The coronavirus pandemic has changed all of our worlds, and not just in the short-term. The problem's scale can't be ignored; entire nations have been ordered to stay at home, airlines have gone bankrupt, travel companies are laying off massive amounts of workers, and hotels are now hospitals.
Outside of healthcare, few industries have been hit like travel. The outbreak of coronavirus and its rapid spread around the world have had an unprecedented impact on the travel industry. Airlines, travel companies, and the tourism sector face an unprecedented challenge from the coronavirus pandemic. Though some airlines are still flying, including rescue flights to repatriate people to their home countries, many carriers have all but shut down for the time being. Hotels are laying off employees by the hundreds of thousands. After several ships were stuck at sea for weeks, many cruise lines have axed sailings through the summer. Travelers are scrambling to cancel trips and get refunds or salvage future plans.
Comparing insights about how coronavirus is likely to change the way we travel in the future many experts in the fields of aviation, hospitality, cruising, finance, and epidemiology provide different predictions and projections, the one thing that almost all of them say to expect is a lot more uncertainty for some time to come. When things start to return to "normal", travel, especially international travel, will look very different. Here are the main changes we can expect according to the current analyses.
When Will Travel Recover?
The short answer is nobody knows for sure, the pandemic situation changes too fast, so it is difficult to predict the future. If you are wondering when you will be able to travel again safely, you need to stay informed. Unfortunately, it is still soon to know when it will be safe to go on international trips again, as the coronavirus is affecting each country differently. Travel will recover in stages, and freedom to travel will vary, not only country-by-country but by regions.
You will probably discover if it is safe to travel this summer to your destination only one month in advance. Many airlines, hotels, and other travel companies have loosened their cancellation policies to give travelers more flexibility during the pandemic, so you might not have a penalty for canceling or postponing your trip last-minute.
As countries begin to ease lockdown measures in order to kick-start their economies, all eyes are on how international borders will reopen, thereby enabling business and tourism to resume. Some countries are thinking about how to get people traveling again while reducing exposure.
Where to travel after coronavirus?
It is highly likely that for the rest of 2020 and part of 2021, the United States and Europe will continue to implement social distancing measures and might even remain locked down. We expect borders to stay shut, particularly to countries with latent infections. When looking for safe international vacations and safe places to travel internationally, consider those safe corridors that will reopen (e.g., Germany, Switzerland, Austria), but with restrictions and health checks.
It is expected to have a separation between wealthier countries (e.g. Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Australia, Japan) that will reopen with very strict travel restrictions and checks, and densely populated developing countries (e.g. India, Indonesia) where the virus may create a large and lasting health problem. Travel to and from these countries would be highly restricted.
As of mid-May 2020, The European Commission has released guidelines for how its Member States can start to ease coronavirus travel restrictions and enable tourism to begin again. Amid EU Commission's call to extend the external border seal off of the Schengen Area and the Schengen Associated countries and an increasing number of those infected with COVID-19 in Europe, some of the Schengen States have extended the internal border controls to the end of this year. The official website of the European Commission reporting on the temporary reintroduction of border controls has listed Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Austria, France, Norway under the countries that have reintroduced borders in foreseeable events. These countries have extended border controls until November 2020. At the same time, some countries (i.e., Germany) have decided that EU nationals will not need to be quarantined for 2 weeks when entering the country. The mandatory quarantine nevertheless applies to immigrants from outside of the EU.
Some nations have already agreed on or discussed the possibility of establishing "travel bubbles" whereby groups of countries with low, manageable infection rates allow each other's citizens to enter freely. Quarantine restrictions are meanwhile imposed on those outside the bubble. For example, the Baltic states have already created a "travel bubble," allowing citizens to travel freely between them.
Iceland plans to offer Coronavirus tests to arriving travelers to avoid the two weeks' mandatory quarantine as of June 15 at the latest, the government announces. According to the government, travelers are expected to be given a choice between a 14-days quarantine or being tested for the virus upon arrival, or otherwise proving that they are free of coronavirus infection.
