The saying ‘sometimes travel doesn’t go as planned’ has taken on a whole new meaning in a COVID world. Late 2019 travel predictions no longer apply and major tourism spots have been annihilated. Never before has the world seen a global travel shut down at this level, but as we roll into summer travelers are restless and beginning to test the waters. While most travel is still on hold the grittiest of travelers are willing to be test dummies for new protocols and the complex reality of future travel. From face masks to temperature scans, travel is adapting. The outlook is fragile but resilient and many are looking at this as an opportunity for greener travel and more positive-centric communication. As someone who works in travel, I’ve seen massive changes first-hand and am mapping the way forward like everyone else. For now, here’s what in-the-know-travelers can expect.
Stay-cations as New Corona-cations
Travel will have a staggered rollout across the U.S. with some destinations opening before others. As individual states mediate the safest way to reopen, many are already experiencing new travel inquiries, especially those that are a stone’s throw from nature. Yellowstone and Teton National Parks opened a limited access plan in early May and are expecting a surge in outdoor recreation. The U.S. is betting that travelers will fall in love with the road again and RV rentals are seeing a rise in bookings from previous years.
According to Guesty, a vacation rental platform, 2020 domestic holiday reservations are up 38% for Thanksgiving and slightly more for Christmas. While it is difficult to know the next steps one thing for certain is people are looking to nature and the outdoors for relief and the heightened safety level is being backed by health experts. “Enjoy nature. It’s good for us, and it has a very low risk of spreading the virus.” Tom Frieden, former CDC director states.
Sanitization as Amenities
Positive travel campaigns are being launched around the world with some of the hardest-hit destinations getting creative in their marketing efforts. Including Japan’s offer to cover a portion of travel costs and casinos giving free flights to Las Vegas. This is a reaction of the industry to acclimate and stimulate travel but the real buzzwords will be ‘hygiene inspections’, ‘quality control’, and ‘enhanced health measures’. New sanitization certifications and criteria models are popping up on a global scale. Thailand recently launched the SHA – Safety and Health Administration Hygiene Certification to boost its tourism and large cruise lines have been some of the first to publicize their new health standards.
Would-be travelers are meticulously checking company websites for Coronavirus protocol plans that detail their health-safety standards. These initiatives are providing people a level of confidence as travel recovers. It’s also a look inside the post-COVID traveler’s mind as an informed survival strategy that will become the norm for traveler checklists comparable to booking travel insurance or opting for a better airline seat. Sanitization will be a highly desired amenity and suddenly seem like a privilege.
Eco Standards Rebound
Places that have long relied on tourism, some poised to see their best season ever earlier in the year, now face a contrasting view. The world stopped traveling and at the same time, the rare stillness has made travelers more aware of the environmental impact of travel. Reports of cleaner rivers, oceans, and air quality are being reported worldwide. This is an opportunity to change the rules and many already have. Athens, Paris, and Berlin have all put eco-focused city planning in place for additional bike paths, green areas and are working to do their part for sustainable city living. At the same time planning for the return of travel.
Many companies are stepping up in positive ways just when travelers need them. The need to communicate a sustainable message is loud and clear and thriving in conversations from Twitter chats to virtual CEO meetings. Airlines are taking a deeper look at vastly improving their efficiencies that have been on the backburner for years. This is a serious topic as studies from the United Nations Aviation Body report that air travel accounts for 2.5 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, so the onus lies heavily with aviation and transportation. Travelers can also contribute in their own ways by traveling closer to home and supporting movements like Tourism Declares who advocate for the environment.
Flexible Fees and Cancellations
When we saw quick and unexpected shutdown’s from Mt. Everest to Antarctica, major festivals, conferences, and a general public unable to fulfill travel plans, people were clamoring for answers. It began a raw conversation with many travelers seeking refunds, credits, and answers that travel providers were not equipped to answer. What resulted was a bit more empathy, flexibility, and humanization behind brands as they faced an unknown landscape.
A standstill in tourism paired with an unexpected spike in layoffs intensified refund requests. Many brands were simultaneously navigating a crisis while attempting to create a connection with their customers. Fast-acting brands put marketing aside and understood where consumers were coming from. Airlines and cruise lines began offering full refunds, plus 125 percent future credits and flexible rebooking options. The small print intricacies of travel insurance policies and terms of passage were updated to reflect Coronavirus and that separated those able to pivot from those looking to catch up. It’s likely we will continue to find cheaper deals throughout tourism and hospitality for some time. And the importance of being human in marketing wouldn’t hurt either.
Travel may not be ‘normal’ just yet but it doesn’t stop me from dreaming. I’m confident travelers will start exploring later in the year with a new, simpler pair of eyes when they look at the world. There is a relationship between us and the places we visit and we have a responsibility now more than ever to transform and grow as the world around us changes.
Will wanderlust ever be the same? I think so – possibly even better. In many ways, it’s time for us to get our act together.
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Liz Galloway has danced with locals in Beirut, been lost in a maze of Marrakech souks, worked with Indigenous people in Costa Rica, hiked the highest mountain in Indochina, flown a helicopter, jumped from planes, bridges and cliffs, swam with whale sharks, manta rays, turtles, seals, hammerheads, and some humans. She has contributed travel features to Luxury Report, along with Matador, Yoga Digest, Vamoose Outdoors, Bad Yogi, HER Magazine, Spa Opportunities, Pulse, East Asia Backpackers and many other digital and print outlets. You can listen to her on the E-Health and Women Entrepreneur's podcasts or find her health juice book on Amazon Kindle. She also connects people with transformative travel to break personal boundaries with an online coaching space and in personal adventure retreats with the Wild Adventure Wellness brand. When she is not eating french fries or sipping wine, you can find her working with travel brands or scouting new locations. Connect with Liz online.