Travel in the "new normal"Jan 26, 2021 09:55AM ● By Victor Block
Middle seats in the planes of some airlines are vacant. Passengers and crew members aboard cruise ships are wearing masks and socially distancing, when possible. Some countries remain closed to non-residents, while others won’t allow people from the United States to enter.
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?
The kinds of trips people take in the months ahead will be different than in the past. A number of travel industry experts predict that not all of the changes will disappear as the virus does.
Many people who normally would be flying are loath to set foot on an airplane. Hotels are running below capacity. Travel during typically busy seasons has plummeted.
According to CNN Business, “Airline traffic has plunged and it 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.
But that doesn’t mean people seeking an escape from home have no alternatives. Let’s consider both the short-term outlook and longer-term probabilities.
Where to go
While the borders of many countries are closed, some have lifted travel bans. Mexico has become a popular destination, with minimal restrictions for incoming tourists.
But other countries may still have bans on visitors 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 followed, and some popular tourist sites have restricted access. The first step in planning a trip should be to check the location’s latest information for travelers.
Middle seats on some airlines remain vacant due to social distancing.
How to get there
If you’ve flown anywhere recently, you may have noticed strange airport connections and higher ticket costs than in the past. Higher fares, fewer direct flights and hassles getting through a number of airports are the new norm for air travel, and these challenges aren’t likely to go away soon.
Likewise, 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.
For those who like to travel with a group, most tour companies have implemented safety guidelines and flexible cancellation policies, limited group sizes, and taken other steps to keep people healthy. Travelstride.com, a leading marketplace source for worldwide travel, hosts more than 50,000 group tour packages, expedition cruises and independent itineraries. Currently, its experts recommend custom travel as an option, which eliminates any concerns about going with a group. The website also includes a list of countries that are reopening for tourism, which is regularly updated.
What lies ahead
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’s 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 the beach, mountains or 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 on cruises, and will now 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 wearing masks and social distancing.
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 online won’t return completely to their previous travel practices.
The silver lining
Crowded vacation spots and cruises have become a rarity since COVID. That's not always a bad thing.
However, there are some bright spots on the horizon. First, the temporary reduction of visitors will give popular destinations a much-needed rest and opportunity to recover from some of the negative effects of over-tourism. Second, 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 in people’s happiness quotient. She reports that 97 percent of respondents said having a trip to look forward to makes them happier, and 80 percent said planning travel during the coming 6 months does so as well. The potential kicker is that 96 percent also responded that feeling safe during a trip is a high priority.
As travel gradually adjusts, more people will enjoy the happiness it can bring to life. Hopefully, that will include you, too.