Know this from the beginning: this is opinion. No one, literally no one on earth knows exactly what’s going to happen going forward in travel, but as someone who watches incredibly closely, I thought it would be fun to lay some cards on the table and set some jeopardy for the future, with predictions..
Like everyone, I’m seeking facts and figures about a safe reemergence from covid-19 wherever possible, but there’s a also quite a lot you can discern about the future of travel, and the world, just from simply walking out of your front door, and into a local park.
In many aspects, I think travel will be forever changed because of the insane times we’re living in, but not nearly as much as people think. Will all the changes that do happen be bad? Absolutely not! Before we crack into it all, who wouldn’t love…
- a more orderly airplane boarding process
- more efficient processing of passengers at immigration
- better spacing in bars and restaurants with better cleanliness?
- reasonable crowd controls at the greatest tourism attractions?
The Western World effectively began dealing with the global pandemic in March, after Italy closed its borders and declared a state of emergency. Two months later, May is in full swing, with worst case scenarios avoided, crucial measures being put in place daily to mitigate chances of a second wave and countries looking to reopen tourism.
That’s already a lot more upbeat than many expected, and many more doomsday fans hoped.
There have been unspeakably sad losses of life on an awful scale, but so too have their been selfless acts of good, as humanity bonded together to stay home and keep everyone safe. Many people tend to compare this to war, but I wasn’t sent off to fight to the death against my fellow man, I was just told to stay home and order takeout and discover and unlock the true potential of the internet.
The world bounced back from multiple wars, and it’s worth mentioning because it will absolutely bounce back from this.
Travel is going to feel like an awkward first date for a while, but sometimes awkward first dates turn into lifetimes of love, and I think after a few months with the training wheels on, we’ll remember that travel is like riding a bike, and many elements of travel will return back to normal, even if they should not.
And that’s an important distinction to make, before you light your molotov cocktails and launch them my way, while becoming a central figure in a Banksy work of art.
I’m all for the science, I’m all for social distancing and I’m all for kicking the living crap out of covid-19 with any laws, drug or vaccine which helps safely do so, but people fail to consider how inflexible we as humans really are. It’s precisely why I just don’t see travel fundamentally changing as much as many predict.
Prediction 2: Social Distancing Will Always Be Weak
Observing people in parks on my daily jog, or walk, I see people who are unlikely to be in the same household. Their mannerism tends to give it away, with that little uneasiness of “should we be doing this”. But within seconds, they are back to normal chatting away about old times, new adventures and more.
Frustratingly to many, including myself, that 2 meters of recommended social distance seems to shrink by the word.
Even incredibly intelligent people who mean the best lack spatial awareness. Each run I embark on, I find people totally respectful of distancing, as I try to be, but then others who seem to have no clue that a pandemic is afoot, or simply don’t have that cognitive thought to move sideways as they brush past.
There are lots, and lots, and lots of these people and they are going to be on your subway cars, trains, planes and busses all over the world as restrictions begin to ease. In many parts of the world, they already are – whether you like it, or agree with it or not.
Nothing in life is without risk, and as workers do return to the everyday grind, I think society will slip back into normal more than I think the pundits on television would have anyone believe.
I’m not saying that’s a good thing, just a prediction of reality.
People are people, people are social and after a few drinks, old friends will be hugging and telling old stories. Unless the world plans to ban alcohol, which Hong Kong did somewhat successfully manage to do in bars for a bit, all the novel ideas we have for the future will largely fade away. My best hope is that new rules create positives for travel which actually improve, not worsen the experience.
I think we’re going to see a shift in how people travel, why and for how long. I think this will lead to a few trends which will last years, including…
- People will take fewer trips, with hope for better comfort or social distancing in transit.
- Villa vacations, where people rent houses and control their surroundings will increase.
- Short haul, domestic and regional trips will bounce back before other international travel.
- Travel pricing will become increasingly important during years of continued recession.
- Wealthy travelers will seek second passports to broaden options in future crises.
I believe people will focus on taking a quality, longer trip each year, rather than the micro-trip trends which were emerging in recent years. That’s not to say short term travel won’t still exist – it will – it’s just that people will look to maybe save up for one trip in more comfort, so they can do so as safely as possible.
