when travelling.
Going forward, many will look for volunteer opportunities to add to their travels, make sure to purchase carbon off-setting schemes when travelling or pay charities that support local communities or nature and wildlife conservation.
Travellers will also be more conscious to behave responsible when travelling.
Check out my blog How to travel more responsibly, if you want to learn more about travelling more responsibly.
Travelling virtually is here to stay
The travel industry has looked to virtual reality to up their game and offer new possibilities to customers for a while. For example, some hotel brands already offer their potential guests the opportunity to take virtual tours through their properties
Now as people are locked down at home, there is a growing offer to travel virtual. Many world-famous museums have started to offer free virtual tours, more and more cities and even hotels are joining in to do the same whilst local businesses especially those in the wine industry have started to live-stream virtual wine tastings. Meanwhile, food bloggers along with several famous chefs also live-streaming cooking classes.
Travellers will not be stopped to travel the world, going to see stunning places, experiencing new cultures and flavours for real. However, many of the currently offered virtual sessions are turning out to be hugely popular and many are likely to stay on after the coronacrisis as well.
Therefore, life-streaming and virtual reality will play a more important role in future. In fact, they will become essential tools in travel planning.
How are you seeing the travel industry to change following the global Covid-19 pandemic? I’d be very interested to know more about your expectations.