Let’s be honest, travel for the rest of the year has largely been taken off the table, and while the current pandemic has forced us to adjust our daily lives, so too will it adjust the course of future travel.
While domestic tourism is expected to take off first, and direct neighbors may open borders to each other (talks between Australia and NZ are already in progress), an international free for all isn’t likely until at least 2021.
There’s really no certainty about the future of travel, though one thing we do know is that we’ll have to get used to a whole new travel landscape once restrictions are lifted.
So, if you’re planning on 2021 travel, whether that’s a European river cruise, backpacking trip, or even domestic travel, and you’re wondering how the travel experience will change, these are the most likely scenarios you should prepare yourself for.
After a Pandemic: Things You Should Know About 2021 Travel
Mass Tourism to Fade
Mass tourism has been one of the biggest social and environmental issues of the 21st century – tourism numbers to places like Venice, Barcelona, and Bali have reached excessive peaks, which has seen a detrimental effect on both the environment and lives of locals.
More and more destinations have become unable to cope with their own popularity in recent years, and it was becoming a trend for popular destination to limit tourism to fight the strain on their resources.
Though now we’ve seen the issue go from one extreme to the other.
There are many predictions as to why; one being that travel may be expensive for the first year, as the industry tries to find its feet, another being that some demographics (like the older population) may be hesitant to travel again so soon.
Another reason is that many people having lost their incomes across all industries means there won’t be as much disposable income as there once was, for people to be able to afford the luxury of leisure travel.
Either way, mass tourism is unlikely to be an issue for the next year at least.
We can only hope that destinations will use this time to work on developing solid and sustainable tourism strategies to avoid taking the same path in the future. As a traveler this presents a unique opportunity to visit previously over crowded destinations without the normal overwhelm.
Though that doesn’t mean you should expect shorter airport queues …
Increased Safety Precautions
Just as airport security changed dramatically after 9/11, so too will the current pandemic change the landscape for 2021 travel and protocols around transit.
Before the 2001 attacks, we were able to leave our shoes on, kiss our loved ones goodbye at the gate, and bring as much shampoo as we wanted onto the plane. There was also no such thing as a full body X-ray scanner at the airport, or for that matter, the TSA.
The future of travel after this pandemic will undoubtedly see an increase in safety precautions at airports, and things like queues with two meter spacing, health certificates, insurance certificates, and medical screening are all likely to come into play.
Temperature checks and thermal imaging have already started to appear at Asian and Middle Eastern airports, and many are considering mandatory blood tests. And if we’re to learn from recent history, there’s usually no way back from our adoption of new technologies.
At some point in 2021 Governments will have to come together to establish a common international standard for aviation health screening, though it’s likely to incorporate everything that’s already being done.
Social distancing is a term that’s here to stay, and even though the travel industry will bounce back, there will be a lot less direct contact with other humans than you’ve previously been used to.
Airports around the world are already working to improve their facial recognition systems to move away from the current system of passport checks (the good news is that this should make immigration a lot more faster). And high tech security machines won’t require you to remove your liquids or laptop.
Automation was already a trend before the pandemic, though now it’s been pushed into overdrive, and we’ll likely see automation and AI used not only for efficient security, but also keeping spaces compulsively clean.
Just as our grocery stores have started sanitizing conveyor belts after every customer, travelers moving into 2021 are going to have a heightened awareness to avoid touching common surfaces, and the tourism industry will naturally have to rise to meet this level of anxiety.
Less contact with flight attendants is one of the other probable changes that’s coming, and there’s much uncertainty and speculation as to whether the very design of airplane seating will need to be adjusted (ie the middle seat).
At the start of the year we were all fine with squashing into airplanes and rubbing shoulders with foreign strangers – those days are now gone.
Wearing surgical face masks in public was already a cultural norm throughout much of East Asia before the pandemic, but there has always been a certain stigma about wearing them in Western countries.
After the Spanish flu in 1918, wearing masks in public became a matter of ethics throughout countries like Japan and China, and this cultural norm was only strengthened by the outbreak of SARS in 2003.
It’s normal for people in these countries to wear masks even if they’re not ill, and seen as a sign of respect, and a sense of security for the people around you. People view wearing a mask as a civic duty.
Even though the science on the efficacy of face masks isn’t there, face masks are likely to become standard across many destinations and airlines. Passenger face masks have already been adopted by Lufthansa and Wizz Air.
We’re moving into a very different world of armchair travel right now, and virtual experiences are likely to become an integral part of the industry even after travel resumes to the masses.
Being forced to stay at home has been a lesson in deferred gratification, and instead of hopping on a low cost flight for the sake of it, it’s more likely that we’ll ‘spend more time planning prepping, and squeezing the most out of the anticipation’.
Planning travel will be far more interactive from now on; lockdown has forced destinations around the world to get creative and really embrace virtual travel, and as we said above, there’s usually no turning back once we become used to new technology.
In an attempt to keep people interested, we’ve seen many destinations, cities, and museums move online, and there are some insanely good virtual tours.
The Uffizi in Florence has more than 3000,000 works in their digital archives, and you can actually remote control local tour guides in the Faroe Islands right now!
What do you expect from the travel experience in 2021?