Travelling after Coronavirus: Changes to expect

One of the sectors hit by the current crisis is tourism, which faces the challenge of reopening amid the fear of a virus resurgence, and also the exhaustion generated by the confinement. In this article, we will tell you what may be the changes to expect, temporary or permanent, that this sector will present after the control of the pandemic.

According to the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), tourism in 2020 will be reduced by between 60 and 80%, putting between 100 and 120 million jobs at risk. This is the worst result since 1950 and the end of sustained growth since 2009. “Considerable challenges persist, starting with the unknown duration of the pandemic and travel restrictions, in a context of global economic recession,” the organization warns.

Even though many destinations are already beginning to open up to tourists, especially in Europe, the uncertainty is big. How prepared are tour operators and establishments to ensure biosecurity? Will the fear of infection or the desire to travel be stronger? And in the case of those who are willing, will they have enough resources to assume the expense?

A survey conducted in Spain by the Travel Advisors Guild in mid-May shows that almost 60% of respondents were willing to travel in the short term (immediately, from August or October) nationwide. In the case of international travel, there is much more caring. The survey also shows that the desire to visit beaches or nature destinations prevails overstaying in cities or visiting cultural circuits.

Between optimism and fear, the tourism sector seeks to adapt to what many call “the new normal.” Industry experts present some of the transformations that are already being contemplated or implemented. One of the implemented measures is COVID-19 test, which is already required by many countries and airlines. The test can be taken in one of the approved COVID-19 test centres and valid for 48-72 hours depending on the travel destination. Some other measures, surely, will lose validity when the vaccine against COVID-19 is available, while others, they assure, have come to stay.

Air transport: an uncertain awakening

One of the great concerns, both for tourists and operators, is biosecurity in mass means of transport, both air and land. Experts point out that people are willing to travel in the summer, but they consider that long trips will be reduced and proximity tourism will prevail. The way of staying will also change: less in hotels and campsites and more in apartments or hostels. Also, the own vehicles will be used more than public means of transport such as train, bus or plane.

As restrictions are lifted in different countries, plans are preparing to take flight. In the United States, Southwest Airlines reported that reservations once again exceeded cancellations last June-August, and United Airlines planned to summarize some international flights in the past July.

In Europe, EasyJet reactivated flights in the UK and France in mid-June. Although sanitary measures have increased, the middle seat stayed, as the company indicated that it is not financially sustainable. In Asia, the Korean Aircrew has been using a protective suit and goggles since April 21, as well as masks and gloves. In India, during the first week of the reopening of domestic flights, they reached 70% capacity, well above the 25% expected.

Space and disinfection in hotels

According to information collected by the World Economic Forum, hotels in different parts of the world are preparing to comply with biosafety regulations. In some cases, they have planned to expand common spaces and replace materials with others that are easy to clean. Others have reduced the number of tables in the restaurants so that there is more space between people.

The Marriott International hotel chain, for example, created a Hygiene Council to receive advice on good practices in cleaning and disinfection. Among the measures to be implemented is the use of electrostatic sprays with hospital-grade disinfectant for surfaces.

Professionals in the area of Tourism and Hotel Management affirm that one of the things that will have to reinvent itself is the breakfast buffet, in which many clients converge in a very short time. One of the alternatives they propose is room service for breakfast, which will imply an increase in staff and, therefore, a greater investment.

Hotel guests will have to get used to changes that include taking the temperature, the use of applications to attend to the client respecting the distance, and the elimination of some objects in the rooms, as well as furniture on beaches and swimming pools, among other measures.

A more flexible cancellation policy

According to experts, one of the great challenges of the sector is to modify the cancellation policy, because when the client travels, they want to feel secure that if there is a virus resurgence or some difficulty, they will return their money. According to a survey carried out by the Travel Advisors Guild, this is the second most important factor when choosing a hotel, after the health and protection policy against COVID-19.

Technology as a way to avoid contact

Automating processes that previously had to be done manually can help to avoid contact between people, the key to safely reactivating tourist activities. One of the changes that are taking place in this regard is the restaurant menu. Most restaurants needed to adapt their menus to a digital format with QR codes, and this is an innovation that has come to stay.

Something similar happened with the credit cards as well. Their usage was already widespread before the coronavirus, but protection measures have enhanced and generalized its use much more.

An opportunity to save jobs and give back to nature

Zurab Pololikashvili, UNWTO General Secretary, pointed out that “sustainability should no longer be a tourism niche, but should be the new norm in every segment of the sector. It is in our hands to transform tourism and that the overcoming of the pandemic becomes a turning point for sustainability.”

The arrival of COVID-19 forced predatory tourism to stop abruptly. Now, representatives of international organizations, governments, and private companies seek that the reactivation brings with it another type of tourism. “We believe that climate action is a collective commitment to the sustainability of the entire travel sector and this world that we love to explore so much,” James Thornton, CEO of Intrepid Travel, told UNWTO.

More responsible tourism

In the same way, National Park professionals affirm that the implementation of more responsible tourism can go hand in hand with the preservation of employment in the current crisis. They consider that, through public-private partnerships, agreements can be reached to temporarily migrate jobs from the tourism sector too, for example, ecological restoration processes, which is a fundamental asset of tourism. Tourism never returns anything to nature.

In a country where tourist destinations are mainly beaches and nature, restoration and reforestation work is always linked to compensation for loss of diversity by large mining or energy companies or voluntary planting activities, and it is not enough.

With high levels of labour informality, and low compliance with goals for adaptation to climate change, the transitory migration of tourism jobs can also be a way to transform this sector. Also, implement processes in which people are paid for training: this is a very important time to make this transition to formality and to generate capacities to be good hosts in tourism. That`s what experts in the sector say. According to them, there is currently a great call to reflect on how tourism has been doing so far: what things we should stop doing because they harmed the environment, tourist destinations, people, and what things we want to promote. It remains to be seen if the purpose of responsible tourism is turned into action, or if tour operators go hunting for tourists to make up for lost months. So, let`s wait and see what will be the new travel rules after COVID-19.