As communities slowly begin to re-open and cautiously return to normal life and some European countries have announced upcoming border openings in June, we have started to consider how the coronavirus pandemic will affect the way we travel in the future. While there are still far more questions than answers, one thing we do know is that the COVID-19 pandemic will impact our travel experience moving forward. These impacts will span all aspects of the industry, including air travel, hotel stays, the destinations we choose to visit, and even the way we plan travel.
The airport experience has already undergone COVID-19-related changes. In a May 21, 2020 press release, the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) outlined procedural changes to the security screening process in U.S. airports intended to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Travelers will now keep possession of their boarding pass and scan it themselves and passengers will be asked to respect social distancing guidelines throughout the airport. TSA officers at checkpoints will wear face coverings and travelers are encouraged to do the same and to adjust facemasks during screening, upon request. While passengers are still not allowed to carry on liquids, gels or aerosols in quantities greater than 3.4 ounces, the TSA is making an exception for hand sanitizers, now allowing each passenger one container of hand sanitizer up to 12 ounces in carry-on bags.
Airlines are also modifying their policies focusing on enhanced cabin cleaning and sanitation, modified boarding procedures, as well as policies requiring employees and customers to wear face coverings. Thus far, individual airline policies and practices have varied, however, as of May, all major U.S. airlines, including American Airlines, JetBlue, Delta Airlines, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines all require crewmembers and customers to wear face coverings during their journey. Passengers are asked to bring their own face coverings; however, most airlines will supply one if needed.
Other airlines are implementing additional enhanced measures, including blocking middle seats to increase distance between passengers, conducting no-contact temperature checks, and even administering rapid result coronavirus blood tests on select flights.
For more information and recommendations regarding face coverings, consult the Center for Disease Control (CDC) page.
Much like airlines, hotels will aim to demonstrate their commitment to hygiene and sanitation standards to promote guests’ health and safety. Hotel groups around the world are introducing disinfecting stations in high-traffic common spaces and cleaning public spaces more frequently. Staff members are being equipped with personal protective equipment (PPE) like facemasks, and front-desk screens are being widely installed. Major hotel groups like Hilton and Marriott are implementing enhanced room cleaning protocols, including disinfecting with electrostatic sprayers.
Many hotels will alter their food and beverage protocols including new standards and approaches to sourcing, buffets, banquets, room service and catering. Lastly, standard “high-touch” procedures are being replaced with new approaches such as contactless check-in, touchless transactions, paperless check-out, and more frequent use of digital keys to enter rooms.
While entry to many international destinations remains restricted, once borders re-open and it is time to travel again, we believe some key trends will emerge. Travelers will seek destinations with fewer people where they can re-connect with nature. While timeless favorites like London and Paris will never go out of style, travelers will opt for wide-open spaces in more remote off-the-beaten-path destinations. Whether that means relaxing on a beach in Tahiti, renting a private villa in Santorini, discovering the natural beauty of Iceland, a family adventure discovering the Galapagos, or a once-in-a-lifetime safari in Kenya, travelers will look for more private travel experiences where they can stretch out and enjoy expansive landscapes and breathe fresh air.
Mohib Mamujee, President of Millennium Tours, believes that vacations that require more advance planning will be popular, as travelers have more time to plan. “I expect we will see an uptick in bookings for safaris in Kenya and Tanzania, an experience that offers the opportunity to reconnect with nature and wildlife.” Mamujee goes on to say, “Safaris are exclusive, secluded getaways that offer wide-open expanses without the large crowds associated with many other destinations.”
For current information on entry restrictions and requirements by country, we recommend consulting the U.S. Department of State COVID-19 information page and International Air Transport Association (IATA) travel updates page.
Amid the coronavirus outbreak, countless individuals struggled to change travel plans, cancel bookings, and secure refunds so, when confidence returns and leisure travel re-starts, the support and expertise of a trusted travel advisor will be more important than ever.
Travel advisors are destination experts who are well-versed in the most up-to-date restrictions and considerations. They are advocates that provide guidance in navigating complicated booking rules, international travel restrictions, cancellation policies, travel insurance recommendations, and updated health and safety policies, all critical in the post-pandemic travel landscape.
While the COVID-19 pandemic is truly unprecedented, the travel industry has experienced challenging periods in recent decades and has continued to evolve. Having been in the industry since 1973, Mohib Mamujee commented, “I witnessed travel recover after 9/11, natural disasters, global terrorist incidents, and major economic downturns and I am confident the industry will also rebound from this pandemic, perhaps stronger than ever.”
One thing the industry can agree on is that, despite the tragic impacts of COVID-19 unfolding across the world, people will eventually resume travel in search of the powerful and transformative experiences that journeying to new destinations can offer.