Updated: Oct 20, 2020
At the outset, my thoughts are with all those who have been impacted by this ongoing calamity. May their path to recovery be smooth and swift.
Another month has passed in this stay-at-home mode and in our house throughout May, we were definitely getting the travel itch! My wife and I were booked on a trip to Peru and Argentina, leading a group of 20 of our very good friends and today we would have been on our homebound flight from Buenos Aires. Sadly, Covid-19 had other ideas and like many a plan such as ours, had to be shelved.
Of all the businesses affected by this pandemic, we in the tourism industry are finding it most challenging. Having thrived for decades on satisfying the travel dreams of so many clients, I find it hard to comprehend how this tiny, invisible micro-organism, could create such global havoc, bringing us all to a standstill.
But, the show must go on! Tourism will revive, albeit in a slow and painful way and in all probability have a different look, perhaps for the better. The current situation has forced our industry to collectively find new ways to provide adequate protection while flying, implement new guidelines on cleanliness, and derive a workable transition from mass tourism to more individual ‘friends and family’ travel. Domestic and short haul flights will be the precursor of how procedures can be adapted and managed while testing the public’s will to fly. Several destinations in Europe are already in the process of ‘opening’ and with government restrictions slowly being relaxed; the hope is to see some bounce back early into the New Year.
Though cautiously optimistic by nature, I do admit that any time frame will be a long one in pandemic -planning terms. My ‘crystal-ball’ tells me that although some flights will start with limited capacity and subject to whether country borders will open to all flyers, not many folks are rushing off to the nearby airports. Surprisingly, a few airlines have already announced flight schedules from this month onwards.
An interesting survey commissioned specifically on North American travelers showed the majority of respondents (50%) would take to the skies and would stay at hotels abroad but they will wait 6 months before taking the plunge. Conversely, the numbers were not so encouraging when it came to cruising with the majority (60%) of those surveyed declining to consider a future cruise. Another interesting fact was that almost 90% of respondents would be influenced in booking their hotel rooms based on how the hotels clean their rooms rather than selecting a hotel based on their price or cancellation policies. Questions on travel to Europe had more optimistic responses compared to travel to Asia. Africa and the South Pacific settled somewhere in between. The one common denominator was ‘awaiting an effective vaccine’.
I’ve also tapped into my pool of global friends who derive their livelihood from tourism, to get a sense of their reality and what their ‘crystal-ball’ vision on the future of tourism in their respective markets will be. The general consensus was that the ‘luxury market’ would swing back quicker than the mass market. Whereas on one hand travelers in the luxury segment tend to be older and more at risk; on the other hand, they can afford business class or ultra-luxury private planes, reducing the risk of over-crowded economy class. Also when at the destination, they can afford more exclusive options, like private camps and villas, private vehicles, plus select their holidays in areas where interaction with other people is far more limited. But, not to be outdone will be the younger traveler, the under-40 market, with pent up demand and cabin fever. These travelers are definitely more resilient, more open to traveling as soon as borders and flights allow, and who will be extra adventurous, visiting more remote destinations with a community element as their priority.
So, there you have it! Whichever market fits your demographic, you will want a confidence when travelling. As a collective industry, the brick-and-mortar travel agencies will offer better protection, ensuring a safe-guard not only in your home country but also at the destination of choice with re-enforced inspections of health and safety standards, not to mention the personalized touch, one that brings peace of mind knowing there’s always someone there in an emergency.