From Gen Z hedonism and bargain flights, to philanthropic hotels and medical care destination ratings, post-lockdown travellers have new priorities. After Globetrender published its free trend report Travel in the Age of Covid-19, we spoke to three industry experts about what lies ahead. This is what we discovered…
How will flying in the age of Covid-19 be different to before?
Paul Charles, CEO of premium travel consultancy The PC Agency, says: “I think the airports of the future are going to be filtering centres for the healthy. I think we’re going to find that you have to turn up at the airport earlier, have a swab test, get the results within 20 minutes – which is possible now due to better technology – and then you’re free to go.
“And that means the whole plane is Covid-free, because everybody on that flight knows they are Covid-free having had the test. So I think we are going to have to get used to a world, when we can travel, of testing or proving we’ve been tested, enabling us to move around more easily. The whole travel regime and journey is going to change quite dramatically.”
“When you arrive at Vienna airport, for example, you can choose to have a Covid-19 test on the spot and get the results within an hour at the airport. You pay about €190, and then you’re free to go if you’re negative, and if you’re positive then you have to quarantine.” [The results take three to six hours to come back.]
How bad has the pandemic been for the aviation industry?
Jeremy Bowen, CEO of travel data analytics company Cirium, says: “From an aviation perspective, let’s be honest, it’s been brutal. It’s worse than 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis and SARS all combined. IATA predicated a 48 per cent drop in passenger numbers, equating to a US$300 billion of lost revenue. So the number-one priority for airlines is to get their schedules out there and get people booking again.
“But obviously, passengers are going to want to be convinced that it’s safe to be on an aircraft. There’s still lots of debate – is it PPE? Is it testing? Is it enforced social distancing by removing middle seats, or reconfiguring aircraft – or a combination of everything?
“I think the biggest problem airlines are going to have is winning back business travel. Will it ever come back in the same volume? The question is for companies, will they allow their staff to travel to those locations, or will they now see it as a luxury? That’s something airlines need to win back very quickly.”
Will ‘germaphobia’ change the way people travel?
George Morgan-Grenville, CEO of luxury tour operator Red Savannah and leader of the “Quash Quarantine” campaign against the UK government, says: “I think people are going to fall into two camps initially. You’re going to have people who are so scared by what they’ve seen on the news and what the government is telling them that they’re not going to go anywhere. They may not even travel domestically, unless they have a second home somewhere. So there are definitely going to be some travellers who are not going to travel.
“In the other camp, I think there will be people who will be more adventurous, a little more willing to take a risk. But you can only really predict the future based on what you can see now. As we come out of lockdown, seeing how things are starting to revert to normal, I don’t think it’s going to be that increased. Once people start to travel, it’s going to be like taking a cork out of a bottle, once they start seeing their neighbours doing it, they’re going to do it too.
“So I’m confident that things will recover, but this year is written off for every travel company. If they survive this year, they’re going to make terrible losses. Next year will be good, but only really because you’ve got two years of travel consolidated into one year. All the bookings that would have gone in the latter two or three quarters of this year have really been postponed until 2021 and 2022. But I definitely don’t see there’s going to be the same level of traffic going out next year as there was in 2019.” Charles says: “I love the phrase ‘germaphobia’ because it sums up how many of us are feeling at the moment. Pre-March, we’d touch any box or package without a second thought. But now we’re going to be very different in the way we travel and what we touch. When we go into a hotel, I think we’re going to think twice before we touch the lift button – maybe somebody will do it for us in some hotels.
“You’ll have to adopt lift etiquette – it could be that only one person is allowed in a lift at a time because of the two-metre social distancing rule, so if you’re in a group, some of your party may have to take the stairs. Your baggage, will that be touched by concierge, or the bell boys for example? So hotels are having to think about that.
“Then of course in the room, you’ve got the ultimate dilemma. How clean are the taps, when were they last disinfected? When was the room last disinfected? There are some hotels leaving 72 hours between stays to give a chance for any traces of the virus to die, which is extraordinary and obviously has a massive impact on their income.
“I think germaphobia is a very valid, important subject at the moment. We’re going to somehow have to learn how to get our confidence back, and that’s the issue travel companies are grappling with at the moment. How do you rebuild the confidence?”
Do you think there are some sections of society that just won’t suffer from germaphobia particularly?
Charles says: “I do actually. I think there are going to be some interesting questions about the 60-plus age group. The baby boomers have very much led the dramatic growth in travel over previous years – they’ve led sectors such as cruising, for example. But now, it’s going to be very difficult for them to get insurance. A lot of insurers won’t put Covid-19 on their policies, or at least will charge a lot of money to do so.
“I think the over sixties are going to be worried, a lot of them are more vulnerable. Certainly those 70-plus have sadly been less resilient to dying from Covid-19. So I think the 60-plus age group is going to be an interesting target for brands that used to rely on them.
“I think the Gen Z 18 to 30 age group is going to be less risk-averse and desperate to travel. They might have a bit less money to spend but, if you look at some of the rave parties police have been attending recently, they’re the ones who have been wanting to get out as soon as possible.
