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Changing Travel Paradigms in the 'New Normal'

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According to industry experts, 2020 was the worst financial year in history for the travel sector. As coronavirus preventive measures literally kept people disconnected, the travel industry bore the brunt of the pandemic’s economic devastation

Grounded for months, airlines and travel businesses plunged into dire situations,with stakeholders cutting staff pay, retiring fleets, and closing down operations in response to the health crisis. This threw more than 100 million people out of work, deepening the economic implications of the health crisis for many. For the most part, all travel-related activities were either halted or held virtually where possible, raising concerns about the future of travel. 

With the pandemic past its peak in many parts of the world, governments are gradually easing social distancing rules and allowing a return of business activities. However, the post-pandemic period will usher in an era of “new normal,” as the pandemic has forced the travel industry to evolve and adapt in ways that we may continue to see for many years to come.

Greater Focus on Safe Travel

One silver lining of the pandemic is that key players in the travel business will double down on safe travel. 

Shortly after the 9/11 attack in New York, airline stakeholders across the world enhanced measures to fortify border security and travel safety. More than two decades later, travel and border security remains a top priority in aviation. Similarly, airlines have had to adapt to the ongoing health crisis by implementing health and safety measures to limit the spread of the virus and forestall another outbreak. 

With support from the World Health Organization, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and other key aviation groups, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) adopted some health recommendations to help airlines jumpstart global air travel recovery and ensure safe and sustainable travel. The measures include physical distancing within airports and aircraft cabins (with adequate risk-based measures where distancing is not feasible), wearing of face masks by passengers and aviation workers, routine pre and post-flight health checks, patient health declaration certificates, and contact tracing. 

The ICAO also recommends testing “if and when real-time, rapid, and reliable testing becomes available.” In countries such as the Bahamas, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, and Greece, travelers from high-risk countries are subject to a COVID-19 test at the airport of entry or may provide proof of a negative PCR test taken within three days before arrival. 

Other travel stakeholders, including hotels, transportation companies, restaurants, and tourism hotspots, will also set new standards to boost consumer confidence and ensure safe travel. Brands like Marriot and Hilton, for instance, have enhanced their standards for hygiene, including digitized check-ins, reduced occupancy to ensure social distancing, and frequent disinfection of touched surfaces, including staircase handrails and elevator control panels. Some of these brands will also provide masks and gloves to guests upon request. 

Reduced Overtourism, More Sustainability

In the post-pandemic era, travelers will be more intentional about where they go and how they go there. Many experts believe the pandemic may bring an end to overtourism, not only because of the current economic realities or advancement in virtual technology but also because of the heightened anxieties associated with international travel. 

People may continue to hold business meetings, conferences, lectures, and interviews virtually in the coming months or years as the pandemic-induced halt in travel brought a new perspective to social interactions. People have now realized that virtual meetings may significantly save time and money spent making trips. Now with advancing technologies in virtual reality, people may no longer need to take physical trips to some tourism destinations. 

Further, the dramatic reduction in carbon emissions during the lockdown has led to a closer look at how the travel industry may be affecting the planet. As a result, many travelers consider limiting travel only for essential purposes or more road-tripping than air travel. Consumers may also begin to show preferences for travel businesses that make eco-friendliness a priority. This shift could, in turn, spur stakeholders in the travel business to go green. 

Businesses are also implementing strategies to mitigate overtourism given the current health crisis. For instance, Rome’s Galleria Borghese has implemented timed tickets to reduce crowding and safeguard the health of visitors. Consumers are also choosing to make fewer hotel bookings and stay in non-traditional accommodations such as Airbnb rooms to limit their risk of infection.

A Surge in Domestic Travel

The new world of travel will see a boost in domestic travel, for all the reasons stated above. Consumers will begin to make more intentional trips, with a focus on quality and not quantity. People would prefer road-tripping to rural communities, where they’ll experience nature at its closest and quietest than a long, busy trip to beautiful islands just recovering from or still grappling with the pandemic. 

Further, the gradual easing of lockdowns has birthed “travel bubbles” and “corona corridors,” which open doors to tourists from neighboring countries. In Latin America and parts of Europe, cross-border travel has returned, and travel businesses are incentivizing trips to lure visitors from neighboring countries. What’s more, tourists entering these travel corridors are not subject to COVID-19 tests or quarantine. 

However, international travel will return, but people will prefer to take shorter trips with greater emphasis on spending quality time. If there’s an alternative to long-distance travel such as virtual learning or e-conferences, businesses and leaders may opt for that instead. 

Travel in the Post-Pandemic Era

The coronavirus pandemic has upended the travel industry, crippling a $2.9 trillion market within months. However, the industry is gradually recovering with lessons learned - and which may stay with it for years to come. The pandemic will usher in a new normal for the travel industry, one that will prioritize health, safety, and sustainability. 

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