Travel has stopped and no one seems to know when it will come back. Business trips have all been suspended, spring getaways are canceled, photos of empty airports are all over the internet, and hotels have been transformed into improvised quarantine facilities.
The current crisis is like nothing we’ve seen before. The travel industry as a whole has found itself in a standstill, wondering what the new nature of leisure travel will look like. One thing is for certain - it will never be the same again. Just like the horrific events of 9/11 brought along drastic airport security measures, this pandemic outbreak will clearly have an impact on each and every step of our travel journey as we know it.
Here, we’re offering our analysis of the characteristics of the new travelers in the days after COVID-19, and what they will search for in their vacation – once we’re on the other side of the coronavirus crisis.
Out in the open
“Right now, we’re seeing the fear of being in tightly confined spaces,” says John Gerzema, CEO of the Harris Poll, a consulting firm that has been tracking consumer trends throughout America during the outbreak. People will have to learn how to be comfortable around other people again. Considering the long period of time that people have been locked down at home, you can see how the new travelers will seek any opportunity to spend time out in the open air. When social distancing will begin to be slowly phased out, we predict that travelers will initially search for outdoor attractions along with off-the-beaten-path activities, to which they could just jump into their cars and hit the open road. That way, they would avoid the large and potentially contagious crowds and also get that much-wanted breath of fresh air.
Close to home
Domestic travel is all everyone’s been talking about since the COVID-19 outbreak changed the travel industry. There are strong indications that travelers will “play it safe” by staying close to home and their known environment. There’s an understandable fear of traveling far even after the restrictions are lifted for a couple of reasons - one of them being that people tend to feel more comfortable when they’re only a short ride away from home. Other countries equal other people equals other dangers - and one’s own country feels like the safe solution. If you also consider that taking a car or a train is much more responsible than getting on a crowded plane, the buzz around domestic travel under these circumstances is crystal clear.
While we can all leave the main at-risk group of aged over 65 out of the equation (my grandmother is still mourning over her lost summer trip to Cuba), it is certain that my 20-something friends will go back to travel before my 50-something parents. “The youth market tends to be more accepting of risk,” says Lori Pennington-Gray, the director of the Tourism Crisis Management Initiative at the University of Florida in an interview for the New York Times, “they participate in riskier activities, not just in travel but in their lifestyle in general. While everybody’s perception of risk is increasing, theirs is less.”
My long wish-list of global travel destinations will probably have to wait for brighter days. Most people will choose convenient, familiar, and even nostalgic vacation destinations for their first post-pandemic travel experience. In a world where traveling abroad may be seen as an act of bravery, I predict that the new travelers won’t bet on countries that offer poor medical services - but then I might have to mark off my list several classic Western-European destinations as well. What does that leave us with? Probably countries that managed to get a hold of the pandemic successfully, and stayed out of the tragic breaking news.
Closer, shorter, later
These new travelers will face two other decisions before booking their desired vacation - the length of stay and the terms of the booking. “Limited time to plan and a desire to ‘test the water’ may mean a succession of short trips instead of an immediate long vacation,” says Dan Yates, the Managing Director of Pitchup.com in an interview with Forbes. Additionally, with travelers still fighting over each and every penny of their non-refundable canceled spring plans, it is likely that tourists will book their next vacation at the very last minute - and will still look for free cancellation packages and a significant amount of flexibility. Travel companies will clearly have to go the extra mile for their customers and offer trouble-free deals.
We have yet to discuss the financial consequences of the Coronavirus recession, which will utterly affect the nature of travel as we know it, perhaps even more than any of the other aspects listed above. Couples and families who were used to traveling five or more times a year will have to recalculate their steps and see if they can still afford to, let alone travelers who saved up for one trip and might never get a chance to do so in the near future. “We anticipate an increased interest in low-cost travel given the economic impact Coronavirus has inflicted on so many,” says Dan Yates on the same Forbes interview, implying that the term value-for-money would play a significant role in future travels. Whether it’s street food instead of fine dining restaurants or free walking tours instead of private guides - the new travelers will surely have to give up on some of their luxuries in order to keep traveling at all.
On a slightly different note, although the outbreak is undoubtedly a tragedy that will continue to affect millions around the world - we believe there’s still room for some cautious optimism. Our team at Unwrapped is investing tremendous efforts in initiating new and up to date solutions that will meet the needs of the post-pandemic traveler, as well as the needs of post-pandemic businesses - and we look towards the future with hope. Like any great recession, this crisis also holds many opportunities for businesses that can identify the industry’s needs quickly and adjust accordingly. The travel industry has historically managed to rise up from all kinds of challenges - and we’re certain that the world of travel will flourish again. It’s only a matter of time, flexibility and patience.