The days of carefree movement across oceans, continents and international borders have already been consigned to a distant memory. And the welcoming arms of 95% of the world’s nations have been reluctantly folded as far as international travellers are concerned. All of which will have severe consequences on tourism for the remainder of 2020.
For example, in Europe, many countries that traditionally rely on tourism such as Spain, Italy and France, have pretty much written off the year already. Some others, such as Portugal and Greece, are clinging on to the hope that lockdown-weary tourists can be tempted back out for some late-summer sun. But the reality is that most countries will only be able to rely on domestic tourism until the “new normal” begins to take shape.
One of the earliest initiatives will be the development of travel corridors or hubs (or “bubbles”), agreed between countries with a shared success of overcoming the virus outbreak, and where the risk of COVID-19 infection is very low. The theory being that barriers to travel such as mandatory quarantines, blood tests and the like could be removed for residents of those countries who restrict their travel to within each bubble.
For example, New Zealand and Australia have already announced their intention to establish a bubble. And Fiji is keen to join in on the act, too. But nothing can move forward until safe flying protocols have been agreed.
However, where countries share land borders, such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, and the Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania and Slovenia, no such protocols should stand in the way.
According to the global aviation marketing consultancy, Simplifying, air travel will change beyond recognition over the next few years.
For instance, no more last-minute arriving at the airport and whizzing straight through security because you’ve done your check-in and seat allocation online. In future, you’ll be arriving at least four hours before your flight, but won’t be allowed into the departure lounge until you’re deemed “fit to fly”. So, along with possessing your “immunity passport” you’ll have to pass through a disinfectant tunnel and thermal scanners. After which you’ll head to the screened check-in desk for a health assessment (possibly involving a CT scan) and a blood test, too.
Meanwhile, your bags will undergo their own health check via a fogging or UV disinfection process.
In the boarding area, you’ll wait for an individual notification on your mobile phone to let you know it’s your time to board. That’s unless your check-in scan result comes back positive, in which case you’ll be turned back.
Everything about the experience will be “touchless”. From facial recognition to touchless vending machines in the boarding area to digital magazines and menus on board.
And throughout, an almost obsessive dedication to sanitisation and social distancing will prevail.
It may seem far-fetched looking through the lens of the past. But remember that the airline industry’s number one priority (along with overall safety) is to restore and maintain consumer confidence in flying. And, without the luxury of being able to entice massive numbers of tourists with rock-bottom prices, the focus will undoubtedly be on health and safety.
Indeed, some of these measures have already started to happen. For instance, Air Canada will be requiring pre-flight temperature checks from May 15. And Emirates are now requiring COVID-19 blood tests for all passengers. Meanwhile, in a raft of measures to get their fleet operating again from July, Ryanair has announced that passengers wishing to use the onboard toilet will have access granted “on request”. That means no leaving it until the last minute, folks.
Of course, if and when a vaccine suitable for mass distribution is available, questions will be raised as to whether these restrictive measures are still needed. And, as confidence in flying and demand increases, there may well be a temptation to revert to a pack-them-in-tight mentality. But the airline industry will be wary of being caught with their pants down once again in the event of a new pandemic. So you can bet any investments in sanitised travel will be for the long-term and not just for the next few months.
Amidst all the pessimism and potential upheaval surrounding travel, there are nevertheless reasons to be optimistic about what lies ahead.
There are arguably plenty of places in the world that could do with a reset on the numbers of people who visit. European cities such as Venice, Barcelona and Dubrovnik were already struggling with the sheer scale of tourism. And we’d like to think that the current freeze on visitors would give those cities’ decision-makers an opportunity to determine a better way to welcome visitors in future.
Similarly, hugely popular tourist sites such as Machu Picchu in Peru and Siem Reap in Cambodia may benefit from a cooling off in foot traffic.
It might be a step too far, but we’d also like to think that tourists, in general, will change their perception of what travel is all about. That it’s not something to just take for granted. That freedom of travel comes with responsibilities towards the local population, fellow travellers and the environment.
Indeed, recent images of wildlife roaming free in deserted city centres tell us something about the impact that tourism has on the world around us.
It might take a while, but travel will surely make a comeback however not in the same way as we are used to.