Travel in a post-COVID World
By the time you’re able to freely use your passport again, much of the travel world may have a very different look and feel to it.
The changes that are going to define that different look and feel are only now starting to be discussed, largely behind closed corporate and government doors, but there’s one thing you can count on absolutely.
The COVID-19 pandemic is going to impact and alter global travel to a degree not seen since 9/11.
Familiar destinations may look a bit less so because some of your favorite haunts, sadly, may have folded. The same will no doubt be true for some airlines and other important travel services.
But there will be plenty still waiting to welcome you back, along with new travel providers stepping up to replace some of the old. So when you’re both ready and able to put the memory of quarantines behind you, you’ll have lots of options.
The single biggest factor driving the changes will be vastly intensified health safeguards across the travel spectrum. Those new safeguards, probably for better and worse, will permanently alter our travel landscape.
The big question on many minds, however, is whether travel will still be affordable after the pandemic. From here, that picture looks decidedly mixed.
Hotels, resorts and tour companies already are getting creative about lowering prices to lure back travelers — everything from payment plans to the purchase of something like a savings bond to put toward future travel. Expect that to continue in the short term.
Can we expect similar price breaks from the airlines? It’s possible, but not likely. Especially in the United States.
The holy grail of airlines is full flights. As soon as the pandemic took hold, the airlines started taking scores, even hundreds of airplanes out of service, and cutting back on their workforces. Some pulled the seats out of their passenger planes and started flying cargo instead. Still others abandoned some routes altogether.
FULL FLIGHTS, FULL FARES
But once the pandemic ends, don’t expect the airlines to be in a great rush to bring back put all those planes and their employees. Remember the goal — full fights. A paying passenger in every seat — with the emphasis on “paying.”
For that reason, you probably can expect major airlines to tweak their rules on redeeming frequent-flier miles — in their favor, not yours.
It also gives older “legacy” airlines a good excuse to retire some or even all of their older, less fuel-efficient aircraft. Planes that guzzle less gas are cheaper to operate, which improves their bottom line.
Will the airlines offer super-discounted airfares to lure travelers back? Quite possibly. Just not very many, nor for very long. Remember, fewer planes means fewer seats — seats the airlines can sell at a premium. Which is really what they prefer to do, anyway.
Airfares aren’t the only things that may change. Already, the folks who design aircraft interiors are looking at ways to better protect travelers from airborne illness — short of putting six feet of space between every seat.
One plan calls for oppositional seating. Two passengers in the same row would sit facing in opposite directions, one facing forward and the other backward. Another scheme would install semi-transparent face shields over every seat.
Every year, interior designers come up with radical new ideas to transform aircraft cabins. Normally, few of them ever advance beyond the mock-up stage. But the world’s experience with the coronavirus could change that.
If any of these new cabin configurations end up being embraced by the airline industry, your flying experience could look and feel very different from what you’re used to. It also could be another reason hyu airfares don’t fall too far, if at all.
CRUISING: UNCHARTED WATERS
If there’s one side of the travel business guaranteed to look different i the post-COVID era, it’s cruise travel.
Cruise lines already had been struggling for years with periodic outbreaks of norovirus and e.coli at sea, and cruise travelers have long been accustomed to hand sanitizer stations scattered across every deck, especially the dining halls and buffets.
But when it comes to viral infections, COVID-19 is in a league of its own. Seeing thousands of travelers stranded aboard stricken cruise ships after one port after another refused them entry has shaken consumer confidence.
So the cruise lines will have to satisfy both government regulators and the traveling public that they can keep their passengers and crew safe. Both sides are already working on new health and safety rules to accomplish that.
What those new rules and procedures are going to look like, no one can say just yet, but one thing is certain — the cruise you took last year will not look like the one you take next year.
Likewise, there’s no way to tell yet how great an impact all the various changes will have on cruise prices. We only know that all the various added health safeguards are going to cost money, and the cruise lines will be looking for ways to recoup that added expense.
My prediction: Look for the cruise industry to follow the airlines into the add-on fee business. The US airline industry alone pulls down almost $5 billion a year in baggage and other fees. If you think the cruise folks haven’t noticed, think again.
LOOK FOR LUXURY
With hotels and resorts looking to entice travelers to return with deep (if brief) discounts, the first post-COVID months might be a good time to book a stay at your dream destination or your favorite chill spot — especially if it’s the kind of resort which, under normal circumstances, would be priced beyond your budget.
Because unlike the airlines, those 5-star hostelries can’t park their excess rooms out in some desert boneyard to wait for better days. They’ll want to fill those rooms fast, and keep them filled to make good the losses they’re taking in 2020.
And that’s where travel agents can be a big help to your travel plans. We work with travel consortiums that specialize in luxury travel all over the world, collections of hotels, resorts and attractions that depend on us to bring in business.
In return, they give us perks and discounts that we get to pass along to our clients — perks you could never get on your own, because these consortiums don’t deal directly with the traveling public.
They deal with us.
BEAUTIFUL PARKS AT BEAUTIFUL PRICES
Maybe bling travel is not your thing. If you’d prefer a little outdoor fun and adventure to wipe out the memory of all those days in quarantine — and you’d like some real bargains to go with it — you really should consider exploring one or more of America’s national parks.
We’ve got more than 400 of them coast to coast, in nearly every state and territory. If you live in the continental United States, there’s a good chance you live no more than a day’s drive from at least one of them. Several have free entrance days on certain holidays and other special days of the year; many of the rest offer free-admission year-round.
If any member of your family is old enough to qualify for a Senior Pass, be nice to them. That pass gets them — and anyone driving into a national park with them — free admission.Think of it. Yosemite. Yellowstone. The Grand Canyon. And so many others. Gratis.
With the world, and especially the United States, still fully in the grip of COVID-19, it’s still far too early to predict with total confidence what our post-pandemic travel world is gong to look like. But there is one thing we can say for sure: People will travel again. We always do. We always have. That has held true in the wake of two world wars and multiple pandemics. This one will be no different. We will always want to explore the world, and ourselves.
It’s in our basic nature to want to see what’s on the other side of the hill — and come back with selfies.