After flight cancellations, hotel closures, and stay-home orders all over the world, will people want to travel again? The panic caused by the coronavirus pandemic has changed how we view the world, but the travel industry is largely using this pause in traffic as a time for improvement and adjustments. From flights to hotels to guided tours, every aspect of the industry is getting ready to accommodate travelers as soon as possible.
Given the uncertainty of how the pandemic will play out, airlines are going about business as cautiously but also as hopefully as possible. Each airline is implementing its own safety measures and the TSA has outlined a few as well. WIMCO Villas outlines some of these safety measures. They include spacing out passengers on the flight, recommended or mandatory masks in flight, temperature checks as part of security, and more. Some airlines are creating more stringent regulations, such as coronavirus testing before boarding, but this isn’t a widespread practice yet.
While passenger counts are at an all-time low, airlines are hopeful for an uptick in air travel and are offering incredibly cheap fares. Scott’s Cheap Flights, a travel site that offers a free subscription for cheap flight alerts, has noticed a 50 percent increase in deals for peak summer and holiday season, times when flights are usually the most expensive. Until flight traffic picks up substantially, airlines seem to be offering low fares to try to increase ridership.
While low fares won’t last forever, it could last longer than expected. A survey by FinanceBuzz states that almost half of Americans don’t plan to fly for at least a year. If this holds true, airlines could be offering cheap flights all the way through next summer.
In the hospitality industry, hotels are seeing the biggest changes. From large chains to small boutique hotels, each hotel and resort is unveiling new and improved cleaning measures. These range from using UV technology to clean rooms between guest arrivals to intensive cleaning by hotel maids who then seal the room until guests arrive.
Hotels are also changing the services they offer to guests. Some have closed swimming pools and gyms while others have changed the layouts of these areas to allow social distancing to be possible. As far as room service goes, guests might not experience the same luxury they had before the pandemic. At Crane’s Beach House, a luxury boutique hotel in Florida, room service is reserved for before and after checkout. If guests need their trash taken out or any amenities brought to their room, they will have to call the front desk. The staff will drop off what’s needed at the door and take away the trash without any interaction with guests.
Another change coming to the hotel industry is an extended waiting period between guest reservations. Hotels are starting to leave 24–72 hours between reservations for each room. This allows time for more extensive cleaning and greater chance that surfaces will be free of viruses.
The popularity of vacation home rentals was on the rise before the pandemic hit. Sites like Airbnb and Vrbo can be a great resource for travelers who want to have the entire place to themselves, but cancellation policies are determined by each vacation rental owner. When the coronavirus hit, these platforms encouraged owners to allow guests to cancel their bookings, but that power still resides with the owner.
Going forward, vacation owners will be more concerned about flexible cancellation policies in order to attract guests. In addition, owners know that guests are concerned with the cleanliness of their rental. Airbnb is rolling out new cleaning guidelines that hosts can decide to implement. If a host follows the new, extensive cleaning measures, they earn a badge on their listing that shows customers the cleanliness of their home.
Some cities have created initiatives to help citizens and tourists enjoy restaurants and activities while knowing they are safe. Columbus, Ohio has pioneered a program called Live Forward that is helping the city reopen in a safe way. Businesses can take a pledge to follow federal, state, and local health and safety guidelines. Once a business has pledged, it will receive a window sticker to show customers that the business is taking important health precautions.
Walking tours around cities, though outside in open air, will also be making changes to promote health and safety. ExperienceFirst offers tours in major cities and will be implementing social distancing and sanitizing measures where possible. Attractions that offer paper tickets will likely have to digitize to reduce contact and handling cash will be limited.
Although many travelers will want to visit big cities, it’s likely that most travelers will try to visit outdoor, remote places such as national parks. Lewis Krell at Inspirock, an online travel itinerary planner, said that trips centered on the outdoors, beaches, and wildlife have increased dramatically while trips based on relaxation and visiting historical sites have declined significantly. This isn’t to say that popular cities won’t see the same volume of tourists in the future as they did before the outbreak, but travelers may decide to diversify the vacations they choose with more outdoor sites.
Another interesting phenomenon brought on by social distancing, Krell says, is that the average length of trips planned on his site has increased by 80 percent. Travelers seem to want longer trips rather than weekend getaways after being home for weeks.
Although the travel industry has been hard hit by the pandemic, it’s an industry that will bounce back to meet the needs of travelers. A recent Harris Poll showed that half of Americans are putting travel at the top of their list of big purchases after pandemic restrictions loosen. Whether Americans go abroad or domestic will likely depend on international restrictions and more Americans may decide to take road trips to local or in-state destinations.
Wherever people decide to travel, it will feel a little different than they’re used to. With changes expected in every part of the industry, travelers should take extra time to prepare themselves before they go. It will be important to follow all health and safety precautions in whatever area they decide to travel to and be ready to adjust traveling mindsets to traveling safely and in a healthy way.
For more on this topic, read some advice about healthy travel.