“Brands that focus on 18- to 35-year-olds are going to do very well, while the 60-plus age group is going to come back much later. All the targets and what we thought were the norms before March have been thrown out of the window – all the research we’ve done is not valid anymore. Everyone is having to re-set and start again. To me that’s exciting, because it means you can figure out what the future targets are going to be.”
What will young people be looking for from the travel experience?
Charles says: “They’ll be looking to travel more sustainably. And that doesn’t just mean taking the Eurostar, it also means choosing airlines that are becoming more sustainable. Don’t assume all airlines are bad boys here. Some airlines such as Finnair are really working very hard to change how they operate sustainably.”
What is the future for the world’s airlines and what will it mean for travellers?
Bowen says: “At its height, on April 17, 66 per cent of the world’s fleet was grounded. So what was left flying in the air was the equivalent of the fleet in 1990, which is tiny. You can see pictures of parked aircraft that won’t ever fly again – they’re gas guzzlers that won’t ever take off again.
“We’ve seen a number of airlines go bust already, we will see bankruptcy protection and government bailout. Airlines have been burning through a phenomenal amount of cash. They’ve slashed their schedules, they’ve furloughed staff. We think it will be survival of the richest.
“From an optimistic perspective, everyone’s looking to China. China is an aviation market that came out prior to the rest. At the end of May, capacity was 70 per cent of pre-Covid, so they are really bouncing back. They’ve had to slash their fares to get people back on aircraft, but that 70 per cent is pretty remarkable.
“In some ways, the airline industry is pretty resilient. It’s been though many challenges and always bounces back – some airlines will go to the wall, but those others who are left will have the opportunity to pick up extra slots at airports, face less competition on routes and will get stronger.
“Every time aviation has faced a challenge, it’s innovated and things have got better for the traveller. When they have to cut everything back to the bone, there’s less risk in trying new things. Nobody is going to want to rebuild their organisation – bringing back tens of thousands of staff – in exactly the same way. They’ll take the opportunity to try new things, do it better experiment with data, technology and analytics, and that can only be a good thing for the traveller.”
What are your thoughts on airlines blocking out a middle seat in an attempt to create social distancing?
Bowen says: “We’re hearing mixed things. Some will [Delta Air Lines, for example], some have openly said they’re not going to do it [Ryanair, for example]. The idea of survival of the richest is also from a traveller’s perspective – you’ll pay your money and make your choices.
“If you’re happy to be on a low-cost, densely populated aircraft, then great. If you do want social distancing, you’ll pay for it, because cheap aviation is not going to be around if they have to take up the middle seats out of every aircraft.”
What is the future of luxury travel?
Morgan-Grenville says: “I suspect the luxury market will bounce back first but I think it will ultimately depend on how many businesses get damaged by this virus. Certainly anybody who works in commercial industries, they’re probably not feeling very rich right now, and I think for many people, until they have some visibility about where their business is going to go and what they might be able to earn out of it, their investments, where the stock market is going to go, I think people are just going to be a little cautious to start with.
Ultimately, though, I think people will come back to eating in restaurants, sitting around pools, socialising in bars much quicker than anyone is giving credit for. I think safari camps and island resorts will do well, and provided they’ve got detached accommodation, I think villas will do well. So will more remote places such as the Himalayas and Ladakh. Anywhere you can go that’s basically low-density and low-occupancy. What we’re not seeing is inquiries for are urban or city centre holidays at the moment.”
Charles says: “I think this is going to be one of the big changes we’re going to see actually. City breaks are not going to be on the top of people’s lists, certainly for the next year. Overtourism and lots of people being in the same place are are not going to be people’s priorities. As you’ve said in the report, I think it’s going to be a case of ‘isolation vacations’, the notion of people wanting more space and privacy. On the domestic tourism front, I think holiday homes, especially near the coast, are going to be snapped up very quickly.
“I think those places that guarantee isolation, space and privacy will do really well in the short term. And that’s why hotels in cities and urban areas are going to have to think through who they are going to attract and why they are doing to be different. It’s the isolated places that are going to win, and the countries that can offer huge amounts of space, beautiful scenery with great food who are going to win out.”
What do you predict for the future of airline ticket pricing and route networks for the remainder of 2020 and early 2021?
Bowen says: “Looking east to China, research has shown they had to reduce fares by 40 per cent. So I think the good news for everyone is that there’s going to be some phenomenally good deals out there to encourage everyone to fly again.
“But in the longer term, there’s that phrase: “The passenger always pays”, so if we do take out middle seats, if we do have to have aircraft at the airport for longer for deep cleaning and checking, for people boarding in smaller groups, incurring more airport charges, that’s going to get passed on. So I do think we’ve got to take advantage of the cost-effective fares while they’re there, because the passenger always pays in the end.”
Do you think tickets will just be cheaper in the short term, or could it be an on-going tactic to win travellers?
Bowen says: “I think the airlines will wait to see who actually flies. There’s always a gap between what you schedule, what you book and what actually gets flown. So you’ve got a lot of people booking flights, but they might not actually fly – they might wait to see whether they feel comfortable or whether they feel safe in that destination.
