We hoped it would be a year of travel and exploration like never before. But the global pandemic has left us disconcerted and compelled us to bid farewell to all our grand plans for the year. As the novel coronavirus continues to ravage the travel and tourism industry, major economies around the globe— including the likes of Asia and Europe—are taking a beating, with a bulk of their finances drying up.
We believe that in the post-outbreak world, travel will revive and thrive. With travel restrictions eased, inter-state movement relaxed and several restaurants and bars reopened (on a takeaway basis), there is a beacon of hope that the world might return to normalcy. With travellers’ increasing aversion to mass tourism, we expect the post-crisis travel patterns to look somewhat like this.
What are the odds that your summer travel plans might actually work out? For those in the Baltic states, this isn’t far from reality. Many countries have mooted the possibility of establishing ‘travel bubbles’ or a ‘corona corridor’, as a route to economic recovery. Essentially, a travel bubble involves connecting two countries that have exhibited a great level of success, independently, in containing the spread of coronavirus.
Countries like Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have collaborated to soon let travellers move freely within the three countries. Australia and New Zealand also have similar plans underway. The two countries have agreed upon a trans-Tasman ‘travel bubble’ that will allow a quarantine-free flow of people. Given that both nations are at similar points on the COVID-19 curve, it would provide an impetus to their economies, while keeping the risk of international transmission of the disease low. This exclusive travel zone is said to be mutually beneficial and will kickstart the tourism sector.
The possibility of a vacation away from the COVID commotion is far from certainty, but a digital health passport may be the cue to resuming safe international travel. A concept akin to today’s grim realities, and one that has ignited a ray of hope among travellers, ‘health passports’ that determine and verify the health status of an individual might become the norm in the time to come. Travellers can have their coronavirus status catalogued either through self-declaration or via an authorised verifier. For vacationers in Europe, this digital innovation is a lot closer to reality. They could soon count on a ‘COVID-19 passport’ to travel within the Schengen states. The adoption of a health passport will not only provide significant relief to the tourism industry, but also substantially boost the COVID-19 testing capabilities of many countries.
For those of us bitten by the travel bug and longing to put our explorer’s hat on, intermittent travelling could be the next big thing. With several countries forced to extend their lockdown indefinitely, airports and airlines complying to strict social distancing norms and ensuring thermal screening at every checkpoint, the world might not return to what we deemed as normal. Pardon our cynicism, but travel might not be at will anymore. Seasonality and travel windows are set to be the new buzzwords. As the lockdown measures are eased, countries may permit windows of opportunity to travel that might last only weeks or even days, before restrictions are resumed and borders blocked. With airlines desperate to stay afloat, intermittent travel could also translate to a limited number of seats and a drastic surge in fares.
To be fair, we’ve been looking forward to this digital revolution in the aviation and hospitality sectors for decades now. Maybe being armed with just a passport won’t suffice anymore. A paradigm shift to touchless travel is much needed. New health screening, tracking systems and even wristbands with barcodes—straight out of the movie Contagion—could be a real prospect. A number of symptom-tracking and contact-tracing apps have already been rolled out. We’ve pinned our hopes to complete automation in the entire sector. An integrated digital identity will be the key to seamless journeys in the post-lockdown era. Travellers could manage their own profile, collect digital attestations (health credentials, immunisations, health status) and decide which information to share.