How will the Coronavirus change the way we travel?

How will the Coronavirus change the way we travel

April 6, 2020

I think the coronavirus has set in motion major changes that will affect the travel industry for many years. For most people reliant on the industry (they say that 1 in 10 people work in the travel industry), the changes will be hugely negative. For most travellers, the coronavirus may have brought to an end the ease of travel we’ve enjoyed over the last decade. But for some travellers the changes to how we travel may end up being a welcome thing.

Here are my thoughts on how the coronavirus might change the way we travel.

 

In General: The global economy and the travel industry

Personally, we’ve seen huge changes in the travel landscape over the last 5 ½ years of full-time travel. The biggest changes have been in volumes (more travellers, more flights) and the economic consequences (cheaper flights, higher costs in most destinations worldwide due to higher demand). Besides huge rises in the number of tourists (many European cities changed significantly when we went back just a few years later) the makeup of tourists was different: there were more tourists from Asia (specifically China, South Korea and India) and there were more young tourists (mostly due to the budget airlines you find all over Europe).

The pandemic has led to a shutdown of economies. Many businesses are being propped up by governments in industrialized countries and the hope is that once the pandemic has swept through – and the economies of the world reopened – that things will quickly go back to how they were before the coronavirus.

I don’t think that will happen. I think the coronavirus will have long lasting effects on both the economy and on the psyche of the average traveller.

The hope of things rebounding is also based on assumptions that the world will go back to how it was before the pandemic, with no further restrictions on how we travel or the steps countries might take to protect their own citizens (I’ll talk about some of those variables further below). It’s also assuming that when the coronavirus passes that it won’t come back. Think of the common flu strains – although less contagious and deadly than the coronavirus they still come back every year. To assume that the coronavirus will disappear once and for all in a few months time might be wishful thinking.

 

 

How the Coronavirus will change the way we travel

Even assuming that the coronavirus passes, I think the coronavirus will change the way the average traveller chooses to travel.

Closer to home & to nature

I think people will be reconsidering those long flights or train rides. Psychologically, I think what everyone’s going through will stay with us. People will want to avoid crowded spaces, instead maybe opting to have more nature-type vacations: camping, beaches, visiting national parks. The reasons won’t just be psychological: I think going forward they’ll be more restrictions on travel (see further below). On top of that, most people will be feeling the economic pinch. As I write this, the stock markets have gone down by 30% and 10 million people in the US alone filed for unemployment over the last 2 weeks. The last thing people will be thinking about is spending money on big trips.

 

Safer destinations

“Exotic” vacations might seem less tempting considering the higher risk of contracting coronavirus in the 3rd world. That’s coupled with the poorer medical care that one would receive in those places. In Ecuador bodies are being left on the street. So far the coronavirus has mostly affected the developed world – but you’ll soon see it ravaging through the world’s poorest countries. Which will make them even more unsafe.

It’s another reason people will stay closer to home.

 

How will different sectors of the travel industry fare after Coronavirus?

 

How will different sectors of the travel industry fare after Coronavirus?

The airline industry

The above will really hurt air travel, most specifically international travel. I think even short haul flights (like those flown by discount airlines between European destinations) will be affected by the economy as well as possibly by increased border restrictions.

I recently read an article by CNN that business travel might spur a recovery for airlines. I think they’re wrong. Business has adapted better to the coronavirus than governments have. Many companies saw this coming and have changed, going paperless, office-less, and using digital technology to talk to employees and customers. I think when the worst of the coronavirus has passed many businesses won’t go back to traditional business travel. Firstly, business travel is costly. Many businesses will be hurt by the economy and non-essential business travel will be the first thing to be cut. Secondly, anyone who’s travelled for business (or received clients visiting for business) know that 9 out of 10 times nothing is done on business trips that can’t be done over the phone or on skype. Thirdly, business executives will feel the same way as the general public – hesitant to get on a plane.

