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5 ways COVID-19 could influence our travel and holiday habits…….. and they’re not all bad!

By Tom Palmer, April 23, 2020

With all non-essential travel on hold due to lockdown and social distancing measures, the global travel and tourism sector is in paralysis. Corporate travel is all but frozen, thousands of holidays cancelled or postponed, and everyone stuck at home either unemployed or juggling home-schooling with what little work they have left. Cabin fever is setting in. To get through this and many are planning their next trip as a means of escapism.

But realistically, what will travel actually look like post-COVID? It’s unlikely restrictions will be lifted unilaterally overnight and will be a more phased approach, with international travel the last to be relaxed. In February 2020, more than 20,000 cities were connected by commercial flights. In late March 2020, just 6,500 – unravelling that will take time. In addition, after all the anxiety, despair and loss of life, are we really going to be rushing to airports any time soon? I suspect there will be a reticence, nervousness, even suspicion, that will pervade for some time, ultimately manifesting in our travel habits.

Here are some trends I expect we might see in travel and tourism for the short to medium term…in my opinion, they’re not all bad!


Reduction in low-cost air travel

Particularly international air travel. The interconnectivity of the world’s population and our economies exposed how permeable are borders are to an invisible menace such as COVID-19. The average person will likely think twice about taking themselves, and families, through the ultimate petri dish, an international airport, any time soon.

Airlines are on life support, running skeleton fleets, and looking to governments for aid, many of the budget airlines might not make it. Look at what Virgin Australia is going through. At this rate, we’ll be lucky to escape a global air transport industry collapse. For those airlines that make it, secondary routes will be cut, channelling travellers through trunk routes while social distancing measures onboard will linger for some time – which may seem like great news (we’ll all be flying premium economy), but it will no doubt come at a cost.

Combine this with the average household’s income taking a serious hit through retrenchment, pay cuts and generally what many are predicting as the next Great Depression, it’s unlikely many of us will be able to afford air travel for some time.

At the upper tier, private air travel, for those who have the means, will likely see an upswing with families exercising both onboard social distancing and limiting contact with ‘unvetted’ passengers. This may filter down into the upper-mid-market too with families and groups paying extra on short-leg domestic charters for peace of mind.

What does this all mean? Those ‘once in a lifetime’ trips that take a year or two of planning – that trip to Africa you’ve always wanted to do – will likely take precedent over last minute getaways to Bali or unbelievable package deals to Hawaii. To fill this gap, I expect a resurgence in the domestic road trip. Think families stuffed into the car with ipads (thank god) and endless supplies of toilet paper and hand sanitiser heading to regional or remote destinations. Domestic tourism industries will need this commitment from us to get back on their feet.


Smaller hotels and luxury homestays.

Much like the international airport petri dish, occupancies at large hotels may suffer for a while yet. We’ve all seen the pandemonium at the breakfast buffet, and joked about how often bedspreads are changed – travellers, in particular families, will seek out smaller more boutique alternatives where they can limit contact with other guests and be more in control of hygiene. This will probably be good news for smaller hotels of 25 rooms or less.

To scratch that hotel service itch, luxury homestays through platforms Airbnb Luxe and Luxury Retreats will most likely see some strong growth. This may go one step further and see a resurgence of syndicated ownership of second homes or property clubs, where owners and members have a greater sense of security in a ‘home away from home’ setting and can take comfort in the knowledge they are sharing with a limited number of external parties.


Longer Stays

Again, it’s all about exposure to others. The more destinations we pack into our holiday time, the more we are exposed to travel hubs – airports, train stations, buses, petrol stations.

Historically, many of us are guilty of trying to pack as much into our holidays as possible, mimicking how we attack our working week, to the point where we come back needing another holiday to relax from the holiday! We might see an urgency to get to our destinations with the simplest sequence of transfers possible, where we will stay put for the duration of our trip.

In my opinion, that’s good news. Choosing a single destination, actually slowing down and, most importantly, engaging with that destination; the landscape, environment, the culture…each other.


Health & Wellness

Is it just me, or does it seem like more people are exercising? Maybe it’s just that those who typically exercised in the privacy of a gyms are now madly jogging up and down beaches and families desperate to escape the house are zigzagging down footpaths on bicycles that look like they’ve never left the garage.

Either way, it feels like we’ve never been more aware of the vulnerabilities of health, not to mention the privilege of exercise and the positive knock on effect of what that does for our mental wellbeing. I expect we see this translate into how we recreate during our time off; hiking trips to the Himalayas, diving at Ningaloo Reef – active holidays over lounging around the pool working through colourful cocktails.


Connection with the environment

This last one might be more of a personal wish.

I sincerely hope at the end of all this we, as a society, are a little more cognisant of how our actions directly affect the environment we live in and, in turn, can have serious repercussions on our own wellbeing.

In Australia alone, a summer of devastating bushfires, followed by flooding, followed by COVID-19 – reads like a passage from the bible. Consider that alongside the time extra time we have had to connect with family and friends (albeit via Zoom), the reduction in road congestion, petrol being below $1 since…since I had my first car at least! Surely, these are signs that we have the balance all wrong?

The World Economic Forum recorded that in late January and early February 2020, levels of nitrogen dioxide (pollution) over cities and industrial areas in Asia and Europe were lower than in the same period in 2019, by as much as 40% – the mind boggles at the accidental positive effect we are having on our planet.

Maybe this period of pause and reflection, where we have been forced to slow down and smell the roses, might actually help us to appreciate the natural world we live in and encourage us to slow down while we’re on holiday; engage with the natural world and be grateful for our role within it.

Not all bad news then.