New Zealand and Australia have committed to introducing a trans-Tasman "COVID-safe travel zone", as soon as it's safe to do so.
Expected Health Measures in Travel
We will travel again, but it will not be the same, the travel industry will undergo some very big changes. Even when borders reopen, travelers must trust that boarding a plane is safe and that they will be able to enter the destination country. For the industry to recover, travelers will need to feel safe and confident that their health is protected.
New health safety protocols and systems will need to be in place, and these have yet to be defined. This will require a shift to touchless travel and a new health safety regime, supported by digital tools. As governments and industry plan for recovery in this new context and adapt to changing traveler behavior, the use of digital identity and biometrics technologies could restore trust while also ensuring a seamless journey. However, these tools will only be effective if users feel that their data is protected.
As governments draw up plans to get the world flying again, proposals aimed at keeping passengers safe are often contradictory - for instance, keeping people from sitting next to each other at the departure gate but cramming them six or eight abreast for hours during a flight. And if implemented long-term, executives say they could do almost as much damage to airline and airport profits as remaining closed altogether.
Airports may institute new kinds of security checks to screen travelers who are sick, nervous tourists will vacation closer to home, and the travel experience will be dominated by large chains as small hotels and restaurants struggle or go out of business.
CEO Glenn Fogel of Booking Holdings says: "In more recent earnings call travel will recover, although the rebound will be measured in years, not quarters. The speed of the recovery in travel will depend on factors like the development of a vaccine and treatments, and how quickly people regain confidence in travel." Nevertheless, Fogel is optimistic about the travel industry's eventual return: "I don't think the world is going to be hugely different once we get past this," he said. "In the end, people want to travel; people are willing to supply accommodations. And I don't see that there's going to be a great change in the long run."
New Air Travel Experience
The experts agree that it would take around 18 to 24 months before there's a significant spike in demand, and the travel industry begins to return to regular levels. Air travel will be slow to recover; flying is almost certainly going to be more difficult, unpleasant, and expensive. A smaller number of carriers will operate reduced timetables — possibly with social-distancing measures, such as leaving middle seats empty, significantly increasing costs.
People will find flight experience very different. As airlines crawl out of virus-lockdown mode, introducing new temperature checkpoints, lines of distancing people are stretching into the parking lot, and plexiglass barriers isolating baggage clerks, baristas, and other staffers.
Airlines expect protective equipment, disinfectants, and restrictions on movement to keep the virus from spreading. Airlines are starting to require passengers and crew to wear masks, and many carriers are leaving middle seats open and doing away with beverage service. Meal service will be minimal, and contactless cards will be needed for any purchases. There will be no in-flight magazines or catalogs, and planes will be disinfected with an antiviral fog between trips.
Emirates has already introduced pre-boarding blood tests; AirAsia recently unveiled new cabin-crew uniforms consisting of masks, visors, and protective suits. Airlines like Delta are considering issuing informal "immunity passports," for instance, to people who can prove they have already been infected.
Even as airlines and authorities put safety measures in place, people will have to feel safe before demand picks up. Many airlines are still canceling international flights through the summer and into fall. So non-flying trips will surely boom, domestically or to nearby countries accessible by car or boat, leaving holidays by air to become more of a special event: rarer, longer, and more considered.
Above All, We Will Travel Again
Despite the tragedy unfolding around the globe, with entire countries closed to the outside world, all the experts have confidence that travel will eventually resume and be as rewarding as ever. In this time of unprecedented change, governments and industry have a unique opportunity to redefine travel and build a more sustainable, agile, and resilient industry. This will not be possible without collaboration.
While the experience might look and feel different once the world begins to reopen, people can count on the transformative and positive impact of travel to change their own lives and the destinations they visit for the better. We hope that begins to happen again sooner rather than later.
To ensure having a safe trip or vacation, follow coronavirus updates and travel advice from your local authorities and governments and the guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO).