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August 6, 2020

How Covid-19 could change the way we travel—forever

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    The coronavirus pandemic has caused many Americans to cancel vacations, many companies to halt business-related travel, and some big shifts in the travel industry overall. Here's how travel likely will be different post-pandemic, according to experts.

    Infographic: The germs on a plane—and how to avoid them

    How much—and where—will people travel?

    Americans are likely to start traveling closer to home—once they again feel comfortable traveling at all, that is. According to Squaremouth, a travel insurance comparison site, based on travel insurance policies purchased between April 1 and May 10, domestic travel accounted for 48% of all planned summer travel, which was up by 15% when compared with the same period last year.

    Similarly, Roger Dow, CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, said research conducted by the association has suggested "that leisure travel is going to be among the first to come back," but "[i]t'll be drive and shorter flights regionally."

    Dow added that he believes the pandemic will inspire a renewed interest in road trips in America, especially to outdoor places. "I think you're going to see that Montana, South Dakota, and North Dakota, the more rural places, get a huge spike in travel," he said.

    And as a result of fewer people traveling in general—and fewer traveling abroad in particular—airline prices, as will prices at restaurants, hotels, and entertainment venues, said Rick Steves, and European travel expert.

    Further, as a result of America's coronavirus epidemic, remote work has become a part of mainstream working culture—and that could lead to permanent decreases in business travel, some experts predicted.

    Robert Crandall, former CEO of American Airlines, said, "You are never going to see the volume of business travel that you've seen in the past."

    Crandall believes business travel will decline by around one-third to one-half, as companies see that more meetings can take place virtually. "Everybody who depends on business travel is going to have to rethink their game plan," Crandall said.

    But increased remote work also could mean that more people take longer vacations, according to Jeff Hurst, president of the vacation-rental company Vrbo.

    "A lot of people have gotten comfortable that they don't have to squeeze a nine-day vacation into six. They can take the extra days and maybe work a couple half-days remotely," he said. "I do think we're going to start to see people be more creative on how they think about working from any house, as opposed to just their own house, or any destination as opposed [to] from just their office."

    New safety precautions

    Richard Fain, CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises, said he believes travel will come back, "[n]ot by reverting to what it was, but by adjusting to a world where all activities, everything we do in the world will have changed."

    Many of those changes include new safety precautions, experts noted.

    For example, some of the world's largest theme parks have announced and implemented mandatory temperature checks and mask-wearing policies, as well as spacing out lines and seats to allow for physical distancing and employing more virtual features.

    In Florida, Universal Orlando has announced virtual lines for some of its attractions. Similarly, Six Flags has said it will start moving towards an online reservation system.

    Museums likely will introduce comparable measures. The Louvre, for example, announced that it will require all visitors to schedule a time slot to enter the museum to control capacity and allow for physical distancing.

    "Some of the most iconic destinations, iconic attractions that people want to see, they might be scheduled—in the short term, anyways," Bruce Poon Tip, founder of G Adventures, said.

    Cruise ships also are likely to launch new similar safety measures, including temperature screenings and nixing traditional self-serve buffets.

    Where cruises port probably will change, as well, Fain said. "I think in the beginning, we are likely to see more focus on shorter cruises and on going to places where we can do more to control the environment."

    Hotels will likely adapt new safety measures, too, such as more frequent cleanings, installing transparent shields in some areas, providing visitors with hand sanitizer, reminding visitors to physically distance, and reconfiguring their lobbies to better accommodate physical distancing.

    Kate Walsh, dean of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration, said she expects hotels will use outdoor space more creatively and will get rid of items such as menus, minibar goods, and pens. Hotels also could make gym equipment available in guests' rooms or allow guests to reserve gym time.

    When it comes to air travel, airplanes likely won't change their capacity limits to better allow physical distancing, Robin Hayes, CEO of JetBlue, said. "You're going to definitely have to sit next to a stranger again, I'm afraid, on a plane," he said, adding, "Because [of] the economics of our industry, most airlines have a break-even load factor of 75% to 80%, so clearly capping flights at 55% to 60% … is not sustainable."

    However, Hayes said he believes airlines will need to make it easier for travelers to change their flights. "Because it's not ever really going to be acceptable, I don't think, for someone who is unwell to feel that they're being made to fly," he explained.

    Airports are likely to change, as well. Ty Osbaugh, aviation leader at the architecture firm Gensler, said he wouldn't be surprised to see an increase in biometric scanning and touchless technologies at airports.

    "If I could go from curb to gate without physically touching anything, it kind of solves some of the pandemic issues," he said. "I think there's a lot of people who would prefer to do that" (Sampson/Compton, Washington Post, 6/15; McCartney, Wall Street Journal, 7/29).

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