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What The Future Of Travel Will Look Like Post COVID-19, According To Experts

With a ban on non-essential travel and some countries in complete lockdown, for some our travel curiosity has never been so piqued. But what is going to happen when travel begins safely again?

While every business has been affected by COVID-19, the tourism industry has been completely turned on its head.

Travel bans brought international travel to a grinding halt. Domestic demand plummeted. And, with most offices and tourist attractions closed, there was, and is, nowhere to go.

And for good reason—if you don’t absolutely need to, why sit in a cramped, crowded, de facto contagion tube for hours on end?

Airlines have already enacted drastic changes: Delta blocked middle seats and boards guests ten-at-a-time. JetBlue suspended food and drinks services. Many have slashed cabin occupancy by half and all are becoming overfamiliar with an aggressive sanitisation process. 

With much of the world reopening, it’s possible these measures relax in the next few months. But just because a threat lessens doesn’t mean the scars do. After September 11, air travel changed forever. Shoes were checked at security, cockpit doors became bulletproof and TSA was created. 

It’s likely that COVID-19 will also leave a lasting impact, even after social distancing measures are necessary. 

We did some research on how our next holiday may look in time to come, taking cues from the countries who have relaxed quarantine measures before us. 

An emphasis on sustainability 

Due to the slowdown during quarantine, NASA satellite images have shown a vast reduction in nitrogen dioxide emissions in China, Waterways in Venice appear cleaner due to lack of tourist boat traffic and in India, a nationwide curfew resulted in the lowest levels of pollution ever recorded in springtime, according to the Centre for Research on Clean Air.

Because of this, slow travel, carbon offsetting and opting for altogether greener options will likely flavour travelling in a post-COVID-19 world. Perhaps you too can make like Greta and sail. 

Less everyday travel

Rush hour could potentially be a thing of the past if businesses decide that virtual meetings, working from home and remote collaboration proves more effective than commuting. This could benefit us in a number of ways; prices of rent falling, savings on petrol, better work/life balance, a drop in fossil fuels and potentially a more effective way of working.

The long-term impacts on businesses cannot be predicted but if isolation has led to a more flexible work base, then it is possible that people will continue working at home and travel less.

Changes in air travel

Similar to what happened post 9/11, changes will have to be made regarding the way we travel. Packing people into small spaces and not checking for rudimentary symptoms will likely become a thing of the past.

In China, for example, we are seeing planes land at intermediary airports for health checks before flying onto some of its bigger cities. Crowding the gate hoping to get on first may likely cease, the desire to use the aeroplane bathroom will hit almighty lows and inflight magazines may never return to the seat pocket.

Investment in technology

Long lines will have little to no place in a post-coronavirus world, meaning that a change in technology for check-in, security and immigration is imminent. Luckily, this is wholly possible by way of biometrics.

Etihad Airways is currently testing out self-service kiosks that can monitor the temperature, heart rate and respiratory rate of passengers checking in or passing through immigration. Just as certain vaccinations are currently needed to travel to different parts of the world, immunisation cards may henceforth be used when travelling to prove liability. 

More flexible cancellation policies

It’s likely that airlines, cruise ships and hotels will be keen to fill seats once more by providing more flexible policies when travel begins again, something we’ve already witnessed amid COVID-19 panic.

But, experts believe that this might be short-lived. While the US Department of Transportation issued a notice to airlines on April 3 saying that they must offer refunds on cancelled flights, many passengers still report having trouble getting their money back. A number of travel service providers have waived fees of late amid the pandemic, but now, it’s just a case of how long will it last. 

Hygiene and sanitation will be prioritised 

Clean freaks, rejoice! Coming out of COVID-19, it’s safe to say that everyone is going to be a little more health-conscious. Cleaning planes, cruise ships and hotel rooms is likely going to be taken up a level to protect travellers.

Some even predict the rise of a new kind of plane class, which has somewhat jokingly been referred to as ‘isolation grade’. Most foresee airlines having to step up their precautions, whether that's testing the health of every single person at boarding, providing face masks and sanitiser, or offering various degrees of distance between people, be that with curtains or little rooms as we have seen in some airlines' first-class cabins.

Travel agents could make a comeback

As people around the world struggled to get out of certain countries ahead of the travel ban, or spent hours on the phone fighting to get their money back on flights they had to cancel, the pros of a human travel agent versus an online travel agency might have come into sharp focus.

Those keen to travel from now on will be acutely aware of how plans can crumble at the drop of a hat, which will likely result in people seeking professional advocacy on their behalf. We have seen this play out over the past three months when people have scrambled to figure out how to get home, travel advisers are 10 steps ahead already rebooking their clients return trips.

We’ll take our dream trip

While, theoretically, we’re aware that “someday” may never come, the message is now crystal clear – that we must grab chances while we have the ability to do so. Leisure travel went from being as popular as ever at the beginning of 2020 to grinding to an indefinite halt by mid-March.

We’ve also seen lives cut short by a virulent disease we knew nothing about this time last year. Those factors will combine to create a space in which travellers will no longer put off trips they’ve forever dreamed of – once it’s safe to explore, of course. 

Travel insurance will spike

For frequent flyers, relying on credit cards with trip protection has generally been enough to defend against any worse-case scenarios. But, after the travel industry was upended by COVID-19, most of us learned that pandemics are not covered under most types of travel insurance policies. Even most independent policies weren’t much help for travellers who had to back out of certain plans.

According to InsureMyTrip, the number of travel insurance policies has increased some 200 per cent since January, suggesting that people are already thinking how they’ll protect their travel investments in the future. 

Frequent flyer accounts will be drained 

While the process of living through COVID-19 is far from over, we’ve already seen some contraction in how you can use miles from certain programs and even banks. Thus far, this has largely meant the removal of gift card redemption options. But, time will tell if these cuts go deeper. There will definitely be a collective desire to travel again once restrictions are lifted but there will also be a desire to spend wisely, meaning that miles and points will take on greater importance in making trips happen.

The thought process? Why wait –– you just never know what’s around the corner and when your chance to travel may be halted again. 

Main image by @stormibree

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