Some of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus in Asia and Europe are finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. But even if life starts to return to these places, there’s one thing that is probably still months away from getting back to normal: travel. The virus has certainly exposed more than a few cracks in the foundation of our society, not the least of which is the way we travel. No one can know for sure, but the coronavirus might change certain aspects of travel forever.
The end of giant tour groups?
Nothing spreads a virus faster than people densely packed together. That’s why one of the ways coronavirus might change travel is in reducing opportunities for this kind of tourism. I, for one, would be really excited not to see giant commuter buses clogging up small towns all over the world. It wouldn’t restrict anyone from traveling, they would just have to do it in a way that is not so disruptive and causes so much crowding wherever they go. Banning tour groups would certainly mitigate the damage done by a contagious virus – there’s only so many people one person can infect compared to the spread 40 people traveling like locusts can achieve.
Will cruise lines finally get the kind of regulation they should?
Cruise ships have become floating morgues during the coronavirus pandemic, and financially they’ve never been in worse shape. For the same reason these companies can get away with hiring foreign crew for absolutely shit pay even though they basically work 24 hours a day, cruise lines aren’t eligible for the federal aid designed to help businesses stay afloat during the pandemic. Some cruise lines might not make it, and those that do may have to change the way they do business so they can weather storms like this. This might involve adhering to stricter international health regulations, or changing the country where they’re registered so they have some kind of governmental backing when a major issue threatens their entire industry.
Major restrictions on Airbnb?
Airbnb has had locals open their homes to travelers for years, but people who have made a business out of it are undoubtedly hurting right now. While travel is effectively cancelled, people who make a living by renting out 5 or 6 or 10 apartments all over a city are left with the respective number of mortgages and no income. In Prague, hundreds of properties in city center have been suddenly thrown into the long-term rental market for a fraction of what rent cost here two months ago. Some of those people might lose their properties because of debt while others find a more stable way to maintain their investment, effectively gutting the platform of a chunk of its rental properties.
In addition to Airbnb hosts pulling out of the platform themselves, the pandemic might lead to greater restrictions imposed on them by the government as they try to mitigate the financial harm to the local economy. Airbnb already has a terrible reputation with locals around the world, so this might be one of the first things governments regulate to prevent another collapse caused by the local housing market being tied to the tourism industry.
A drop in international travel?
In addition to the unprecedented losses in income that people are experiencing en masse, international travel is currently hindered by closed borders and heavy regulation. To prevent the continuing spread of the virus, countries all over the world have banned tourists from entire continents, including their own in some cases. The effects of these decisions will probably reverberate for months to come. Surely, no country that has the virus under control wants to open their borders to their next door neighbors if people are dying there by the thousands every day. Some countries have imposed mandatory quarantine periods for anyone visiting, effectively ruining any chance at a vacation there. The combination of restrictions and uncertainty will make even the most intrepid travelers want to avoid crossing international borders for a while.
If and when the coast is clear, many people won’t be able to afford international travel for some time. Some people can’t even pay their mortgage or rent right now, so flying to another country is probably the last thing on their mind. This could lead to lower prices as airlines try to woo customers back, but it may also lead to airlines going out of business or cutting routes. It’s very likely that the freedom of affordable movement we’ve enjoyed for the past few years will be curtailed at least for a time.
Are facemasks now an essential travel item?
What Asian countries have known all along and people around the world are just starting to learn is that facemasks aren’t designed to protect the wearer; they’re designed to protect others from the germs the wearer could otherwise transmit. The only way for facemasks to protect is if everyone wears them. During the pandemic, many countries have imposed mandatory though temporary facemask requirements. But it’s possible this trend will persist in travel. Trains, planes, and buses expose you continuously to other people’s coughs, sneezes and spittle. The enclosed nature of travel, even intercity travel, suggests that facemasks could become an indispensable travel accessory when travel becomes possible. You can coordinate them to your outfits like we do now with shoes.
Will major cities stop taking their locals for granted?
Especially in Europe, there’s a lot of talk about restaurants and other businesses that cater to tourists having to shut their doors. Is that really such a bad thing? If locals can’t afford to eat somewhere or they’re not interested, why should that place exist? Why should 24-hour clubs remain open if the only people willing to pay the exorbitant cover charge are visiting bachelor parties? Mediocre restaurants with menus in 12 different languages might not see some business for a while, but maybe that’s a good thing. In many ways, tourism pushes locals out of their own cities. Restaurants that cater to tourists take over the beautiful squares and avenues, leaving little for locals to do in city center.
For the first time in decades, the locals of European cities will get to enjoy their cities all to themselves this spring. No tour buses, no crowds of people, with beer in city center down to $2 from $6. If the sudden freeze in travel ends up forcing local businesses to put more effort in attracting the residents of a city instead of just the visitors, there’s a lot of beer drinkers that will be happy about that.