What I see happening? An initial surge as people go back home or to where they work (many people around the world are still stuck), followed by a period of low volumes and cheap fares. I think many airlines will end up grounding parts of their fleets and others will go bankrupt. That will be followed by consolidation of the industry and higher fares. It will be a totally different travel industry.

Yes, I’m negative.


Hotels and restaurants

I think both will suffer tremendously, especially those hotels and restaurants geared towards international tourists. Again, I think there will be many bankruptcies.

 

Cruising after Coronavirus

We’ve never taken a cruise but have long thought it would be something we’d love to do one day. After the many horror stories we’ve heard of people stuck on ships during this pandamic, you couldn’t pay me to take a cruise.

I don’t see people going on cruises any time soon. Can you imagine the impact to places like Venice, Barcelona and Dubrovnik?

 

What will do well?

People will still travel but will do it within their own country or region. I think businesses that are successful will be those that provide good value and authentic experiences. But they’ll have to be geared primarily towards domestic/regional tourists and not international tourists.

 

How will the Coronavirus change the way we travel

 

Variables that will have a huge impact on travel after Coronavirus


Vaccine

Producing a vaccine to prevent future cases of the coronavirus will have the greatest impact on the world ever getting back to normal. The quicker it happens, the more travel gets back to “normal”. Again, I think the greatest thing is the psychological aspect and people feeling that they’re safe again to travel as they once did. The longer time goes by without a vaccine (the time frame I hear most is 18 months), the more people’s behaviour gets entrenched in alternatives to traditional overseas travel.

 

More border controls/restrictions

Once the worst of the coronavirus has passed and countries are no longer under lockdown, what will their border controls be like? Right now the US and Canada have closed their borders to each other, as has the US and Mexico. In Europe, borders have come up between countries that haven’t had borders in decades. Some countries have dealt with the pandemic better than others, so how are they going to feel just opening their borders up? If you’re Austria (for example) do you feel comfortable opening up your border to Italy anytime soon?

The virus might totally change international travel and access to foreign visitors.

 

Health checks

Similarly to above, what will be required to travel to /enter different countries? Again, we don’t know. But I’m sure many countries who’ve been successful in dealing with the Coronavirus won’t just let anyone from anyplace waltz through their border. Maybe you’ll need a doctor’s letter or a test at the airport or to go through de-contamination procedures once you get somewhere. But I can’t imagine that the easy access to different countries around the globe will be the same as it was.

Again, I think this is another factor that will greatly influence people’s travel decisions going forward. Is a weekend in Munich worth 5 hours of tests or security procedures at the airport??

 

Cleanliness and associated costs

The average traveller will be much more concerned about cleanliness: whether it be planes, trains, buses, hotels, or Airbnb apartments. It will mean additional regulations and costs which will end up being passed on to customers.

 

 

The Silver Lining to travel after Coronavirus

I hate saying “Silver Lining” because the virus is a horrible thing that has already killed many people and left many more wondering about their economic future.

The Silver lining for potential travellers is that many places that have been overwhelmed by tourists will have them in much lesser numbers. In these places, the natural environment has already improved with cleaner water and more abundant wildlife.

In addition, the quality of travel might be better with fewer tourists. Locals will be more appreciative of visitors, prices might be more reasonable (we’ve seen some incredible examples of “tourist inflation” over the last few years), and you’ll be able to walk in some of the world’s most beautiful cities without jostling through crowds.

 

 

It’s incredibly early days. But I can’t help but think about how the world is changing before our eyes and wondering how it will all unfold. I’ve only written about travel but I think the Coronavirus will produce sweeping changes in every aspect of our lives, including our political and economic environments.  See this Politico article if you have time on your hands.

 

So what do you think? How will the Coronavirus change the way we travel?

Like This Article? Pin it!
How will the coronavirus change the way we travel

26 Comments

  1. There is another piece to the puzzle, Frank, and that is the upcoming election in the US.

    I can’t fathom the idea of another 4 years with this horridly incompetent “president”, but if he does win re-election it will change the US to the point of never recovering, and it will have an impact on the world’s economy as well.