I think villa vacations will boom once more, particularly as families reconnect. Villas allow you total control over what you eat, who comes in, what goes out and can often mean considerable savings when groups are involved, like extended family.
Planes will get smaller, routes will become unsustainable and who wants to touch the seat or anything on a plane these days? Air travel is going to fundamentally change…
- We will finally come up with a better solution for aircraft boarding, deplaning.
- Jumbo jets will stop flying commercial passengers almost entirely within 6 months.
- A majority of direct routes will be axed, creating more flight connections, again.
- Wireless tech like bluetooth and wifi streaming will take over air travel. No touch!
- Cleanliness records will become the new SkyTrax rating for discerning passengers.
- Price won’t increase, despite lots of pundits saying it will. Low prices are marketing.
Business class travel is going to be lagging for a long time to come, and won’t ever likely fully recover. To keep moving, airlines are going to shrink the number of seats they sell on each flight, and they’re going to use marketing tools like great fares, and loyalty programs to make you care about travel again.
If anything is really going to change in air travel, it’s going to be around solutions for deplaning and boarding. I do not predict middle seats to be blocked, simply because it’s ineffective. Technology, for the few airlines which can afford to invest in it will also be key. Solutions to wirelessly connect your device to their devices on board, with as few touch points as possible will be crucial.
I think cleaning programs and the ability to market them will continue to be all the rage for months to come, as hotels make their case for coming back inside. It’s for this reason big chains have a leg up on the initial boom. Hotel and accommodations will see…
- Airbnb will see a splintering as hosts look to cut direct, cheaper deals with travelers.
- Hotels will use cleaning partnerships to promote travel and create awards for themselves.
- Hotel bars will become more exclusive, since they’re typically more socially distanced.
- Room service will become the new special hotel meal, with greater fanfare and fun.
- Hotel pools will experience more classism, with preferential spots for suite guests, etc.
- Mega hotels will suffer more than boutiques, but excess rooms will keep prices down.
For years, mass tourism has been everything. Spain and France received more visitors than any others, and it meant crowding everywhere. Crowding, in a post covid-19 world, will no longer be cool. Tourists will seek tranquility over buzz, and small crowds versus large gatherings for a long time to come, thanks in part to government measures preventing them.
- Health certificates, or some sort of pass/fail will be necessary for intl travel before flight.
- Many destinations will weed out mass market travelers with taxes and subsidy cuts.
- Beaches will become a police state in popular destinations, with fines and bans.
- Higher visa/ETA fees in advance of travel to help cover additional screening measures.
- Western countries will lose restriction free access in many Asian countries, need visas.
- Tourism boards will begin to restrict visitor numbers by limiting flights, capping visitors.
- Cruise travel will be curbed most due to the close nature and proximity of guests.
Restaurants, bars and other activities tend to be the very last element in plans to reopen the world. That’s probably because they hold the most jeopardy. Many of the very things which make travel so worthwhile will be changed, and they’ll be different longer than many other elements, perhaps with life long effect.
- Table spacing will increase prices on dining out and trust will be difficult with tourists.
- Health “letter grades” become international standards for prospective eaters in cities.
- Volume based attractions like Disney will struggle to stay open if a single case pops up.
- Entertainment venues will bring price increases to cover talent costs with fewer guests.
- A rise in small scale “8 seater” restaurants like Japanese omakase sushi dens emerges.
- National parks will place strict limits on permits, visitors, gatherings and camping.
Ultimately, so much of what I personally believe is a result of what will happens when governments release restrictions, and say it’s up to “us” the people to make prudent choices.
Instantly, a large sub set of the population is going to start doing all the wrong things, other groups will try their best, and others can make strong decisions based on their personal circumstances and own risk assessments. But again, even people with great intentions don’t always have good spatial awareness or balance.
I just generally don’t believe human beings are flexible, and the way of life that’s been enjoyed for 100’s of years, through plagues, war and politics will simply fade away into some unrecognizable universe. People are people, they’re hard to change in the best of times, and I think once the future of travel is put back into our hands, we can only hope for a few positives to emerge.