From the way we work, shop, and entertain ourselves, to the way we interact with friends and even our families, COVID-19 has changed nearly every single aspect of our lives. Many industries have also experienced similar changes. Restaurants, for example, have had to completely change the way they operate, retail stores have had to pivot their in-store experiences to protect employees and customers alike, and salons have had to shift their working locations outdoors to ensure adequate ventilation and curb the spread of infection.
Unsurprisingly, travel has also been heavily impacted by the virus, and the numbers back this up too, with a report from the U.S. Travel Association stating that the United States’ travel industry has lost more than $320 billion since the pandemic began, with a projection of $505 billion in losses by the end of 2020. The same report also stated that hotels and other accommodation occupancy rates have fallen below levels experienced during the Great Depression in 1933.
With this in mind, it’s evident that the world is in the midst of a gargantuan shift, and while numbers and statistics can communicate that businesses are struggling under the weight of the pandemic, they do little to illustrate how the travel industry has adapted to continue operating despite the virus. So how exactly has the travel industry changed? Let’s explore in more detail.
Increased Hygiene and Safety Standards
One of the biggest impacts of the pandemic is the change in the way we view hygiene and personal safety. Before COVID-19 emerged and rapidly took hold, the routine wearing of masks and other PPE and the prolific existence of hand sanitation stations was practically unthought of in the United States. In fact, if a person was spotted walking down the street with a mask on, it would usually be assumed that they were a traveler from a country that wear masks as part of regular hygiene practices, like Singapore or Japan.
Now, with an increased emphasis on personal hygiene and accountability, travelers, employees, security, and border control agents alike wear masks around the clock. Additionally, at regular intervals throughout airports, hotels, stores, and even restaurants are stations with hand sanitizer and paper towels. These are important changes, vital in mitigating the spread of the virus, and are likely to remain in place post-COVID-19, as scientists warn of an increase in pandemic-type illnesses.
A Less Crowded Travel Experience
In a pre-COVID-19 world, air-travel often meant busy, bustling airports, crowded boarding gates, a scramble to board, and packed flights. Now, the airport and overall travel experience offer a stark contrast to the familiar. No longer are hundreds of people lining up in one space to check-in for their flight, instead, many airlines have fortified their self-check-in and bag drop services. TSA has also changed, with floor-stickers guiding travelers where to stand from check-in to baggage claim, and more agents to streamline the airport security screening process. At the gates, passengers are no longer crowded together thanks to reduced flight operations, and boarding is also streamlined, with airlines changing boarding patterns so passengers are seated from the back of the plane instead of the front.
Additionally, there are considerably less people traveling due to COVID-19, according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Checkpoint Travel Numbers for 2020 and 2019, stating that on June 24, 2020, there were 494,826 total travelers compared to nearly 2.6 million passengers on the same day in 2019. This major reduction in passengers means that any airport experience will be considerably less crowded than in the pre-COVID-19 world.
Higher Price Points
Before the pandemic hit, the average economy-class ticket for a round-trip flight to Melbourne, Australia, cost anywhere between $750 and $1,200. Now, the same ticket costs anywhere from $7,000 to $20,000, and there’s no guarantee that the passenger will actually be able to board that flight. These higher price points are due to new restrictions that limit the number of travelers allowed into a specific country on any given day, as well as a reduction in travel services and less travelers overall.
It’s possible that these higher prices will be the case for some time, too. However, as new infection mitigation measures are implemented, or once a vaccine is developed and rolled-out, we should start seeing the costs associated with travel decline.
Staycations on the Rise
Because of higher price points, travel restrictions on United States’ residents from other countries, and overall consumer concerns around contracting or spreading COVID-19, a considerable number of travelers are trading in their international vacations for staycations, where they explore their local city, surrounding areas, or drive to a neighboring state. While staycations may not offer the same in terms of excitement, luxury, or entertainment, they are a viable option for those who may not feel comfortable flying or travel to another country where they’re unsure of the healthcare situation and capacity.
It’s clear: COVID-19 has changed the way we travel. However, it has also demonstrated humanities’ remarkable capacity to embrace change and adapt to less than favorable conditions. While we may have to adhere to this new way of traveling for some time, and while some of these changes will likely be permanently implemented as best practices, like sanitation stations, as new therapies and vaccines are developed and rolled out, the nature of travel should eventually return to that of the pre-COVID-19 world.
Kaloyan Valentinov Danchev is the founder and president of a luxury travel firm, Fidelis Marketing Group, a business group that sells tourist facilities of the highest quality and tours to the best attractions of the locations in which they have a presence.
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