    Tourism has already dropped in the US because of our insane gun issues, now we have a virus that won’t be going away anytime soon because the “president” has basically bowed out and wants nothing to do with containing it. And, we have governors who have either never imposed stay-at-home mandates and/or are throwing open the doors. i.e. the governor of Florida is opening the beaches and people are swarming to them.

    Who would want to travel to the US?! Hell, I live here and won’t be traveling anywhere anytime soon, most likely not for the rest of the year.

    On the flip side, why would a country such as Spain, allow US visitors to enter the country knowing full-well that the virus is not contained?

    Life as we knew it, will never again be the same. Let’s just hope the election helps change the course in a positive direction.

    1. That president. Lissette decided she’ll renounce this year if he gets back in. Once might be a mistake…twice it’s a sign that somethings horribly wrong with people.
      As I said on your other comment, trying not to get into politics but sure is hard to have any kind of unity with that guy in office.

      Yesterday, it was decided that the Canada/US border would stay closed for another 30 days. I know Trudeau being careful not to offend Trump…but Canadians have been doing much better at controlling the virus and last thing they want are Americans coming to Canada and spreading it. Again, just because Trump’s handling of this has been totally incompetent.

      Let’s hope for Trump’s famous “light at the end of the tunnel” at the end of the year. For most people that’ll mean that bozo out of office.

  2. Frank, this is such an interesting post and I do wonder how many of your predictions will come true?
    The travel industry accounts for something like 10% of the global GDP.
    With such huge losses expected, when the pandemic is over, or at least under control, I wonder if governments will act to make travel easier? Maybe even Introducing travel incentives? Such as cutting taxes, simplifying the visa requests etc? The travel industry will for sure have to streamline their operations and get smarter, with the weaker companies ending their operations altogether. But there are always the stronger ones that will be mopping up the slack and turning things to their advantage. I do feel sorry for the little, family-run places…we have seen many in SE Asia who will not be surviving this crisis. Who knows what the end result will be like? But I am optimistic about the future (perhaps naively so). People are resilient and it is at times of hardship that some of the best innovations and improvements can occur.

  3. This is a really good evaluation of the situation Frank.

    I live in Germany and as a “well-known” British / German expat blogger I’ve already been asked to make comment on the future of travel. Like yourself, I predict that lots of people will be feeling enormously vulnerable and will put international travel on hold and concentrate on local travel for 2020.

    Myself included!

    Another point to think about is that sadly, it pains me to say this, but it’s likely that many governments in the EU, will be thinking about how strictly they can enforce “open borders” once the lockdown is “over” because believe me, once the borders have closed, it won’t be easy allowing all and sundry to just wander in.

    I also think that communities that were previously strained and over-crowded due to tourism, will put restrictions in place to save guard their treasures.

    And to answer your question. Yes, the Coronavirus will change the way we travel.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Victoria. I think we’re on the same wavelength!
      You know what? Some countries are extending their lockdowns and I wouldn’t be so surprised if one motivation is to see what other countries that open up before them do. Nobody wants to make the first move…but this could be the end of open borders as we know it.

  4. Hi Frank! I am highly impressed with your ability to keep your blog so relevant and interesting. I have “unsubscribed” to all other travel vlogs/ blogs because continuing to post travel stories is just too out of touch.
    Dennis and I are giving up our nomadic ways after 5 years of full time travel. We will be renting a permanent place next month. After dealing with Airbnb through this crisis (and losing $3600.00 to them), I have lost a lot of the respect I had for that company. I’ll never say never, but I doubt that we will be returning to full time travel. We feel like moving on to other interests that were hard to pursue while traveling.
    Tell Lissette “hello” for us.

