The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted virtually every industry and altered countless aspects of our daily lives. To date, more than 5 million confirmed cases have been reported, claiming more than 328,000 lives worldwide. Terms like “social distancing” and “self-isolation” seemingly entered the collective lexicon overnight. In an effort to flatten the curve, schools and universities shuttered, resulting in millions of students pivoting to homeschooling and virtual learning. Unemployment rates have skyrocketed. And, of course, the tourism industry has also been hit particularly hard as it tries to navigate uncharted territory and answer the questions we’ve never before had to ask regarding travel in the age of COVID-19.
Millions of vacations have been canceled, the planet’s most popular attractions have been closed, and the airline industry is facing a crisis unlike any it’s ever seen. With travel essentially on hold since coronavirus began dominating headlines, there’s really no clear insight on when things will return to “normal” or what the future holds.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the first place people should turn to for the most up-to-date advice on COVID-19 and its effect on future travel plans. The CDC regularly updates their Travelers’ Health page with real-time heath notices and breaking alerts. But with so many tourism-related questions swirling around our heads right now, we decided to survey a panel of travel experts to get their thoughts on what the future of travel might look like. Here are their predictions.
What are the most important safety tips people need to keep in mind when traveling amidst COVID-19?
According to Dr. Angela Durko, a tourism professor and researcher at Texas A&M University, being armed with the most current information is the key to safety during any trip. “Know before you go. If traveling to a different county, state or country, research what their policies are before you get there.”
“Don’t expect to be catered to just because you’re on vacation,” she continues. “You’re also responsible to maintain the safety of the location you’re visiting. Find out what their government or locale mandates for PPE and what services are open and how they’re operating before you get there.”
With pent-up travel demand, what are some of the safest trips people can start thinking about taking?
“’Shorter, closer, later’ is how we’ve characterized booking trends for years now, but this summer may embody it more than ever,” says Dan Yates, managing director and founder of Pitchup.com. “Even if government gives the green light before summer, many will be reticent to travel mid- and post-COVID-19 and instead choose remote, domestic locations like campgrounds over densely populated areas, certainly avoiding transport hubs like international airports.”
“Many countries remain closed to outsiders and states are re-opening on their own timetables, so it would be best to choose locations that are drivable, where you feel welcome and safe,” advises Jennifer Hawkins, founder and president of Hawkins International PR. “Rather than hop in a car and head off on a spontaneous road trip, plot your itinerary carefully to be sure you can access hotel brands that’ve announced cleanliness protocols or partnerships.”
Are there specific types of travel that people should avoid for the time being?
“We’re advising clients against spending time in densely populated metropolises and limiting time there—and to be fair, this is already high on their list for planning travel,” says Tom Marchant, co-founder of luxury travel planner Black Tomato. “Social distancing is in our vernacular now and will come into play as travelers will avoid closed environments, opting for private villas, exclusive use accommodations, boat charters, and unfettered experiences void of crowds and density.”
Bob Harris, EVP of Group Sales for Myrtle Beach Chamber & CVB, agrees. “I’d be concerned about larger cities that would include some of the busier mass transit options to get around,” he says. “Hopefully that’ll change soon, but at this point it’s nice to be able to drive around in your own car.”
What will be some of the short- and long-term effects of COVID-19 on domestic travel trends?
“The short-term will see a reliance on checking reviews to see if hotels and airlines are adhering to cleaning and social distancing,” predicts Durko. “Consumer reviews will be highly impactful and important. Additionally, an interest in slow tourism may emerge, [which] allows the traveler to take time to appreciate their surroundings, authentic local experiences, and support local businesses.”
“Short-term there will be hesitation and fear,” advises Shannon Stowell, CEO of the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA). “Trust will be key for successful travel businesses in the future. Some businesses will die or hibernate, so some of the diversity of travel offerings might thin down for a bit, but they’ll come back. This culling also means that businesses unable to adapt will be the ones to disappear, so I believe the future will be full of innovative and fresh companies and ideas. But it’ll take time to get there. Between now and then will be a very difficult time for everyone in the travel business.”
Will we see a drop in international travel interest due to COVID-19, or just a refocus to under-the-radar destinations abroad?
