Will Travel Ever Be The Same Again, Post-COVID?Posted on: July 4, 2020
Acknowledging that a number of individuals and families have already gone on road trips over the last several months, Chesky was saying that the shift in our travel has less to do with family vacations, which will eventually return to normal at some point, including air travel, and more to do with business, with companies realizing how much they can save money on transportation, regardless of whether there is a pandemic or the world was entirely free of germs. Said Chesky:
I think you’re going to start to see travel becoming more intimate, more local, to smaller communities. People are not getting on airplanes, they’re not crossing borders, they’re not meaningfully traveling to cities, they’re not traveling for business… People will, one day, get back on planes, but one of the things that I do think is a fairly permanent shift is a redistribution of where travelers go… I think a lot of people are going to realize they don’t need to get on an airplane to have a meeting.
Making any bold predictions about when or even how soon travel patterns will return to normal is beyond the scope of even the most careful statistician, but what we can do is look more carefully at where we’ve been, where we are, and what things might look like in the future.
WHAT TRAVEL WAS LIKE BEFORE COVID-19
Back in January, the National Household Travel Survey identified four major shifts in transportation technology over the prior decade, technologies that greatly impacted the way we moved, or didn’t move, through our daily lives, for work, for play, and for family.
The first was Mobility as a Service, which represents every mode of transportation that could now be paid for in advance, such as railways, buses, and planes. The second was Shared Mobility, which could included bikesharing, ridesharing, ridescourcing, and even scooter sharing, where short term access was all that anyone needed and could be paid for on the spot (here is an example of Orlando’s Bike Sharing Pilot Program). The third was Business to Business and Business to Consumer Deliveries, which minimized the need for people to leave their home or their office to pick up something that now came directly to their door, such as groceries or home goods that might have otherwise required going out. And the final category was Autonomous and Connected Vehicles, which referred, of course, to the autonomous trends taking place in specific areas of the country, increasing in quantity and public visibility. The most notable and now familiar trend was the Business to Business and Business to Consumer Delivery technology, which had already caused a drop, for many, in their use of a personal motor vehicle.
So what about airline traffic, back on we used to hop on planes and bounced from place to place around the nation and the globe? On January 17, 2020, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics showed that in the prior year, 926 million passengers had come through US airlines, more than any prior year on record, with each of the previous five years setting a new high. Domestic enplanements, which refer to those who exit an aircraft at a particular location, were consistently up in 2019, showing that travelers were more and more willing to use a plane to move from city to city within the United States, rather than drive, even if the distance was only a couple hundred or a few hundred miles. On the other hand, international deplanements, with people having exited a plane after travel outside the country, were slowly, but markedly on the decline in the latter half of 2019.
WHAT TRAVEL LOOKS LIKE TODAY, DURING COVID-19
By March of this year, the same Bureau of Transportation Statistics sounded the alarm on a dramatic data shift that under any circumstances, COVID-19 or otherwise, would have been shocking. According to their report, US airlines had carried 51 percent fewer passengers in March 2020 than they had in the same month from 2019, which was the “lowest level of air travel in almost two decades.” International travel took the biggest hit, down 53 percent.
And to be clear, things don’t look to be getting better right now. Flights are constantly being changed or cancelled entirely. And with cases on the rise, rather than on the decline in the United States, all European countries have closed their borders to American tourists. Even Canada has closed up shop to anyone hoping to jump the border for a day or two. According to NPR, hopping on a flight to certain areas now requires that passengers get tested for COVID-19 prior to boarding, with paperwork to prove they are not carrying a respiratory illness.
By no means are there ever any risk-free modes of transportation, be it jumping in the family car or even, as some have done in New England, buying a boat to explore the local waterways. But the question is whether you can–or even should–travel freely during COVID-19, especially with places like New York issuing Travel Advisories for other states like Florida, Texas, and even California (plus 11 more), which would require a 14-Day Quarantine. With so much in flux, the best approach is to study up ahead of time, to know what is and is not going on in the places you’re thinking of going.
Or as one author put it, regarding the safety of summer travel:
It’s understandable that travelers — and certainly the tourism industry — are eager to bounce back and resume planning vacations and trips after a months-long hiatus. Still, the focus should be on risk mitigation. Think about where you’re going to eat, whom you’ll encounter, and whether those interactions can be minimized.
WHAT TRAVEL MIGHT LOOK LIKE IN THE FUTURE, AFTER COVID-19
The first step to getting people back out, whether that be through air or land, is to make them feel that going out is actually safe. Achieving this may be more difficult for bigger industries like airlines where travel depends almost solely on people being willing to sit close together and remain that way, compressed in tight spaces for lengthy periods. A GlobalWebIndex survey found that nearly 60% of people across 17 countries were only open to traveling again if, indeed, they felt it was “safe to travel.”
And for all the talk of road trips, boat trips, and the many changes to plane trips, one major difference in the future of travel that’s likely to be the rise is Travel Insurance, offering some kind of assurance that pre-paid hotels and flights will be reimbursed if, let’s say, the entire world shuts down.
Only 1 in 5 Americans (20%) purchased travel insurance for leisure trips prior to COVID-19, but 45% say they’re likely to purchase travel insurance for future leisure trips after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Still, one of the best metrics for determining what travel–and even life–will be like on the other side of this pandemic is a survey of those with shifting opinions. For example, let’s say cases begin to slow and decline steadily in the fall, allowing for the possibility of more travel. Consumers have said, in at least one major survey (including residents from the US, the UK, Canada, and Japan), that they are 55% more likely to make their first major trip a domestic one, rather than international. And of those four countries surveyed, the dynamics of their willingness to be adventurous could not have been more apparent.
- US travelers are the most bullish about the travel industry and the most ready to travel again.
- UK travelers will wait a bit longer to travel again, but when they do, 80% plan to spend the same or more as they did in the last 12 months.
- Canadians are the most conservative when it comes to expected travel spend vs. the previous year but for those that plan to travel, adventure will be high on their list.
- Japanese travelers are the least ready to travel again, but still plan to spend the same or more vs. the previous year.
Brian Chesky may have been right about travel, about the possibility that nothing will ever be the same again. But it also seems a bit like Americans are pretty eager for a return to normal, even if they have to wait a little longer. So let’s hope we get there, albeit with a little more attention to health and safety, travel insurance, and perhaps even a new boat.
As Florida’s cases continue to skyrocket, please continue to be safe and smart, keeping your distance and wearing a mask, especially now that it has become a mandatory requirement in both Seminole and Orange Counties.