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.
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.
Frank Farley, a Temple University psychology professor and the former president of the American Psychological Association, said: “The pandemic is going to fade slowly, with aftereffects, a lot of which will be psychological.
“There’s so much uncertainty the average folk might want to know everything about travel. What’s the escape hatch? What are the safety issues?”
Yet the desire to travel will not go away.
To learn how the landscape might change, we talked to dozens of experts, from academics to tour operators 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.
This is the first of a two-part series – the next will appear next week.
The Grand Teton mountains near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. One-third of Americans said they hope to travel within three months after pandemic restrictions are lifted. Picture: Janie Osborne / The New York Times
Solving the social distancing criterion in aeroplanes – currently attempted by leaving middle seats open – and returning to profitability seem at odds without a medical solution to Covid-19. Nonetheless, expect airlines to dangle cheap fares to get people in the air.
“There will be smoking-hot deals,” said RW Mann, an industry analyst and consultant. “It will happen on the leisure side first, but on the corporate side is where airlines make their money. They travel more frequently and pay higher fares. Right now, they are very risk-averse.”
Testing would go a long way in reassuring the public, of course, but so far only one airline, Dubai-based Emirates, has offered virus tests to a limited number of passengers. Groups, including pilots unions, have called for temperature checks.
The Transportation Security Administration hasn’t moved on the idea, but Air Canada plans to begin taking temperature readings at check-in this month, and Paine Field, just north of Seattle, recently installed a thermal camera that reads passengers’ temperatures before they enter security.
Passengers, beware: low fares won’t last. Assuming the virus puzzle is solved, many expect a robust recovery in 2022. — Elaine Gulsac
Expansive new airports like Changi in Singapore will offer passengers more space to deal with the social distancing associated with the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: Lauryn Ishak / The New York Times
Health screening, space-per-passenger ratios and a redesign of passenger flow are likely to change. Puerto Rico’s Luis Munoz Marin 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 37.9°C 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 airports like Singapore’s Changi expanded to engage flyers who were required to spend more time there.
“Brand new airports will be akin to that model,” said Ty Osbaugh, an architect at the global firm Gensler, which has built terminals at New York City’s Kennedy International Airport and South Korea’s Incheon, among others.
“Space gets you the ability to deal with a pandemic in a new way. You’re not jammed into a facility.”
Airports hemmed in by roadways may expand vertically, he said. With the arrival of autonomous vehicles, parking garages may be repurposed as check-in and screening centres “in order to use every empty space”.
Space will be vital to ensure passengers aren’t in crowded security lines. Cellphone location data may cue your arrival to an airport, which can then check you in curbside and move you on to a security tunnel in which passengers continue moving sci-fi style as they are screened by TSA and health authorities. Gate space will be expanded and robots may load carryons, discouraging jockeying for overhead bin space.
“The 9/11 response was very, very un-passenger focused,” Osbaugh said. “This time I think we can make a much better passenger experience from curb to gate.” — Elaine Gulsac
Travellers, like those at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, will be keen to know exactly how airlines plan to keep them safe. Picture: Brandon Magnus / The New York Times
Ships turned away from port after port, passengers quarantined in cabins, emergency workers in hazmat suits: few travel sectors have taken a harder hit than cruises, now largely halted per no-sail orders issued by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Carnival Corp, the biggest company, has said it could resume sailings on 1 August.
Analysts believe large companies like Carnival and Royal Caribbean Cruises have the financial endurance to wait out a recovery until 2021. But discounted fares and flexible cancellation policies will go only so far to reassure future passengers.
“The real challenge will be reducing perceived risk of actually getting on a ship, and this will require changes in operational practices,” Robert Kwortnik, an associate professor in the hotel school at Cornell University, wrote in an e-mail.
Among new practices, he listed passenger health screenings and contingency plans for when infection occurs. In its order, the CDC directed the industry to take more responsibility for managing outbreaks on board, including plans for laboratory testing of samples, disinfection protocols and providing personal protective equipment.
Genting Cruise Lines, the Hong Kong-based company that owns Crystal Cruises and several others, has already issued new standards, including banning self-service buffets, requiring temperature checks at embarkation and disembarkation, twice-daily temperature checks for crew members, and masks for housekeepers and food servers. It will also require a doctor’s note for passengers 70 and over, indicating they are fit to travel.
Ships, too, may be deployed differently, said Ross Klein, a sociologist at Memorial University in Newfoundland and a cruise-industry expert who, since 2002, has run CruiseJunkie.com.
He foresees ships being stationed at islands in the Caribbean, rather than travelling port to port. “If there’s illness on board, you can walk off and fly home,” he said of this hotel-like model. “While at sea, you’re captive.” — Elaine Gulsac
Visitors take in the view at the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. Family holidays are likely to become shorter and domestic options more popular. Picture: John Burcham / The New York Times
With many workers around the world out of jobs and perhaps some belt-tightening among those who are still employed, affordability will become even more important for family travel.
Price-consciousness among families is nothing new. According to the Family Travel Association, an industry nonprofit, for the past five years parents have consistently named affordability the biggest challenge when travelling with their children.
Family vacations post-pandemic are likely to become shorter – the fewer the nights, the lower the cost of the trip.
“The things that parents are naturally cautious about are going to be addressed in spades,” said Rainer Jenss, president and founder of the Family Travel Association. “You’re going to see a lot of travel industry suppliers offer more flexibility, more discounts and better rates.”
To mollify anxious parents, hotel brands like Club Med – a leader in family travel, with all-inclusive rates and multi-generational programming – will lift the veil on health and disinfection. Its new protocols, from strengthened deep-cleaning to temperature checks for entry into kids’ clubs, will feature prominently in its post-pandemic marketing.
“Health and safety will be top of travellers’ minds; it will change how families choose their destinations and it will change how travel companies operate,” said Carolyne Doyon, president and chief executive of Club Med North America and the Caribbean. — Sarah Firshein
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