Middle seats in the planes of some airlines are vacant. Passengers and crew members aboard cruise ships are wearing masks and socially distancing. Some countries remain closed to nonresidents or won’t allow people from the United States to enter. Many people who normally would be flying are loath to set foot on an airplane. Hotels are running below capacity. Travel over the holidays, usually times of mass migration, has plummeted.
CNN Business says that airline traffic has plunged and probably won’t recover any time soon. Stewart Chiron, a leading expert known as “The Cruise Guy,” says the COVID-19 outbreak may be the worst blow the industry has ever suffered. The kinds of trips people take in the months ahead will be different from in the past, and a number of travel industry experts predict that not all of the changes will disappear as the virus does.
Few aspects of life have been hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than travel, and there’s no end in sight. Or is there? People seeking an escape from home still have alternatives. Let’s consider the short-term outlook and longer-term probabilities.
While the borders of many countries are closed, some have lifted travel bans—although perhaps not for people from the United States due to the high rate of infections here. Even when they’re open to Americans, there are safety regulations that must be taken, and some popular tourist sites have restricted access. The first step in planning a trip should be to check the latest information for travelers.
When Dr. Louis Meyers recently flew from Burlington, Vermont, to Washington, D.C., he was routed through Charlotte, North Carolina, and his ticket cost much more than in the past. Higher fares, fewer direct flights, and hassles getting through a number of airports are the new norm for air travel. According to a report on the SFGate website, these challenges aren’t likely to go away soon. It predicts that for the foreseeable future a high percentage of flyers will be “travelers with serious business on the other end.”
The Economist magazine forecasts that giant passenger ships will take a long time to recover their appeal. Jay Johnson of Coastline Travel Advisors in California predicts that cruise lines may have to offer reduced fares in the short term in order to attract people to board ships again.
TravelStride.com, a leading marketplace source for worldwide travel, notes that most tour companies have implemented safety guidelines and flexible cancellation policies, limited group sizes, and taken other steps to keep people healthy. The organization’s website hosts more than 50,000 group tour packages, expedition cruises, and independent itineraries.
Currently its experts recommend custom travel as an option to eliminate any concerns about going with a group. The website includes a list of countries that are reopening for tourism and updates it regularly.
While it’s impossible to predict with certainty how travel will evolve in the months and years ahead, there are signposts that point to what is likely to take place. Many observers believe that airlines will offer fewer choices and charge higher fares. Low-cost seat options may dwindle, and passengers are likely to have limited alternatives for flight times, routes, and possibly companies. The International Air Transport Association estimates that the industry won’t fully recover from the impact of COVID-19 until 2024.
Rather than heading for mega-resorts, amusement parks, and other popular vacation spots, more people are likely to drive to a beach, the mountains, or a lake that’s fairly close to home. As a result, hotels and motels probably will enjoy an uptick in business.
Early in November, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that it was lifting the “no-sail” order it had imposed and will allow a phased-in return of passenger cruises. In order to resume sailings, ship lines must take steps that include informing people of the potential risks caused by the pandemic, limiting voyages to a maximum of seven days, testing crew and passengers, and mandating the wearing of masks and social distancing. It probably will take some time for those protocols to be put into place.
Even as consumer travel slowly increases, business-related trips may lag behind. Robert Crandall, former head of American Airlines, predicts that many companies currently conducting meetings and other tasks electronically rather than in person won’t return completely to their previous travel practices.
Along with the near catastrophic situation that has impacted travel, however, there are some bright spots on the horizon. One relates to negative effects that over-tourism has had on some destinations around the world. The temporary reduction of visitors will give them a much-needed rest and an opportunity to recover.
Furthermore, the many setbacks to travel caused by the pandemic have done nothing to dampen the penchant of Americans for vacation trips. Michelle Gielan, a psychologist who heads the Institute for Applied Positive Research, conducted a survey on the role of vacation journeys in people’s happiness quotient. She reports that 97 percent of respondents said having a trip to look forward to makes them happier, and 71 percent said planning travel for within the coming six months does so. The potential kicker is that 96 percent replied that feeling safe during a trip is a high priority.
Travel will gradually return to normal, and people will once again be able to share the joy it can bring to life. Hopefully one of those people will be you.
When You Go
Once you start to think about traveling again, be sure to check the websites of the places you plan to visit for changes and regulations regarding COVID-19.
Victor Block is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at Creators.com. Copyright 2020 Creators.com