By H. Prado
Travelling is one of the most enriching experiences one can have, and it was certainly an opportunity taken by many last year. Needless to say, this year things are different. However, as restrictions begin to ease, people might begin to consider travelling, but they will have a different landscape to look at.
Tourism may be the industry that has taken the hardest toll from the virus, with 1 in 10 jobs being related to this sector and creating a “domino effect” from travel agents and airlines to hotels and the cleaning companies involved. According to the UN, over a dozen countries rely on tourism for 60% of their income and companies like Delta are losing 60 million dollars a day. However, an impact from the virus that may be even more damaging is the fact that fear and anxiety related to travel is more prominent than ever. This poses a new challenge to companies so as to how they will soothe their customers, and the question of if the industry will ever be the same.
What will flying be like?
Experts believe that COVID-19 will bring the biggest modification to flying since 9/11, in which security became a priority and airports focused on police. This left little space in aircrafts and there was little regard for distribution, making it now a challenge to be six feet apart at all times. Nowadays, the focus will shift to health and spaciousness. Just like security became permanent a feature, so will the health checks.
Although the only airline which currently has testing for the virus is Emirates, many have implemented temperature checks as well as thermal imaging, and airports will strive for contact-free services. It is predicted that cell phone location data will track the arrival order of passengers and allow them to enter, taking into consideration an occupation limit for each airport. Being so, earlier arrival will be necessary, and passengers will need to download their airlines’ apps for QR code scanning, and facial recognition at check in to open gates. Additionally, many airports plan on implementing a system known as CASPR, which continuously sanitises the air and surfaces by releasing hydrogen peroxide.
Despite being more important as people are closely confined within them, it will be harder to modify the arrangement of airplanes. Even though airlines are currently leaving middle seats open so that passengers are further apart, they won’t be able to continue with this forever as empty seats don’t bring in money, and airlines will need to profit in order to “survive”. Furthermore, ultra-violet lights for sanitation in between flights might be a good solution, but this will diminish the number of flights a certain plane can make per day, making it harder for companies to recover. Lastly, in-flight food and beverages will likely be reduced to bags of packed snacks and bottled water, and magazines or remote controls for TVs will probably disappear.
Hotels and accommodation
It is believed that cleanness will become the greatest amenity a hotel can offer, and guests will choose their accommodations based on hygiene ratings. For example, Marriott has planned to reform rooms to remove carpets, remotes and in-room phones, replacing as much as possible with commands within guest’s phones. Meanwhile, Hilton will be using seals on room doors to show that it hasn’t been entered since it was sanitised.
On the other hand, Airbnbs and vacation home rentals which were viewed as beneficial due to their low prices in comparison to hotels, are now predicted for a heavy decline as they won’t be considered as trustworthy. Tourists would now rather stay in reliable accommodations, with certified cleaning services, instead of in people’s homes, even if it means spending more money.
Destinations and travel bubbles
As borders begin to re-open, it won’t be as easy to enter countries as it used to be. At least for this year, domestic travel is going to prevail, particularly to outdoor locations such as national parks, which already saw an increase of 40% visitors in the US. Similarly, road trips are likely to become much more frequent and initiatives like the one being taken in California to increase trips near home and thus boost local economies, are likely to spread, aiming to re-activate tourism.
Moreover, governments are thinking about opening ‘Travel Bubbles’ between countries, that is, places that open borders to each other without need of quarantine upon arrival to re-vive the industry and ease the economic damages. This has been proposed between Australia and New Zealand as well as between Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which are countries with few cases.
Overall, only time will be able to shape the future of the industry, but the image that companies strive to create and how they re-assure their customers will certainly dictate the speed and effectiveness at which tourism recovers.