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My predictions for the travel industry in 2020 after the Covid-19 pandemic

If you’re a fan of listening to podcasts, then you can also listen to this blog post about the travel industry amidst the Covid-19 pandemic in this episode of The Well-Travelled Podcast.

Now that we’ve all accepted the travel bans and cancelled trips caused by the current Covid-19 pandemic, I’ve started wondering what the virus means for the travel industry in the long-term. Travel is one of my main passions in life and the idea of it disappearing overnight is horrific, but I sense that most people are simply waiting for things to return to normal. I’m not quite so sure they will. Quite aside from the economic impact of the virus, which may or may not push the global economy back into recession, I can’t envisage the travel industry remaining the same after this dramatic an event, and I’ve been musing on the possible scenarios the industry could face or the responses it could adopt.

One thing is for sure, that those who work in and depend on the travel industry for their livelihoods face a huge amount of uncertainty and economic struggle ahead. Various governments have announced financial support and I seriously hope it’s enough to keep these businesses afloat. 1 in 10 jobs in the world is linked to tourism, and for anyone interested in a more in-depth analysis of the travel industry, I can highly recommend reading ‘Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism’ by Elizabeth Becker.

**This blog post contains my predictions and musings on how the travel industry may cope after Covid-19. It’s important to caveat that I’m no analyst, nor forecaster, nor do I even work in the travel industry, so what follows is utter speculation based on years of following the industry and writing about travel. Nor am I braving any guesses at how long these impacts may or may not last.**

What might the pandemic mean for the travel and tourism industry?

I imagine that the state of the travel industry will vary from country to country, depending on how much financial support the respective government offers its tourism industry. Regardless though, I think that aviation will take a massive hit, with some experts saying that most of the world’s airlines will be technically bankrupt by the end of May, if they don’t receive government support. Post-coronavirus and once travel bans are lifted, I imagine they’ll reintroduce their previous routes little by little as demand may only return quite slowly, so there will be less variety of routes and less convenience in flight schedules initially. I’m guessing that consumers will be wary of booking holidays and flights at all during the pandemic, so they’ll have few customers in the beginning. Low demand would push up ticket prices as they’d struggle to make flights financially viable (even for budget airlines), bumping up the price of travel for everyone, and potentially pushing more low-income people towards staycations which avoid flying. With job insecurity and the economy in a dire state, fewer people will have that disposable cash to spend on expensive flights. Another scenario is that the airlines may offer exceptionally cheap flight tickets in a desperate plea to get everyone travelling again, but how they’d afford or sustain that after the drastic losses they’ve made during the pandemic is anyone’s guess.

With many people feeling burned by cancelled flights or painful insurance claims, I believe consumers will avoid booking far into the future or booking non-flexible tickets, leaning to more of a last-minute culture where there are fewer chances of unforeseen disruption. If there is a significant downturn in the number of people travelling, whether due to scepticism, uncertainty or financial difficulty, the decrease could help alleviate the overtourism we’ve observed in so many parts of the world in recent years. It could actually give natural habitats time to recover from the ecological damage of overtourism, and give destinations the time to rediscover their own authentic culture and local community (not just the culture they display to paying customers).

My other prediction is that business travel will become less common, after everyone has spent several months communicating by video-conference and realised that it’s not actually that difficult. Paired with a struggling economy, I can picture airlines struggling to fill their business and first class cabins, which effectively subsidise the rest of the seats on the plane. When you consider that business and first class leave a far larger carbon footprint than economy seats then the evidence against corporate travel starts to stack up.

I can also envisage border restrictions and strict health screenings remaining in place for a long time to come. In 2006 they introduced the 100ml liquid limit in cabin luggage in response to a terrorist threat, and that has never been removed, even 14 years later. Countries may become more selective in who they allow into their territory, fearing future outbreaks, maybe screening people before departure and demanding more vaccination certificates than at present to cross their border.

Destinations that survive on tourism alone (such as remote or coastal communities) will see their revenues ravaged by the pandemic and the cliff-edge drop in visitors. They will probably offer very cheap prices to tempt back the tourists they depend on for a living, or may diversify their income sources to better protect them from future outbreaks. Hotels and destinations will probably face high unemployment in the short-term, forcing their workforce to look at other industries to make ends meet, subsequently making it harder to re-recruit and scale back up once the virus subsides.

I can’t see the cruise industry faring well after the horrendous publicity of people dying from the virus aboard their ships, especially since some cruise liners have a reputation for attracting older (and therefore more vulnerable) travellers, so I’d expect cruise packages to be exceptionally cheap in order to persuade customers back. Finally, if a large number of travel insurance companies go under, then I imagine travel insurance policies will specifically exclude pandemics in future.

I would love to hear other people’s ideas on how the travel industry will look once the pandemic ends? Do send me any good articles or reports you read, as I’m fascinated by this subject.

Are there any positives from any of this?

From a travel perspective, there are a small handful of silver linings. Now that planes are grounded and industrial factories closed, our skies haven’t looked so clean and pollution-free in decades, giving the climate some much-needed time to recover. It won’t undo decades of concrete jungles and developments on pristine coastlines, but there are already signs of ecological recovery, for example with improving water purity in Venetian canals previously congested with gondolas. I’m sceptical about humankind’s ability to learn from this episode and radically improve our treatment of the planet’s fragile environment in future, but I do hope that a greater awareness of the resources we really need to survive in life, and a greater appreciation of our normal freedoms, will help us to all to consume less and be better global citizens.

A couple of days ago I was discussing resilience and self-sufficiency in the face of crisis with my mother, and we both commented that our experiences working in very poor communities in developing countries (the Upper East Region of Ghana for her, and rural Nepal for me) had perhaps prepared us well for the limited availability of resources under lockdown in the UK . We’ve lived and worked through load-shedding (scheduled power cuts), we’ve survived on food only produced on land no further than walking distance away. We’ve adapted to cultures where “on-demand” is a logistical impossibility, we’ve coped being outside out comfort zones and far from our loved ones for extended periods of time. In my mother’s case, she’s witnessed Ghanaian patients suffering from horrendous, untreated health conditions due to a sheer lack of doctors and facilities in rural areas. That kind of resilience to difficult conditions is what many people in the UK are now experiencing for the first time, and while I would never voluntarily wish that hardship on anyone, I do hope people learn from the experience and grow resilience through it.

How do you think the travel industry will respond or bounce back after Covid-19?

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