In a recent survey conducted by Azurite Consulting, 3,500 Americans revealed the specific changes in behavior and sentiment the coronavirus is causing in U.S. households. Their results found that 36 percent of respondents indicated they will not fly internationally again until a vaccine is available.
According to Durko’s research, she found that “international travel by plane and visiting large attractions were some of the activities consumers said they would be slow to return to. However, allocentric, adventurous types are still going to want to get out, and may travel internationally, but to smaller locales in more remote locations. Mass destinations internationally may get a small break from the typical tourists for the near future, while less populated, off-the-beaten-path destinations might see more tourists than normal,” she says. But industry experts are hopeful for a resilient future.
“We anticipate travelers will become more discerning when they begin to travel abroad again,” says Serge Ethuin, general manager of Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo in Monaco. “As travel restrictions are lifted, we expect that, to start, international travel will be most accessible to those with access to more private modes of travel, via private aviation and yachting, for instance.”
What other types of travel should we expect to spike in popularity because of COVID-19?
“I think domestically, we’re bound to see a resurgence of the Great American Road Trip,” predicts Nerissa Okiye, tourism director for the Martin County Office of Tourism and Marketing. “Road trips are unique because they give individuals a sense of control, which I think is essential after feeling so out of control these past few months. I anticipate that trips to the beach, mountains, or any open spaces will see a spike in popularity in the weeks and months to come.”
“Following this long period of social distancing, we anticipate many travelers will play it relatively safe by traveling in smaller groups and choosing closer-to-home, more familiar domestic travel,” says Mary Quinn Ramer, president of VisitLEX. “Moving toward the summer, we predict we’ll see regional road-trippers visiting more accessible domestic destinations they can get to on their own, and those seeking open-air, nature-filled experiences after being cooped up for so many weeks. We’ve faced this pandemic as a global community, and now travelers will be turning their attention to their local and regional communities: revisiting the places and spaces that fill them with joy.”
“Glamping, off-grid adventures, and outdoor recreation will all be stronger sooner than confined, crowded types of travel,” says Stowell. “And these are good for people and not totally self-indulgent, which I think is good for us. The difference in choosing a trip around passions versus merely pleasure could mean that travel will become more purposeful and meaningful in the future.”
When it comes to air travel, what will be some of the biggest changes people should anticipate?
“Airport screening will become as much about health as it is about weaponry,” indicates Simone Collins, CEO of Travelmax, a Philadelphia-based travel management company. “We expect temperature checks to become pervasive—and to be occasionally supplemented (in line with isolated outbreaks) by additional testing in order to avoid mandatory quarantines. This additional testing can already be seen with Vienna Airport, which is presently offering a 190 Euro test enabling (COVID-19-negative) entrants to circumvent the nation’s 14-day quarantine.”
“As we come out of shelter-in-place or quarantine locations, people will seek to avoid crowded areas and exposure to multiple travel layers and processes,” says Andrew Collins, CEO and president of Sentient Jet private aviation. “At the same time, people will absolutely need to travel again—whether for business, to reconnect with family, or simply change locations. Private aviation is rapidly seeing a shift from a perceived lifestyle amenity to a needed utility that people are using to regain control of their lives. In the last 45 days, we’ve sold an equivalent of over 5,000 private jet hours, signifying that travelers are making a serious commitment to flying private in the long-term and not just using it as a one-time solution.”
How will categories like the cruise industry adapt to new concerns about COVID-19?
Research findings from Azurite Consulting depicted that the cruise industry will be one of the hardest-hit sectors of the tourism industry. Of the respondents, 25 percent of avid cruise-goers said they will never take a cruise again, while 65 percent claimed they’ll wait until a successful vaccine has been developed to book a cruise.
“The cruise industry will certainly recover but all research shows that at this time the public is most concerned with this form of travel,” says Harris. “I have full confidence that the cruise industry will work to develop new sanitization standards to reassure weary travelers, although it’ll take some time.”
What sort of impacts do you think COVID-19 will have on the home-share companies (like Airbnb and VRBO)?
