We're living in times where the ‘new normal’ for life is being redefined daily. COVID-19 has upended what was once the norm and has forced us to live within new boundaries. Many believe that travel will not be spared. Before we can daydream about travelling again, we should first consider what the ‘new normal’ for travel could look like.
Major Factors Impacting Travel
One of the most important factors that will determine how quickly travel can resume is the development and widespread deployment of a COVID-19 vaccine. The intergovernmental body working towards this goal is COVAX, and as a first step, they aim to produce and distribute the vaccine to the most vulnerable 20% of all participating countries’ population by 2021. This is still a considerable amount of time to wait.
Until then, governments and travellers will be approaching travel with the threat of COVID-19 without the safety net of a vaccine.
The wait for a vaccine directly impacts the second major limiting factor for travel: confidence. If people aren’t willing to travel, or if government restrictions remain rigid, there won’t be enough demand to warrant the travel industry to operate. This is especially true for small businesses in tourists towns, but also for multi-million-dollar airlines – some of which have already folded.
In a bid to encourage travellers to keep flying, Emirates airline, the United Arab Emirates carrier became the first to offer €150,000 in medical expenses cover to any customer that contracts coronavirus during their travel.
Encouraging people to travel again not only keeps businesses operating, but it keeps people employed. The United Nations World Tourism Organisation is a specialised agency that is working towards the sustainable recovery of the tourism industry. They report that a 60-80% decrease in tourism could put upwards of 100 million jobs at risk worldwide. They have developed guidelines for governments and businesses that outline comprehensives measures to allow for tourism to resume safely.
The guidelines place high importance on restoring confidence in travel through safety and security protocols that are designed to reduce COVID-19 transmission risk. These include increased security check procedures, temperature scans, physical distancing, and more frequent cleaning – much of which we have already seem implemented.
This has and will continue to change the way we travel – even beyond the time it takes for a vaccine to be developed. This is what some predictions for future travel are, and it’s not what we’re used to.
Travel Could be Expensive
At least until travel normalises. Before COVID-19 hit, travellers were enjoying an era of democratized travel. Despite the destination, there was always a budget option which meant that travel was affordable for almost everyone. Now as demand decreases, businesses are being pressured to price their offers to make up for losses, if they can stay open at all. Hotels, restaurants and recreational businesses have already started to shut down as the cost of operating while complying with social distancing protocols are not financially viable.
Airlines are not immune. Social distancing is the new normal on the ground, and this applies in the air too. If seats are left empty on planes, airlines will be pressured to raise fares to make up for lost ticket sales. According to an article published on Forbes, airlines worldwide would only break even if the cabin was 66% full. If middle seats are left vacant for social distancing, that would mean that only 67% of seats are available to be booked. Unfortunately, this doesn’t leave much room for a profitable bottom line, which could lead to an increase in ticket prices as airlines try to make up for the deficit.
Of course, the alternative is to slash offers to entice travellers. But this can only be sustained if enough people continue to travel. So, it’s likely that prices could stay on the expensive side until pre-COVID levels of travel resume.
Passengers that cross borders will also have to consider the additional cost of a self-funded 14-day quarantine which adds to travel expenses substantially.
We Won’t Go as Far
For those willing to travel, regional destinations will be high up on their lists. International border closures mean that travellers are exploring their own backyards instead – and this can be good news for local business. Adele Labine-Romain is a partner at Deloitte specialising in travel and hospitality. She believes that encouraging Australians to travel locally can make up for the losses from a lack of international visitors. "In the current environment, we've shut the doors to $45 billion spent by international visitors and Australians can't take that usual annual $65 billion overseas this year – so how can we encourage the latter to spend at least some of that money here?" she says.
Traditional holiday spots like Byron Bay in far north New South Wales and South Australia’s Barossa Valley are already experiencing spikes in travellers – particularly on weekends. Tourism Australia also predicts the Western Australian coast to be a popular hot spot – but for travellers to really do their bit, they should try to seek out lesser-known destinations to help spread the wealth to towns that aren’t already on everyone else’s bucket lists.
We’ll be Limited to Zones
When international travel eventually does begin to resume, we’ll be limited to “travel bubbles”. A trans-Tasman bubble between Australia and New Zealand was on the cards before the second wave hit, but when travel resumes, this is the sort of model that we can expect to see first.
James Crabtree is the associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore and he believes that the travel bubble concept will likely leave developing countries out of the fray for longer. “Travel will normalize more quickly in safe zones that coped well with COVID-19, such as between South Korea and China, or between Germany and Greece. But in poorer developing countries struggling to manage the pandemic, such as India or Indonesia, any recovery will be painfully slow,” Crabtree says.
Travel Means Testing
As it stands, Australians need formal permission from the government to leave the country, and with some state borders still closed, permission to enter certain states (such as Western Australia) is also required.
When borders open, testing will likely be part of security screening. Travel will be limited to healthy travellers to prevent the spread and proof may come as a result of an on-the-spot temperature test or by providing a negative test result.
This is already a reality for Emirates and Etihad passengers, who are required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test result before they are allowed to fly. German airports are also now testing all passengers that arrive from countries where COVID-19 is still rampant. If a passenger tests positive, they must go into 14 days of quarantine
Nothing is Certain
The only thing we can be sure about is that we can be sure about nothing. The recent spike and subsequent lockdown in Victoria is proof of this. As a result of the second spike, Qantas flights between Sydney to Melbourne have been cut back down, as have domestic travel bookings.
Unfortunately, this means that small tourist towns, particularly those close to the NSW-VIC border won’t be able to enjoy the boost in business that other regional destinations will until Victorian cases begin to stabilise.
We will Travel… Slowly
Widespread travel was a blessing for many, but a curse for some. Before COVID-19, headlines were dominated with reports of international tourist hot-spots falling victim to environmental degradation due to unchecked tourism.
When the worldwide lockdown first started, reports of nature healing and reclaiming space gave us a glimpse of a more environmentally sound future. The hope is that this sentiment is carried forward when travel resumes.
One of the wishes for the new normal of travel is that we move with more intent and respect for the environment and the communities we visit. One of the ways we can do this is by travelling slowly.
Rolf Potts, author of the best-selling ‘Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel’ believes that the future of travel belongs to those seeking something more than just a photo opportunity. “I doubt the desire to go to so-called hot spots or top-ten-list destinations will drive the next wave of travel. It will be the desire simply to go, and to figure things out along the journey. Think road trip or backpacking adventure, not package tour,” he says.
With regional travel on the rise and more hurdles with aviation a reality, we’ll likely be literally hitting the road when we travel. Quick tours will be replaced with long and winding road trips that inherently force a traveller to go slower, discover more and leave a lighter footprint. When you consider that as a new normal for travel, it isn’t all bad.