“A lot of airlines will trial their routes and look to see what demand is. We’ve already seen some large international airlines have put their international hubs and big destinations back on the schedule. They’re taking bookings and they’re flying transatlantic and north to south.”
In terms of luxury travel, what do you think are some of the hot destinations and experiences of tomorrow?
Morgan-Grenville says: “There is definitely a trend towards wilderness destinations. People will want the type of experiences you wouldn’t have been able to get ten years ago – I’m thinking of Nihi Sumba Island in Indonesia.
“It’s a really interesting blueprint for a 21st-century resort where you’ve got world-class surfing, terrific diving, beautiful accommodation, great food, and, on top of that, you can get your hands dirty with philanthropy. The whole resort exists on the foundation that it should provide clean drinking water for locals, eradicate malaria and provide education. So it’s the kind of holiday you can go on, feel good and actually do good.
“I also think that places where you can get to on a boat, where there’s no-one else around, will be popular, especially in the Mediterranean and the Adriatic. You can get to such wonderful places and little villages with tavernas and deserted islands with beaches to yourself. People will really prize privacy, but not exclusively. People are essentially social animals.”
“Destinations such as Oman are increasingly popular, and we’ve definitely seen an increase in people looking for sabbaticals. The number of sabbaticals we’ve run has increased enormously over the past two years.”
How do you think ‘involuntary undertourism’ will play out? Will we see a renewed effort to manage tourism better? Or will it be a case of fighting for as many visitors as possible?
Charles says: “It’s ironic that coronavirus has happened and that’s what has caused a massive decrease in pollution and overtourism. It’s going to be interesting to see how we as consumers change how we travel to destinations that might have been on our bucket list for some time.
“Machu Picchu is a good example – it’s going to be interesting to see if they’re going to use this opportunity to really protect it in the future and minimise further the number of visitors each day – almost like Bhutan does with limiting the number of visitors that come into the country – and whether the permit price will go up.
“I think these are all questions destinations will be asking to limit the number of visitors in order to protect it, and that’s vital from a sustainability point of view, but also for economic reasons. A lot of destinations around the world that have grown in the past couple of years are very small economies, their GDP is low, they’re going to need to raise money in order to invest in their future healthcare and transport systems and so they’re going to want to put permit prices up.”
What impact will the pandemic have on the environmental aspect of travel?
Morgan-Grenville says: “I think the main thing to understand about Covid is it has acted as an accelerator. Many of the things that would have happened in the next five to ten years are going to happen much sooner as a result. I think there will be some positives that come out of this in the long run. Corporate and social responsibility is going to become key, and hotels that don’t engage in that will be shunned.
“Flying is still going to be seen as an issue and so I think carbon offsetting is going to be important. As you know there are millions of different carbon offset schemes at the moment – some are utterly ridiculous and some are very good indeed – so there will probably need to be a global standard that needs to be applied.
Charles says: “Airlines are going to start flying their most modern planes, which is a great thing because they’re 20-25 per cent more fuel-efficient. You’re going to see the A350s and the B787s come back much sooner in airline fleets and they’ll use this as a reason to get rid of their older aircraft that are not so fuel-efficient and not so pleasant to fly on.
Bowen says: “Pre-Covid, this was pretty much number-one on most airline CEOs’ agenda. We’ll see some aircraft never flying again – those four-engine, cumbersome, inefficient aircraft, their time is gone.
How important will local medical infrastructure be when it comes to travellers booking holidays?
Charles says: “The local healthcare system will be a very important part of choosing where you go. The reason people in this country are still a little bit nervous about travelling is that they’re maybe going to get stuck somewhere – because maybe borders will close again if there’s a flare-up of Covid – or they’re worried about getting ill en route and finding they’ve got to negotiate the local healthcare system.
“A lot of local healthcare systems have been tested to the max, on the capacity they have and their long-term ability to cope. A lot of healthcare systems haven’t been able to get PPE, let alone ventilators. So when you look around the world, the growth we’ve seen in recent years and the phenomenal success of some tour operators has been off the back of going to some places in East Africa or South America. But these are regions that have really had their healthcare systems tested.
“So if you want to travel to some of the wilderness destinations, which should do very well in a post-Covid world, you are going to want to ask as a consumer whether the hospitals are up to it. And I think that is going to determine where you go. Also, you’ve got to ask whether the locals want you there. Because if their systems are under pressure, they won’t be as welcoming to locals coming in, at least in the short-term. There will be a lot of big questions for governments to answer around the world about the way their healthcare systems are prioritised for locals as well as for visitors.”
Will social distancing mean the end of crowded, mass market holidays?
Morgan-Grenville says: “It’s possible but I don’t think travel necessarily has to be the preserve of the wealthy. It’s perfectly possible to go to a remote area, particular in America where you can get to national parks and stay in very cheap accommodation. In general, the best low-density places tend to be the more expensive ones, but I don’t think travel will be exclusively for the rich.