    1. Hi Nikki! So nice to hear from you. Please say hi to Dennis.
      Seems a world away now that we were all having drinks on Ovcice beach in Split…
      Thanks for the kind words. I mentioned it on one of my Coronavirus diaries: it’s a bit tone deaf to be writing about travel destinations right now. I will at a certain point because it’s a travel blog after all, but right now is not the right time. And honestly I feel no motivation for it.
      Considering everything going on, I consider ourselves lucky for having experienced the last 5 years. We’re all young enough Nikki – I’m sure there’s still a lot of travel in our futures…
      Can I ask where in the world you’ll be making home?
      In any case, congratulations! Maybe our paths will cross again one day 🙂

  5. I’m thinking that, instead of being pessimistic, you’re being far more of a realist when imagining how Covid 19 will shape the future not only for travelers but for everyone. As a foreign resident living in Portugal, I think it will be interesting to see how the Schengen countries approach opening their borders again as well as future requirements for health screenings and vaccinations. (I still carry my yellow card too with all my shots carefully noted.) Like you, I see the silver lining of less tourists here in the Algarve and elsewhere but, having friends in the restaurant business puts a face on what the impact of less tourists will be and the heartbreak of losing a business. Like most everyone else, I’ve cancelled all my plans this year (Egypt, Croatia, Italy, etc.) and have no idea if it will be safe to visit family in the US at the end of the year. It will indeed be a strange, unfamiliar world going forward.

    1. I totally agree with you Anita. It ALL already feels weird. A whole new reality. The thing is that the more time goes by the more it’s getting to be the new normal. Once I get out I think I’ll be walking the streets of Leon with a beard and in pyjamas. And I’m not sure if Lissette is going to shave those armpit hairs any time soon…

      It’s all really f*ed up and we were just thinking that it was just a few months ago that we left Croatia and made that overland trip through the Balkans. Seems like another lifetime.

      Stay safe Anita!

  6. I haven’t thought that much about the what will happen once the decline hits. I reckon it will be almost a year before any long distance (further than the local bus) travel happens for myself and when it does I’ll just have to take it as it comes.

    Reckon you’re right in your assessment and, in a way, I look forward to it. It used to be like that. Tourism was nowhere near as much 10-30 years ago as it is now. The last 5 years especially, things have gone crazy and I avoid tourist areas as much as possible. Of course, I did that before. Maybe stand-by will return, some airlines still do it. I never fly budget airlines and often find cheaper flights on majors anyways. So it’ll be interesting, to say the least.

    1. Thanks Ted. Your comment very reflective of other that have been posted. Funny to hear that frequent travellers like yourself are not planning any trips. I know other who travel all the time who are now also putting everything on hold. Maybe time to take up a hobby of some sort? 🙂

  7. im with you on cruise ships and in general. No-one is going to take cruises for a long time and that means a lot of massive ships sitting in dock or somewhere with no-one in them, companies bankrupt and so on. We’re going to lose a lot of airlines, especially ones that are not propped up by governments. im not sure there will be a lot of cheap airfares though. they might actually be more expensive, especially as things start to open up again.

    then six months later there may be some bargains to be had. I certainly have no plans not to travel. I am planning a trip now for june 2021. I had planned 3 10 day getaways this year and I think that will now be rounded down to zero. we’ll see how it all pans out I guess. its going to be an industry on its knees (I have been planning a similar post actually, maybe up next week) and you are completely correct – it will NEVER be the same again.

    Borders I think and entry to countries in general/airports will be tighter. There may well be screenings for health. temperature checks might be a matter of course. great piece as always Frank

    1. Thanks Andy. Looking at these comments and I see people who travel all the time (like you) saying they’re putting travel on hold. If frequent travellers are saying that, what is the average person with 2.5 kids going to be doing?
      I know it’s early for a post like this but it’s always interesting to speculate. I see just today governments here in Europe starting to plan how they’ll open things up after the lockdown. It looks like it’ll be gradual, with different types of stores/institutions opening in a different stages. And a lot of security measures would still in place.
      Interesting times.

  8. Very nice post Frank. Your points are all very logical forecasts of the response to this pandemic. I really hope you are right but I wouldn’t go “all in” on this future. There are trillions of dollars worldwide vested in the pre-pandemic status quo and one thing I’ve learned is never bet against the money. Airlines, hotels, cruise lines and governments with tourism dollars at stake will flow into the vacuum once the bottle is uncorked, fighting tooth and nail for their piece of whatever pie is left. Safer and cleaner will be the new deluxe and exclusive.

