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When will it be safe to travel again?
Will I ever again get to watch the sunset from my favorite beach? Taste the pasta dish that’s so good I want to crawl inside and live in inside it? Visit my favorite Vincent van Gogh painting?
I’m a person who lives and breathes travel, and these are the questions swirling in my head. The last time I stepped foot on a plane was Feb. 28, making this the longest stretch of time I’ve been at home in more than 20 years.
While I cherish all the family time — and am thankful each day for our good health — my wanderlust is reaching new heights. And, naturally, I’m wondering how my beloved travel industry will be irreversibly altered in a post-COVID-19 world.
Previous industry upheavals left their mark for years, even decades (think TSA lines and 3-ounce bottles, as well as reinforced cockpit doors). The COVID-19 pandemic will inevitably have a similar impact. Some changes will be inconvenient; some will present new opportunities; and others will just be — different.
Without knowing when exactly people will be free to travel again, there are some scenarios we’re likely to see.
No. 1: Domestic travel will return first.When “shelter in place” restrictions begin to lift, the desire to move about after so many weeks of confinement will quickly follow as people look to escape from the reality they’ve been facing. Initially, people won’t want to venture far from home, preferring long weekend stays to drive-to destinations. And the “corona-cation” will be born. This is an important first step: With 20% of people expressing concerns over air travel, restoring consumer confidence will be a key part of recovery.
No. 2: The desire for human connection will be stronger than ever. Virtuoso is a network built around the philosophy that it enhances lives through human connection. If we ever wanted to test the importance of this ethos, all we needed to do was implement social distancing. While people look for different things from their travels, the desire to connect with others throughout the journey will be a common thread.
No. 3: Social distancing will change how we experience travel. Our social radar has never been more finely tuned, and — let’s be honest — we will be predisposed to scrutinize every cough and sneeze within earshot. As a result, social distancing will no longer be about physical proximity, it will be an ingrained mindset that persists long after borders reopen. Two months ago, we were fine squishing onto airplanes, rubbing elbows on restaurant banquettes and flocking to flip coins into the Trevi Fountain in Rome. Limiting capacity may become a standard practice, resulting in limited availability, as well.
Airports will need to rethink everything from security lines and baggage carousels as they assess spacing for traveler safety. Zone boarding will be more strictly enforced, rather than serving as a guideline that is inconsistently followed.
On the topic of air travel, let’s hope that seating is adjusted to allow for more leg, elbow and breathing room, because no one will want to be in anyone else’s personal space.
The world’s most beloved sites may now come with limits on how many can visit, as well as when and for how long — effectively becoming the antidote to last year’s overtourism issue.
Hotels that once prided themselves on being social hubs may space or even limit lobby seating, while also reevaluating how food and beverages are served. The look may be more like room service arriving to your table, with protective coverings and on carts, rather than open on trays. And the buffet — beloved by so many — may be a thing of the past, with sneeze guards no longer offering enough protection.
Yes, we will travel again. Optimistic projections have travel bookings resuming in the next six to eight weeks. Whether it’s safe or not will be a personal determination, though one thing is certain: Travel advisors will be there, just as they have been all along, to help their clients make the most informed decisions possible.
No, travel will not look the same. While our tendency is to focus on the negative, especially given the current news cycle, change isn’t always bad.
The reality is that we went from calm to crisis in an unsettling short amount of time, but we will travel again with a new normal and greater appreciation.
And for all of us who know how travel feeds the soul, we will continue dreaming of those first steps off the plane or ship, and the thrill we get knowing new destinations, sights, smells, tastes and experiences await.
Read more from TravelAge West about the COVID-19 outbreak.