“Travelers will prioritize professionally managed home rentals like OneFineStay, Locale, and Inspirato that come with the peace of mind that they’ve been professionally cleaned to uphold the latest safety and hygiene standards—something you can’t always guarantee when renting from a third party on a home-sharing site,” predicts Catherine Colford, managing director of Maverick Creative, a communications agency specializing in hospitality and lifestyle clients. “There might also be a comeback for timeshares, which provide the space of a home rental and are professionally managed by brands like Hilton and Marriott. A new brand called KOALA launching this summer even lets travelers book a stay at a timeshare without owning one, which travelers will find as an appealing option.”
“Companies that offer extremely controlled environments will be well-positioned post-COVID-19,” says James Henderson, CEO of Exclusive Resorts. “Traditional home-share companies like Airbnb and VRBO will likely suffer due to properties being owned and maintained by everyday individuals. Membership-based companies like Exclusive Resorts, which has dedicated on-site staff to maintain its 400+ luxury Residences around the world, will see an uptick in business among affluent travelers.”
In what ways will the hotel industry change once people begin traveling again?
“Hotels will be quick to adapt to ensure the heath, and safety of their guests,” says Okiye. “Signage detailing cleaning procedures will be more visible, so guests are more comfortable with the new measures being taken. Hotels that rely on larger group business will have to be more flexible and may have to look at alternative revenue streams.”
“Travel is built on the business of hospitality—making people feel comfortable and excited about their experience,” says Michael Cady, Vice President of Marketing of Charlestowne Hotels. “Hospitality will take on a new role out of this pandemic, one that’s centered on safety as the new comfort, by alleviating guests’ concerns before, during, and after their arrival. Beyond hand sanitizer stations, expect to see more hotels embrace pre-arrival phone calls detailing safety policies, advance or mobile check-in options, a rise of in-room workout equipment or capabilities for in-room fitness, pre-packaged snacks, and grab-and-go meal options in place of buffets or continental offerings.”
What are some other broad stroke travel trends you predict we’ll see in the months to come?
“We’re experiencing a surge of interest in intrepid, adventurous, and secluded destinations and experiences since we’ve collectively been cooped up indoors for so long, marking a logical return to visit the world’s unfettered destinations,” indicates Marchant. “We’re also seeing an increased interest in epic, once-in-a lifetime trips and bucket-list adventures.”
“People will be seeking wellness trips; experiences that are about betterment, health and wellbeing, and destinations that give them space and opportunities to let go,” predicts Hawkins. “I also think more people will—and should—use travel advisors, who can research things such as accessibility, social distancing, restaurants, and the availability of cultural institutions and local attractions. If you use a travel advisor, be sure to have them make reservations or arrange private guides for things like museum visits.”
“Our guests are definitely prioritizing destinations where they think they’ll be able to have a great experience without being around very many people,” says Edward Piegza, founder of luxury tour company Classic Journeys. He says now more than ever, people are seeking out destinations that are “known to be highly restrictive, like the Galapagos, where they limit the number of people in total on the islands; Zion National Park, where the Bureau of Land Management caps the number of people in the Zion Narrows to no more than 13 at a time; or Iceland, where the popular perception is that it’s wild and open with few people.”
When can travelers expect things to go back to normal, or will it simply become a “new normal”?
“Normal is gone, whatever we imagined it to be,” says Stowell. “Too many things have changed, too much has been lost, too much time has been spent in lockdowns or quarantines for us to forget quickly. In the meantime, businesses are radically changing to survive, destinations are re-writing their playbooks and travelers want different things than they did before. I hope that travelers will realize what a privilege travel is and not a right, and that we will all imagine a kinder, more responsible, and more sustainable future in travel.”
“This pandemic showed that what we’ve come to accept as ‘normal,’ was not acceptable, and we needed a wake-up call,” advises Durko. “We should not go back to that normal. As travelers, we have a responsibility to respect the land (both home and abroad), clean up after ourselves, not be in public if we’re ill, use our vacation time, spend quality time with family, and hold industry and businesses to a high standard of cleanliness and responsibility. We, as a nation and world, had become very lax in those ideals. Yes, many people are making changes for the positive in the interim; how long those positive effects will last remains an unknown.”
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