    1. You hope I’m right or hope I’m (not) right Randy? I’ve drawn a pretty negative picture…
      I also hope you’re right about money being thrown at the issues. But I’m not as optimistic – that money will be offset by other factors such as governments trying to safeguard their own citizens and societies from future pandemics. In the end I think it’ll all come down to the consumer and what confidence they feel travelling as they used to.
      “Safer and cleaner being the new deluxe and exclusive” – couldn’t agree with you more!

      1. I hope you ARE right Frank. The travel industry you describe is better for many reasons, chief among them is that it is likely to better for the environment, but also more sustainable. Perhaps we’ll see an end to the charming location becoming the “it” destination with thousands of tourists inundating the town or region for a year or two, only to dry up when the next destination hits the press.

        The xenophobia that is likely to grow, certainly for a while but I hope not long lasting, is a huge negative that would cause us to alter or scrap travel altogether. I’m not as confident as you are that governments will invest to keep citizens safe. This pandemic had been widely expected in scientific and NGO sectors for years, yet little in the way of effective investment was made to prevent it. I think it will be lip service at best, with each government pandering to their base constituencies rather than deploying scientifically sound investments.

        Btw (not to hijack your blog) we will be confident to travel as soon as the outright bans are lifted. My wife and I flew to Japan on February 26th (there were zero known cases in Portugal at the time) and spent 18 days there with our daughter, returning on March 16th to a much changed Europe. In light of the few hundred known cases in Japan we practiced good hand hygiene, had plenty of disinfecting wipes and masks, and practiced basic social distancing whenever possible. Based on this experience and what is known about the virus transmission we are not ruling out a flight to the US this fall.

  9. Excellent analysis. My husband and I have been fortunate to have lived close to 14 years of our 33 (EGAD 33?) years together living in Germany. We were civilians that worked for the US military. In most cases it was approximately 5-year stints then relocating back to the States. When opportunities to head back came up, we jumped at the chance. We love the lifestyle, the food, the people, but mostly the travel. We were lucky to drive ourselves to many of our travel destinations and we utilized Airbnb most of the time for our lodgings. Sometimes air travel was our only real option, and we usually detested it. My husband likened it to open seating at a “Who” concert (yup dating ourselves again). Ryanair was one of the worst. People packed in like sardines wearing five layers of clothing due to the rather strict carry-on restrictions. I totally agree with your thoughts of a silver lining. I think many people will feel vulnerable and stay closer to home. We can’t stand crowds and made it a habit of always traveling in the offseason. The weather might not have always been the best but the climate is so variable in Europe you could have a downpour in the middle of summer. The idea of fewer crowds is certainly a bright spot on this horizon. It appears that the lure of heading back one last time overseas might be within our sights. We are excited about the prospect of going back, and we are acutely aware that we will be entering a very different Europe. We try to be optimistic about most things and hope this is all over soon and the “new normal” can begin, whatever that is.

    1. Your travel philosophy sounds exactly like us Mary: avoid the plane if possible (we much prefer trains), go off-season, stay in Airbnb apartments…and like you we can’t stand crowds. A few people have mentioned in these comments the silver lining of changes. It just shows how much travel has changed over the last 5-10 years and how it’s disaffected a lot of travellers…
      Thanks for taking the time to comment Mary!

  10. Very good, Frank. Things may well turn out that way. I hadn’t thought about business travel, but sure… now that everyone’s used to Zoom meetings, why pay for plane tickets? Overall I expect travel will become more enjoyable, for those rich and adventurous enough (there will be fewer hotels and tourist amenities) to do it. But for most people, it will be out of reach. Even after the vaccine is widespread, and memories dim, what about the ever-present chance of another pandemic?

