ABOUT THE AUTHOR | Ricardo Álvarez-Díaz is the founder and principal of the architectural firm Álvarez-Díaz & Villalón, with offices in Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Tourism and world travel will never be the same after COVID-19.
The short-term economic global impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the tourism industry has been devastating. Now, as the world begins to slowly reopen and potentially recaptures its lost tourism industry, people are reassessing how and to where, they will travel now and in the future.
The pandemic has dealt an unprecedented blow to the air travel industry. During the outbreak of COVID-19, flights were canceled, travel bans were put in effect, and many people simply stopped traveling. Several major airlines are preparing to reduce their employee count in October when federal bailout money for airline payroll costs expires. Other airlines are offering buyouts to avoid layoffs.
Airlines have lowered their ticket prices, cut down on the number of passengers per plane, and established new health measures, all in an effort to attract new customers. Frontier Airlines is preparing for an increasing number of passengers on its flights by screening temperatures at the departure gate and denying boarding to anyone who is feverish. Other airlines are flying even more planes. Southwest Airlines is adding nearly a dozen new routes to its schedule this winter. According to CNN, there was barely a 7% increase in US flights since early May.
Although the increases in travel have been significant, many people are still not comfortable traveling on flights. However, controlling the amount of ports of entry, and implementing airport control barriers, has helped minimize the spread and gives travelers a unique sense of security if they need or decide to take a trip.
Hotels have not only seen dramatically lower occupancy rates due to the pandemic, but lower room rates as well. They are going to have to change and adapt to a new way of hospitality. Traditional hotels are operating as lodges, local vacation rentals rent out for two or four weeks, and villas and private homes have become better options to look at.
Properties on Airbnb are describing themselves as “Sanitized, highly clean, and COVID-friendly”. According to Business Insider, Airbnb has established a new cleaning protocol, with hosts who opt-in required to wait a minimum of 24 hours between bookings at all its properties to limit possible coronavirus transmissions. The protocol offers guidance on how to keep rooms clean, right down to the specific cleaning products it deems most suitable.
A private guest experience will provide a much more secure environment for families who want less crowded spaces to help control the spread of the virus. Hotels are going to have to reinvent themselves quickly to provide options that incentivize families to travel once again.
Travel incentives are playing a big role in getting tourists back to traveling. Some countries and destinations that rely heavily on tourism for their economy, are enticing travelers to visit even though health officials are advising against it. These incentives include:
- Free flights.
- Covering for lodging, food, drink and medication for COVID-19 patients and their families.
- Discounts and vouchers for travel expenses.
- Free attractions.
- Vouchers for flights and hotels.
Countries that are offering travel incentives, such as Italy, Cyprus and Japan, are counting on tourists to return, and restart the economy after losing billions of dollars due to tourist decline.
The cruise line industry has also taken a huge hit during this pandemic. During the spread of COVID-19, many cruises were forbidden to dock at destinations, and the industry experienced countless cancellations.
Cruise lines such as Carnival and Royal Caribbean are canceling their sailings to Alaska, Canada and New England through October. While according to USA Today, the CDC’s no-sail order is set to expire on July 24, major cruise companies, including Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Disney, have extended their sailing suspensions past that date.
Cruise lines are now reviewing and establishing updated health policies and procedures ahead of future sailing. Some of these new guidelines will include social distancing, pre-embarkation health screening, temperature checks before meals and ship activities, and overall monitoring during the trip. The strict implementation of safety measures on cruises will be key in order for passengers to get on board again.
WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
The travel industry has a long way to go before a full recovery. A serious concern is that if there is no COVID-19 vaccine available, there might be a second wave of this global virus.
As people get more comfortable, they’ll resume their travel away from home, first domestically and then internationally. New travel concerns may mean a shift to vacation rentals over hotels, driving rather than flying, and strict health and safety measures implemented every step of the way.
Following the rules, respecting social distancing and using masks and shields works, both as a preventative measure as well as to minimize anxiety. New changes to the travel industry are going to be game-changers and probably a healthier way for everyone to travel moving forward.
As new discoveries about COVID-19 are still being made and new safety protocols are put in place, for now, we continue to wait-and-see what happens. Regardless, it is important to realize that tourism and world travel will never be the same again.