The conversation around travel is shifting by the minute. Today, the EU laid out plans to safely, gradually reopen travel as soon as the 15th of June, 2020.
Countries are easing restrictions on populations, and in many parts of the world those livelihoods depend on the movement of people, from airlines to local tavernas, coffee shops and bike rentals. As the conversation shifts to “when” but not “if” we should travel, a sub set of people continue to bang the drum of no vaccine, no travel. It’s a novel, admirable thought – but also highly impractical for most of the world.
Without travel, there may not be much of a world left, if and when a vaccine ever comes.
Let me start by saying that I offer sincere wishes of health and safety for anyone reading this. For people with preexisting health conditions, or an age that puts them most at risk of coronavirus being both a serious and life threatening problem, rather than an asymptomatic annoyance, opening travel isn’t entirely fair.
Unfortunately, few things in the world have ever been fair, no matter how much we’d like them to be.
About that vaccine, it’s a lovely thought, but also one that could never come to fruition with all the money and effort in the world. Remember SARS, one of the last major pandemics that scared the living daylights out of the world? There’s still no vaccine more than a decade later, and not by a lack of effort.
That’s the fundamental issue: we all can want a vaccine, as I very much do, but even all the greatest minds in the world may not be able to create one, at least not within a decade or more.
Covid-19 is yet another thing in life which “could” kill you, but that’s never stopped people from doing a variety of things, including smoking, which almost assuredly will kill you, at some point. It even says so on the label.
Still, people light up by the millions every day and life goes on. This matters because tourism employs nearly 10% of the entire global population – equating to circa 780,000,000 people. That’s seven-hundred-million people or more, and that’s not just pilots and hotel staff, but cafe workers, restaurants, transportation companies and so much more. One in ten people in any given community work in some form of tourism, or movement of people.
Covid-19 has tragically claimed 292,000 lives globally, and infected millions, but without employment opportunities, up to 780 million people face uncertainties which can absolutely lead to equal, or greater death tolls. In countries without universal health care, lack of employment can mean no access to medical treatment. Anywhere in the world, no money for food or shelter creates obvious problems too.
It’s not as if fantastic hiring prospects are all around at the moment for this workforce, either…
It’s also vital to understand how countries approached the handling of covid-19, and how it relates to a reopening of travel. Very few countries, like two hand fulls or less pursued eradication, where the goal was complete and total elimination. Everywhere else, such as the majority of Europe, North America and beyond simply attempted to slow the spread, so as not to overwhelm health care systems.
In other words, it’s not about never having covid-19, it’s about keeping it under extreme control, and there are already ways for countries to open borders and create economic opportunity, and re-connection for families without greatly changing the way that’s being enacted.
For those who are willing, wanting, or able, countries are exploring health certification before anyone would be allowed to board a flight. That may also be met with a cheek swab on arrival, and mandatory requirements to download an app, or provide contact details to trace movement, in case of a bad result. These measures are being approached with a crawl, then walk basis, trialing the measures between a select few chosen countries first, before wider tourism would be allowed to rejoin.
For New Zealand, a nation which pursued eradication of the coronavirus, borders won’t open any time soon, and when they do, all indication suggest they’ll only open to Australians, who have hinted at keeping their external border closed through 2020. The strategy has proven popular with a resounding percentage of people in each country, but was only possible because of extremely early action, and tact.
For everyone else, it’s about hoping that summer naturally slows the spread, that humanity embraces social distancing and hygiene measures to slow or curb transmission and for hospitality industry businesses to do their part.
I’ve laid out over 50 predictions for the future of travel.
There are positives that will come from covid-19, including appreciation for the simple joy of travel, for fellow humankind, and for the fragility of life. There’s also hope that these tragedies will forever improve the travel, dining and social existence, with better focus on cleaning standards.
If waiting for a vaccine is the only way forward, it’s important to realize that it may be 10 years before you can go anywhere. As long as there is domestic transmission within a country, going to a local bar is equally risky as boarding an airplane, or visiting another country with similar transmission rates.
If you want a vaccine, you’ve just gotta get real about the possibility that one may not ever be produced, and if you can’t handle that fact, you need to get real about what other possibilities mitigate risk, while protecting the livelihoods of more than a billion people.