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.
“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?
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.
Related: Our Experience Flying during Covid
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.
Variables that will have a huge impact on travel after Coronavirus
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.
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?