Long-time travel writer Susan Ward Davies speaks with Globetrender about what she has learnt from lockdown, travel trends of tomorrow, ‘no-go’ destinations and where she dreams of going next.
What has been your approach to editorial and which publications have you been writing for?
After leaving my job as travel and lifestyle director of Elle magazine at Christmas, I had given myself three months off before I started pitching, so the Covid-19 lockdown put me very much on the back foot.
I’ve done a few pieces on trends and travel reminiscences, and written up previous trips, and I have a monthly road trip feature for Good Housekeeping, which I love. I think I am going to focus on trends now and best post-lockdown trips.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected you professionally as a travel writer?
It has knocked out almost all my work. Starting a new life as a freelance travel writer in January didn’t help. It isn’t the most lucrative profession at the best of times, what with bloggers, people offering to work for free and many publications thinking they don’t need to pay for proper travel writers.
What have you learnt from being grounded?
I am happiest in a dawn Uber on my way to the airport, or sleeping on some rickety overnight bus in South America or Asia, and I like to pack a lot in (my ideal night out involves at least three parties). But I spent nine years at boarding school – pretty much a ten-week lockdown situation each term – so we became experts at making our own entertainment.
But mainly I am a firm believer that you can find adventure anywhere (I used to time my bike commute to make it more interesting) and the lockdown has made me realise that a lot of my motivations for travel – culture shock, having to adapt, adventure, life-changing experiences – we are living through right now.
It is fascinating to be a part of something so historic and alien: the abandoned city streets, the face masks, the social distancing, the urban birdsong, the supermarket foraging… it has been like travelling in a post-apocalyptic world.
And it makes you realise the importance of making the most of every moment. Many, many people around the globe live constantly with worse crises than this, so we just have to make the best of it, especially those of us who are not risking our lives as key workers, going bankrupt, or having to shield.
How do you feel about travelling once travel bans are lifted? Where do you think you might go first?
I actually cannot wait to go away but I think flying is going to be difficult and more expensive if they have fewer seats to fill [to allow for physical distancing], as well as recoup huge losses.
Until we have a vaccine, or know that a positive antibody test confers immunity, I think it is hard to be safe in a plane, and masks are not effective for very long. I think I will start with road trips in the UK and Europe, the more remote the better – if the locals don’t object.
What is the future of press trips?
I really hope that all this remote working won’t make commissioners/the travel industry think writers don’t actually need to go somewhere to write about it. There is too much travel writing by Google already.
I think group press trips will take much more planning, as it will be difficult for journalists living with families, or in a house-share, to self-quarantine effectively when they return, if the 14-day rule is implemented. More individual trips could work but weekend trips to Ibiza or quick city breaks won’t be worth the hassle for just a few days.
Who do you think will be the first people to start travelling and why?
I think the under 35s will go first. That age group is so low-risk they don’t really have to worry about their own health, and they are less likely to have kids and older, more vulnerable, parents to infect on their return.
Older people may be cautious in case of another wave of infection, but many, in all age groups, just won’t have the cash. I think after the success of Zoom, business travel will drop right off, which is more bad news for the airlines/business hotels.
What kinds of holidays do you think will be most popular in the ‘age of coronavirus’?
I think road trips are the perfect post-lockdown holiday, especially combined with self-catering, so we can socially distance until we see how things pan out. I think adventure will be even more popular – the practicalities of travelling will be so much harder, that you’ll want a really amazing experience to make it worth the effort.
Also, with the possibility of a second wave of Covid-19, or another pandemic, everyone will want to do their bucket list sooner rather than later, as who knows when we may be locked down again?
What travel trends do you expect to see emerging over the next six to 12 months?
After being cooped up at home we will be longing for some wide-open, people-free spaces, although those who have been self-isolating may crave company, even if too wary for crowded cities/resorts straight away.
I think there will be a rush for remote places, glamping, anywhere with pods, cottages, villas or cabins rather than hotel rooms with shared spaces, in fact anything social-distancing-friendly, at least for the first tentative months.
But we need to be considerate of our destinations – despite the financial incentives, people living in remote places like the Hebrides or the wilds of Ethiopia may not want tourists bringing potential infection.
Do you think any countries in particular will suffer a perception problem when it comes to holidays after lockdown? Where do you think British people will be going?
I think China will be on many people’s “no-go” list, as the origin of the virus, and also countries you don’t trust to reveal true infection figures, or who have mis-managed the crisis (looking at you, Mr President). Another risk with the US is the lack of pandemic cover in current travel insurance policies – no one can afford to get sick there without it.
Given travellers’ difficulties getting home at the start of lockdown, people will be wary of going too far afield. Although New Zealand, which totally nailed virus control, is very appealing. I think we would all happily travel anywhere that Jacinta Ardern was in charge.
We Brits will probably stick to staycationing and driving to Europe for now, choosing destinations according to who proves the best at social distancing measures.
How can the travel industry help restore people’s confidence to travel? What role will insurers and travel agents play for example?
Insurance is a huge worry. At the moment I don’t think any insurance policy covers you for Covid-related problems, and that needs to be resolved, although it will be easier when the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice changes.
Luckily our EH1C cards mean free EU health care till the end of 2020 but after that, to travel uninsured against a second wave of Covid 19 or another virus could prove very expensive.
Airlines are making a massive effort to reassure people about hygiene but testing for Covid-19 passengers on departure or arrival isn’t fail-safe, as they may be asymptomatic.
Immunity passports are a great idea but the only way to be totally protected from in-flight infection, until we have a vaccine, would be to wear plastic, air-filtered hoods, and somehow I can’t see that happening.
Ultimately I think people’s desire to travel will outweigh the perceived risk – we all got back on board after 9/11, after all.