    But from a more immediate, and selfish, perspective, for those of us already traveling in Europe, the coming months might be a sweet time to see some very uncrowded areas. We’re not expecting to leave France for the next six months, but there’s certainly much to see and do here. Spain, as well! (But I’d really love to get over to now-not-so-crowded Florence in the next few months.)

    It’s sort of a giant PAUSE and RESET on travel…

    1. Like I said to Marti below, I don’t want to be a travel snob…but weaning out some of the bums WILL make travel a better experience for a lot of people. And I’m with you: maybe when we’re finished with the lockdown we should make it a point to visit Barcelona. Been thinking about our plans and I think Spain will probably stick with it’s April 26 lockdown date. We’re in no rush to go back to Canada with the virus spreading there so maybe spend an additional month travelling around in Spain? Thinking about it.

      Agree with your points Paul. And surprised that some of the comments to date reflect a bit of relief that the virus will result in changes…

  11. The death of the cruise industry would be a welcome thing to places like Dubrovnik, Barcelona, Venice and many others. They are all overrun by boorish tourists. Too much of a good thing is too much. And I dare say I sincerely hope more people don’t go camping or indulge in backcountry expeditions. We Idahoans don’t really want all those weekend warriors or wilderness wannabes. It’s international tourists who brought the Coronavirus to Sun Valley and we have the highest per capita outbreak of cases in that county, exceeding even New York City. I remember back in the old days, as in the 1980’s you had to prove you were immunized for typhoid and cholera, along with smallpox, mumps, measles and whooping cough. I’m all for reimplementing that again. I had to get a meningitis shot before boarding a plane to Nepal for a trip in 1986.
    If the cost of airfares rise, that will aid in ensuring people aren’t flitting around the world spreading disease. I do hope there are changes. With all the people out of work, I doubt many will be in a position to travel in the manner of the recent past. Glad you and Lissette have stayed healthy and safe.

    1. Great comment Marti. I also remember the days we needed all those shots and the little vaccination book we had to carry with us. We still have them but have noticed nobody ever looks at them anymore. I would think going forward that there would be a digitized dossier that would be linked to your passport.
      I don’t want to be a travel snob…but yes, there are a lot of crap tourists travelling the world on budget airlines. I don’t know much about cruise ships but I’d guess there are cruises in all budget classes. I’d still like to take a tour one day…but far in the future when I’m old and can’t get around.
      All the best to you, stay safe!

  12. Great analysis! Thanks, this kind of vision is important for people like me, small boutique type hotel in an off the beaten track location (Patzcuaro, Michoacan, Mx). Tourism is the heartbeat of this small city. We made it through 2008 (not everyone) but it took 4 years of recovery. It was just this year back to the pre-08 times. The change was that post 08 we attracted many more Mexican tourists and fewer people from the US. This is crushing right now. Sitting tight and hoping the Apex will come and go (they say early May) so we can begin to evaluate and plan for the future.

    1. Great getting feedback from someone directly impacted. I’m sorry to hear Victoria. Your hotel was one of the most memorable that I’ve had the chance to stay in and I’d love to go back one day with Lissette. Really lovely.
      Stay safe Victoria and all the best getting over this in the short term.

  13. Great article and evaluation of the situation! We cruised last June (was our last now) from Venice for our 35th anniversary and brought our adult kids to show them the great places of Venice, Dubrovnik and Santorini that we had seen on a similar cruise 10 years earlier! I could not believe how many people were being allowed to come to those ports all at the same time. The cruise industry is probably dead after this pandemic anyways but they kinda deserve it for how they allowed the overcrowding to occur just to make a buck! Stay healthy!

    1. Thanks for the comment Vicki. Yes about cruises – when we visited and then lived in Split we would initially see maybe 1 cruise ship in port. Over the last couple of years we saw 2 or 3 at a time…which means a jam-packed old town. I’m not going to miss the cruise ships for sure.
      That must have been a nice cruise though, the Balkan side of the Adriatic is stunning with it’s mountains. We took a ferry from Bari to Corfu last year and passed the mountains on the Albanian coast. Just amazing. I imagine you saw a lot of that on that cruise.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

css.php