We’re approximately two months into quarantine and everyone’s going a little stir-crazy. We’ve started dreaming of where we will travel once restrictions are lifted and we enter back into society, emerging from our homes as little house gremlins in need of vitamin D and sobriety. Over the last 10 years, the travel and tourism industries have grown exponentially with the help of technology, making it easier than ever to plan a trip. But this expansion has stalled as a result of travel restrictions and isolation in response to the global coronavirus pandemic. As we stay home and try to flatten the curve, many people have started to consider how to travel in the future—while praying that their 2020 vacation days will carry over to 2021. While it’s difficult to predict when we’ll be able to travel outside of our one-bedroom apartments again, there’s no doubt the industry will change as a result of the pandemic. So, as travelers, how will we spend our holiday time and how the f*ck is the industry going to bounce back?
Can We Get A Refund On 2020?
The travel industry supports nearly 10% of the world’s global jobs, and that doesn’t even take into account its supply chain for things like farmers who provide food to hotels, and restaurants who rely on the tourist season for foot traffic. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, 75 million jobs and $2.1 trillion in revenue in the travel and tourism industry could be lost due to COVID-19. With such an impact to a large global industry, the vicious cycle of people having less disposable income to spend on travel and people in travel-related jobs being laid off, begins. Travel influencers are shaking in their latest ShoeDazzle collection clear-heeled boots.
No sector of the industry will go untouched, meaning we’re about to experience a huge change in how we travel as companies try to adapt. Many organizations in travel were ill-equipped for a financial crisis, only preparing for a positive trajectory continuing from the last few years. A recent article from National Geographic on how coronavirus is impacting the travel industry states that “international carriers, including Delta and United Airlines, had less than two months of cash on hand to cover expenses before the coronavirus hit.” I mean, same, but I’m a millennial with student debt so that’s to be expected, not a gigantic company. Plus, I don’t think my stimulus check compares to their $25 billion bailout. I guess all those oversize bag fees and change fees were a lot more important than we thought.
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Hotels are another part of the industry with unprecedented losses. Seventy percent of hotel employees have been laid off, and the projected occupancy rate for 2020 is worse than during the Great Depression. Yikes. Hotels also may have more difficulty bouncing back and recouping losses than other sectors, since they will likely need to offer steep discounts to entice travelers. While offering cheaper rates is probably necessary to draw us out of our sweatsuits and into swimsuits after months of a 90% carb diet, doing so is not exactly sustainable for hotels, putting them between a rock and a hard place.
the biggest lesson I’ve learned from all this is that I should continue to not go on cruises
— Betches (@betchesluvthis) April 2, 2020
Cruise lines have essentially been the face of the pandemic with horror stories all over the news about onboard quarantine of infected passengers and ships unable to dock. The cruise industry has faced the most intense struggles of any sector and is not currently part of the government bailout. One saving grace for the industry could be its affordable lines for those looking for a cheaper travel option. And things appear to be looking up for cruises, as a rep for Carnival Cruise Lines told TMZ that its bookings were up 600% from the previous three days once the company announced they would resume travel in August, and that their bookings were 200% higher than those Cruise Planners received during the same period last year. Just when I thought we would all wake up and realize that cruises are basically floating environment-killers that spread disease.
The Year Of Realizing Things
While projections are looking bleak for the travel industry, there is a lot of optimism around the opportunities for change and growth in every industry, especially travel. This might seem hard to believe right now, since all anyone is doing is baking banana bread, but they say this is how innovation starts.
In a recent webinar with LinkedIn, Co-Founder and CEO of Airbnb Brian Chesky predicted that we’ll see decades of revolution condensed into weeks. Confident in people’s desire for travel and need for connection, Chesky is certain that we’ll see a resurgence in the industry. He sees it resurfacing slowly in a few steps, starting with domestic vacations, and traveling by car rather than plane. This means that smaller towns and remote areas would return to normal levels of tourism faster or even see growth (plus, cars are less bad for the environment than planes). We may also see a change in travel itineraries. Pre-pandemic, traveling was all about visiting landmarks (getting the best Instagrams) in high-density cities and checking off bucket-list destinations (the places everyone else in your feed has been to). Chesky claims we’re likely to see the end of that mindset, so be prepared for lots of rolling unpopulated hills in your Instagram feed. We’re not saying Iowa is the new Mykonos, but like, maybe we are.
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We can also expect leisure travel to resume before business travel, as conferences and large events are not expected to go forward in 2020. Additionally, with everyone adopting remote work, there may be a huge shift in the need for these events at all. With so many people working remotely, and companies realizing that you can be productive outside of the office, more people will likely relocate or not be tied to a city. As a result, there will be more demand for long-term stays in places like hotels and Airbnbs, as people take their work anywhere in the world.
We might also see emergence of new technology as we start traveling again. Think about it: Uber and Airbnb rose from the 2008 financial crisis, looking to provide more affordable ways to travel and for others to generate income. So we could see new innovations rise from the ashes of the pandemic. This could be in the form of robots in airports or start-ups looking to better handle travel disruptions or detect fevers. Maybe we’ll finally get hover cars, who knows?
Another important change will be people’s increased concern regarding health and safety, which would affect every aspect of travel. That girl Clorox-ing her armrests and tray table before take-off is no longer a crazy germaphobe, she’s doing the bare minimum to avoid getting sick. You were concerned about the cleanliness of your Airbnb when booking? You can bet this is much more of a concern post-pandemic. *Googles the dirtiest part of an airplane*
Part of the industry most heavily affected by new sanitization standards and personal space could be the activities and adventures sector, valued at $254 billion in 2019. Some companies might not be able to adapt. Can you imagine going zip-lining and using the same gloves or helmet as the person before you? Or sleeping on a cramped boat with 20 other strangers during Yacht Week? These activities were hotbeds for germs before the virus, now we’re just hyper-aware of them. We might consider our own, more spacious accommodations over experiences like sailing along the Dalmatian Coast or the through the Greek Islands on a cramped boat with 20 strangers.
Wake Me Up When We Can Leave The House
Over the last 10 years, the travel industry has grown exponentially with the help of technology. This has made it easier than ever for people to hop on a plane, but that growth has come to a halt in 2020. However, in areas like China where the virus has already peaked, domestic travel has resumed and brings some hope.
Unfortunately, with the current state of the U.S., it doesn’t seem like we’ll be back to “normal” anytime soon. There are few that industries have suffered as much as travel since the beginning of 2020, but the challenges bring opportunities for change. While it may take time to rebound, we will return to travel and see new breakthroughs in the way we visit our own countries and the world. Maybe if we keep ordering tie-dye loungewear, we’ll accumulate enough travel points for a trip in 2021. For now I’ll settle for margaritas in my living room and making my Zoom meeting background a tropical location.
This article has been updated to reflect the correct amount of the airline bailout.
Images: Russ Widger / Unsplash; betchestravel / Instagram; betchesluvthis / Twitter