Experts acknowledge that it would take about 18 to 24 months before there is increased demand within the travel industry, said Christina Farr of business and financial news site CNBC. While it would take time for the travel industry to return to normal levels, airports may implement new kinds of security checks to screen sick travelers and nervous tourists will choose to travel closer to home.
Moreover, the travel experience dominated by small hotels and restaurants may struggle or go bankrupt. “What we have seen since the country went into shutdown with talks to reopen is that intent was directionally heading up. But now we’re seeing a plateau,” said Amir Eylon, Longwoods International’s president and CEO, who has been conducting regular surveys since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Travel Sentiment Survey
In a survey by Longwoods International, whose focus is to work with clients to meet their research needs and objectives, 82% of 1,000 US adults aged 18 and above planning to travel in the next six months would change their travel plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The recent Longwoods International survey was fielded on April 22, 2020. On March 11, only 58% planned to change upcoming travel plans. The numbers rose steadily to 75% on March 19 and 84% on March 26. The figures plateaued at 84% (April 1), 85% (April 8), and 82% (April 15). 50% of travelers canceled their trip completely, 45% reduced travel plans, 22% changed their destination to one they can drive to as opposed to flying, and 11% changed their trip from international to domestic. On March 11, only 28% and 36% of respondents canceled their trip completely or reduced travel plans, respectively.
In the same time period, only 30% of travelers changed their destination to one they can drive to as opposed to flying. 22% (March 11) of travelers changed their trip from international to domestic, with the numbers settling at 14% on March 19, 11% on March 26, and 13% on April 1. On April 8 and 15, the figures were at 11%. Regarding the factors that impact the respondents’ decisions to travel in the next six months, 61% said the COVID-19 outbreak had a great impact (5 being “greatly impact” and 0 being “no impact at all”) on their decisions to travel.
On March 11, the number was at 35%, with the numbers steadily climbing to 58% on March 19, 62% on March 26, and 67% on April 1. However, the percentages declined to 66% on April 8 and 63% on April 15. 25% said concerns about the economy had a great impact on their travel decisions (versus 14% of those who said “no impact at all), while 15% cited transportation costs (versus 26%).
Regarding the information or cues indicating it is safe to plan domestic US travel, 57% said they get official advice from the CDC or other federal government health experts and 37% relied on federal government advice. 36% depended on their official state government/governor or from their state health department. 33% said it would be to plan domestic US travel when social distancing rules are relaxed in their state and surrounding states.
24% said it would be advice from the White House Coronavirus Task Force, 16% said it would be when major visitor attractions like Disneyland/Disney World are reopening. Likewise, 14% said it would be when major visitor attractions in your state and surroundings states are reopening. 4% added that it would be safe to plan domestic travel if deals and offers from the tourism industry are promoting travel in the next month or two.
The Risky and Slow Return of Air Travel
Some countries are finding ways to get individuals to travel again while minimizing their risk of exposure. Airlines such as Delta are planning to issue informal “immunity passports” to travelers who can prove they have been infected. But those in public health like Ashish Jha, who is a Harvard global health professor, remain doubtful. He noted, “The testing is still very flawed.” In fact, it’s possible for people to be reinfected even if they recovered and have antibodies. Temperature checks could become more common at airports, but Jha said that these might not detect asymptomatic cases.
Moreover, many travelers are not going to feel safe boarding crowded airplanes until they they see that the number of new deaths from COVID-19 has declined to almost none in their region or until a vaccine has been created. People would also feel safe if there are better ways of tracing and isolating those infected with COVID-19, stated Robert Reich, the former U.S. Labor secretary and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.
The Possibility of Touchless Travel
There will be a shift from airport curbside to hotel check-in, said Andrea Serra and Christine Leong of World Economic Forum, an international organization. Exchanging travel documents and touching surfaces during security, check-in, border control, and boarding pose risks to staff and travelers.
Hence, the travel industry will start to leverage automation to reduce such risks. Biometrics are a widely accepted solution to verify one’s identity, which will become more ubiquitous as physical fingerprint and hand scanners become obsolete. More touchless options will be available such as contactless fingerprint and iris and face recognition.
Technology for touchless data entry like gesture control, touchless document scanning, and voice commands are currently being tested. However, care must be exercised to guarantee that these technologies are inclusive to prevent biases from arising.
The Rise of Staycation
Safety is not the only catalyst for the rise of staycation. In fact, travelers are reluctant about spending money on air travel to luxurious places. Josh Collins, who runs marketing for Streetsense, explained that taking an annual lavish trip to the tropics might not be all the rage for some time until travelers feel confident about their finances.
Hence, people might resort to domestic, budget-friendly options such as going on road trips or camping. “The first signs of a new normal will be that parents start taking their kids to the zoo or the park. From there, they’ll venture a little further for a night away from home,” stated Eylon.
The travel industry will change after the pandemic. People might choose domestic (but cheap) options like taking their kids to the zoo or camping. Technology will also be leveraged to minimize the risks of infection. It will take time before the travel industry will be bustling with tourists wanting to explore the world.