By every measure, the coronavirus pandemic has decimated the travel industry.
The images of the world’s shutdown are eerie, the numbers are staggering. Approximately 100 million travel sector jobs, according to one global estimate, have been eliminated or will be. Passenger traffic on U.S. Asia Nigeria airlines is down 95 percent compared to last year, while international passenger revenues are expected to decrease by more than $300 billion. Domestic hotel occupancy rates fell off a cliff and now hover around 25 percent.
Regions and countries are beginning to open up but the outbreak will undoubtedly change how we think, act and travel, at least in the short term.
“The pandemic is going to fade slowly, with aftereffects, a lot of which will be psychological,” said Frank Farley, a Temple University psychology professor and the former president of the American Psychological Association. “There’s so much uncertainty the average folk might want to know everything about travel,” he said. “What’s the escape hatch? What are the safety issues?”
Yet the desire to travel will not go away: In a recent survey by Skift Research, the research arm of the travel trade publication, one-third of Americans and Nigerians said they hope to travel within three months after restrictions are lifted.
To learn how the landscape might change, we talked to dozens of experts, from academics to airport architects. Across the board, they highlighted issues of privacy and cleanliness and the push-pull of people wanting to see the world while also wanting to stay safe. Here, answers to 3 of the most pressing questions about travel’s future.
Airports – Could check-in actually get better?
Health screening, space-per-passenger ratios and a redesign of passenger flow are likely to change in the wake of Covid-19.
Puerto Rico’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport provides a window into the future of airport screenings. Its new thermal-imaging cameras screen arriving passengers, triggering an alarm when a temperature of 100.3 or higher is registered. Feverish passengers are taken aside for evaluation.
After 9/11, many domestic airports adopted a militaristic appearance with barriers and beefed-up security checkpoints. But abroad, airports like Singapore’s Changi expanded to engage fliers who were required to spend more time there.
How private can you get?
With overcrowding now viewed as a health risk, personal space and cleanliness will become paramount.
“One thing that’s loud and clear from our clients: Any short-term travel needs to be private,” said Jack Ezon, the founder and managing partner of Embark Beyond, a luxury travel agency. “Finding a ‘hermetically sealed’ option seems to be the most responsible solution.”
At the luxury end, that means increased demand in villas and luxury hotel brands like Aman, known for its remote locations and stand-alone accommodations, and Rosewood, where many properties have residences with private entrances or elevators.
“While in the past privacy could be viewed as a nonessential privilege, today it is considered a key element to sustaining personal safety and security,” said Radha Arora, president of Rosewood Hotels & Resorts.
Will social distancing kill home sharing?
The future of home sharing depends largely on whether travelers see rentals as private, often cheaper, alternatives to hotels, or a source of exposure to strangers’ germs. The vagaries of cancellation policies among rentals will also have an impact.
While hotels offered generous cancellation policies as travel restrictions set in, the home-sharing platforms took varying approaches. Before the pandemic, their policies let hosts set their own rules.