We know there are questions around travel amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Read our note here.
When we eventually emerge from the safety of our homes after the coronavirus pandemic, the carefree days of hopscotching around the world will no doubt be gone. But the pause in global travel has given both travelers and the travel industry the unprecedented opportunity to step back and examine how things have been done — and how they can improve in a post-quarantine world.
“People are going to be more conscious and aware of the difference between having the right to travel and the privilege to travel,” says Bruce Poon Tip, founder of G Adventures, a small-group adventure travel company with tours in more than 100 countries. “My hope is that there will be a psychological shift in more travelers’ minds — it’s not just about what you can take, it’s also what you can give. Travel should be something you value that's cherished.”
Along with that privilege will be other benefits once the world is open to explore safely. Here are seven predictions on how travel could improve on the other side of this pandemic.
Overtourism May Become a Thing of the Past
Now that a six-foot radius has been ingrained into our safety measures, destinations that were previously epicenters of overtourism, like Venice and Amsterdam, will continue to benefit from social distancing and less human traffic.
“Tourism is likely to resume in small trickles, rather than all at once,” founder and executive director of Impact Travel Alliance Kelley Louise says. “When travel returns, outdoor and small-group experiences are well-positioned to be popular. Not only will those types of travel be safer, as they allow for easier social-distancing measures, they are also going to be easier to plan logistically.”
In a study shared by Dr. Lori Pennington-Gray, director of the Eric Friedman Tourism Institute at the University of Florida, travelers say they’re most likely to go to beaches and parks, rather than more dense locations like theme parks and cruises.
“Venues and hospitality businesses will themselves have to adapt to a controlled phased return in order to accommodate visitors,” Dr. Jan Jones, a professor in the University of New Haven’s hospitality and tourism department, says of large cities welcoming in tourists. “Initially there will be space and capacity restrictions for travelers, forcing the industry itself to re-think the flow of traffic to specific places. And some travelers may choose destinations that plan better and are not overrun with tourists.”
More Travel Close to Home Will Cut Carbon Emissions
Experts across the industry agree that domestic travel will return before international travel, with the University of Florida study showing that 77% of respondents are likely to travel within the United States once restrictions are lifted. And for an industry responsible for nearly one tenth of the world’s carbon emissions, the breather from long-haul travel is good news for Mother Earth.
“It’s more accessible than international travel, both in terms of cost as well as planning,” Louise says. “For example, would you rather get on a 10-hour international flight or take a road trip a few hours away with a close group of friends? Traveler concerns like safety, logistics and cost will inherently lend themselves to more eco-friendly experiences, at least on a short-term basis.”
An Uptick in Small Group Tours Will Lead to More Meaningful Experiences
Following the crowds to popular tourist attractions may not be as attractive as before. “Opportunities to travel solo or in small groups are likely to experience a resurgence sooner, on the basis of those types of activities feeling safer,” Louise says.
While large cruise ships and resorts packed with amenities have grown in recent decades, increasing capacity to offer tourists more attractive pricing, that trend is likely to take a turn.
“I think there's going to be a huge shift in the market,” Poon Tip says. “People will want smaller groups, as well as private tours and private groups of families and friends, collecting their own groups traveling together.” As opposed to the mega-cruise ships which can hold up to 6,680 passengers, most of his G Adventures tours are capped off about a 14-person maximum.
Traveling with more intimate groups is less disruptive to local communities and environments, thus providing the ability to go deeper for more meaningful connections.
Wildlife Will Thrive — And You’ll See It More Often
While stories of swans and dolphins returning to Venice’s canals turned out to be fake news, wildlife around the world has been reclaiming the areas that humans had taken away from them. Lions napped near a camp in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, while goats strolled through a village in Northern Wales.
“Without flocks of tourists, wildlife has returned to many destinations, such as the highest number of nests of rare leatherback sea turtles in two decades on Phuket’s shores,” Louise says. “But once tourism returns, the question is whether these shifts are more temporary than permanent.”
She notes that while these sightings may increase interest in travel to these destinations post-pandemic, the key for them to remain there is to travel in a sustainable manner. Choosing companies that are committed to eco-friendly practices will allow wildlife to continue to rebound.
Airplanes and Hotels Will Be Cleaner Than We Could Have Ever Imagined
With hotel chains like Hilton working with Lysol and the Mayo Clinic and airlines like United implementing electrostatic spray to increase state-of-the-art hygienic measures, the small spaces we spend time in during our travels will be more hygienic than ever before.
And it comes out of necessity. A study by the U.S. Travel Association says while a third of travelers would return to airline travel and hotel stays if they could, 63% want businesses to have certified cleaning and disinfecting practices in place, while 55% also want crowd size to be limited. “Customers will be hyper aware of cleanliness and personal space during the initial phases of return,” Dr. Jones says. “Most, if not all, industries are already adjusting. Companies who are most transparent with the measures they are taking, will be the most appealing to travelers.”
And these changes likely won’t just be a knee jerk reaction to the current situation. Companies like Delta Air Lines are already committing to their new cleaning strategies for the long term.
Traveling Will Be Much More About Quality Over Quantity
As the ability to travel ramps up again, people will reconsider how important their plans are — and focus on itineraries that mean more. “Decisions will be made more carefully,” associate professor Patrick Lee, of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona’s Collins College of Hospitality Management says. “With possibly less disposable income, they will travel less frequently.”
For some, that might mean focusing on travels with family and friends, while for others that may mean finally going on that big bucket list trip that kept being pushed off. “I am cautiously optimistic that tourism will resume with a focus on quality over quantity,” Louise says. “And that travelers will seek more immersive, meaningful and mindful ways to travel.”
The Global Community Will Become More Connected Than Ever
When we visit a place as tourists, we are mesmerized by how different an environment and culture is from our own. But the current situation has highlighted that it’s a small world after all. “The one thing that this pandemic has shown us is how connected we all are,” Poon Tip says. “That’s going to have an impact on people and how they travel.”
He adds: “We all live with a sense of value at home, but when we travel, we suspend a lot of those values because we're going to another country — and I think that people are going to link those two things together more, so their travel choices will be more responsible.” Those behaviors may include recycling and eating organically, as well as giving back to the local communities.
“This pandemic has forced us to stop and re-evaluate the systems that our world exists within,” Louise echos. “My hope is that when travel returns, we will explore our world with a renewed sense of consciousness, curiosity and admiration.”