1Iztok Franko, founder of Diggintravel.com
The global crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has hit the economy around the world quite hard, and tourism is one of the branches that have been most affected. With numerous travel restrictions and lockdown measures from the beginning of March, we can now say that travel as we know it is long gone.
Although the overall consequences of this not at all harmless situation are still being added up, it is necessary to think ahead and explore what the future of travel will look like.
The aviation industry recovery
“The way we see the long-term consequences is changing every day as the impact of the pandemic gets bigger and bigger.”
On July 28th, the International Air Transport Association updated its projection of when travel will return to pre-Covid-19 levels - 2024, a year later than previously projected, as the recovery in air traffic has been slower than expected.
“The way we see the long-term consequences is changing every day as the impact of the pandemic gets bigger and bigger,” says Franko, adding that “its effects are already brutal as we have seen huge job losses and increasing travel difficulties caused by restrictions, less flight connections, etc.”.
“We currently predict that the aviation industry will continue to shrink, by at least 30 to 50% in the near future. However, I hope that we will witness some great positive effects in the long run,” says Franko. “I hope this pandemic can be our opportunity to open up some difficult questions about sustainability and negative effects of over-tourism."
Who will be able to afford to fly?
As most predict, air travel costs will rise, especially if airlines want to leave empty seats to allow for social distancing. According to IATA, the average fares would need to be increased 43 to 54 % for airlines to break even if regulations to leave seats empty were to be introduced.
“In the short term, we will see airlines doing anything in their ability to generate demand and revenue. In fact, we already see that many airlines are significantly reducing their fees. However, we do not yet know how this will go in the long run. If the crisis continues and travel restrictions remain, it would be extremely difficult for all airlines to survive. We have already witnessed reduced competition in some markets, which could mean higher prices ahead,” says Franko.
2The recovery in air traffic has been slower than expected.
What will family vacations look like?
“People will still want to go to the sea in summer, that certainly won’t change.”
Affordability, health and safety have become the top three priorities for travelers since the pandemic, especially families, resulting in a slight change in behavior when it comes to vacations.
“Due to travel restrictions, people turned to domestic and short-range destinations during the pandemic. However, we have seen in the main markets that, after the lifting of restrictions (especially quarantine rules), the demand for flights and the most popular summer destinations has returned,” says Franko adding that people will still want to go to the sea in summer, that certainly won’t change. What might need to change will be travel companies and other suppliers from the industry by offering more flexibility, discounts and better prices.
What about business travel?
Most industry experts predict a permanent decline in business travel, as many businesses could formalize the operational shifts triggered by a pandemic, drastically reducing travel costs that turned out to be unnecessary. Also, larger conferences and business events will be difficult to organize in the foreseeable future.
“While some large organizations could reduce travel budgets, seeing that some of it can be replaced by digital remote communication, I personally am not so pessimistic,” says Franko. “Once the pandemic and all travel restrictions are gone, I think people will want to have the interactions they had before. I didn’t see many changes in behavior to think that we would behave differently, for example, as soon as the restaurants reopened, they were immediately full.”
More automation and less contact
Airports are one of the areas most likely to introduce permanent changes and thus influence passenger behavior. Facial recognition systems, mandatory medical examinations, and robot cleaners are likely to become far more widespread to reduce human contact and make air travel safer.
Even airlines are adapting to the new situation by adapting their procedures. “You see many airlines implementing mandatory mask rules, communicating a lot about health and hygiene standards. However, the problem is travel itself, especially air travel because we do not have any global rules or guidelines. Even in Europe, each country sets its own rules, opens and closes borders, which makes it very difficult for airlines to plan anything,” says Franko.
On 4 September, the European Union Commission proposed the introduction of common coordinated criteria and guidelines for EU Member States and the Schengen Area associated countries when deciding whether to introduce travel restrictions. This is an important constructive step, but there are still so many parts to be sorted out to get it right to make travel easier and safer.
3What will the future of travel look like?
Is the future of travel green?
“I hope this pandemic can be our opportunity to open up some difficult questions about sustainability and negative effects of over-tourism.”
The drop in air travel had major effects on the environment, as well as on passengers' awareness that some flights were not necessary after all. Research has already shown that travelers have begun to take fewer trips and stay longer in one destination - a practice that has long been advocated by responsible and climate-conscious travelers.
“I really hope this crisis will be a learning that we need to think more seriously about sustainability and caring for our environment and our planet. We saw what changes took place in our environment when we "paused" some activities for a relatively short time,” says Franko. “That being said, based on how global leaders and a multitude of governments are coping with this pandemic, where the opinions of science and experts are still neglected, I have to say that I am not too optimistic about it.”
4Research has already shown that travelers have begun to take fewer trips and stay longer in one destination.
To conclude: be flexible and stay informed
The Covid pandemic has changed travel as we know it in changes that are still difficult to predict. As things are still pretty unstable, “it’s probably better not to book flights far in advance because a lot of airlines change schedules (and cancel flights) in the last 30 days,” explains Franko. “Due to a much more unstable and unpredictable environment, airlines complete flight schedules in a much shorter time frame. For example, in the US, large airlines completed timetables 3-4 months in advance, and now this has been reduced to 4-6 weeks.”
But given that a huge portion of the world’s population relies on the tourism industry and all the benefits that the opportunity to explore new places, sights and cultures has for humanity, we are more than sure that we will be able to find a way to recover the industry in a more responsible and sustainable way.
Until then “be flexible and stay informed,” concludes Franko. “The good thing is that airlines, for example, provide much more flexibility (e.g. no change fee, free re-bookings, ...). But it is still up to the passenger to check the pandemic situation at the destination and be ready to change plans if the situation changes.”
For more information about Franko’s work and useful marketing insights, visit Diggintravel.com.