Impact of COVID-19 on Tourism – 2021 travel sector set to resume but not flourish

From March 2020, India in particular and the world at large came to a sort of standstill on account of the most unprecedented global crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic. While economies worldwide suffered setbacks, it is the impact of Covid-19 on tourism and travel that most severely affected the industry that contributes 7% of global trade. While on one hand travel and tourism contributed to the spread of the disease, on the other hand, it experienced the repercussions of the disease. In 2020, the revenues from tourism fell by almost US$1.2 trillion. The US$ 8 trillion industry even put 100 million direct tourism jobs at risk. Not only did the industry suffer but so did the population who was not allowed to travel freely in these last 10+ months. From the common man like the Indian dabbawalas who lost their jobs to students who could not travel to overseas universities, travel largely affected daily lives.

In 2021, as borders slowly reopen and inter country movement resumes, hard core travelers are now itching to get away from being indoors either for a holiday to lesser crowded place or to resume business interests. Given the circumstances with the vaccination just started, in 2021 the travel sector is set to resume but not flourish.

The impact of COVID-19 on tourism – How it has changed travel

Precaution is better than cure. Having said that, in 2021 travel is not on the priority list for many. The mindset, means, and method to travel for holidays and business both, internally and internationally has changed, and will continue in the foreseeable future, at least until the world is vaccinated and safe. As several restrictions continue to be lifted people are beginning to travel but with caution. The impact of COVID-19 on tourism is beyond revenue and profits. Here are some major ways it has impacted and changed future travel: –

Image credits: Quartz
1. Airline and Airport management

It is time to become e-travel savvy. From 2021 electronic luggage, passenger check-ins, and e- passport controls will increase to reduce airport staff interaction. Airports may introduce sanitizing booths before boarding the flight. Hong Kong is already testing such full-body sanitizing booths that spritz sanitizer on the traveller’s body for 40 seconds. Maintaining distance in the seating arrangement and in queues at the terminal will continue. While the missing middle seat is a short term and unaffordable solution on flights, there are other changes in the aviation industry that may continue even after 2021. For instance, no magazines on flight, disclosure of self-health forms, sanitagging luggage, sanitized secluded lounges, and travel insurance.

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2. International conferences and travel for work

Almost all international conferences in 2021, have been cancelled or postponed. Travel for company work has been the worst affected. Most companies are not allowing employees travel unless it is absolutely necessary. The two major reasons being – maintaining safety of the employee against contacting the virus and cutting down cost. The business travelers have started to travel but to a lesser degree. They are now checking on airlines and hotels that possess additional safety facilities. For example, a hotel that claims on its website “We possess an ozone gas generator which will be used in each room after a guest checks out and before the next guest checks in. This can reduce the presence of virus particles by almost 100% and is similar to technology used in hospitals” is definitely a safer choice.

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3. Bookings

Today beyond airline tickets there are entrance tickets for almost every monument be it from the Taj Mahal to the iconic Burj Dubai. Online entrance tickets will soon become mandatory – be it a monument, a museum, a mountain top, a place of worship, a gallery or an entertainment park. In order to dissuade tourists from standing in close proximity queuing up to buy a ticket, most places will make online entrance ticket mandatory. These tickets bought in advance can be downloaded on a smart phone for contactless entry on-site. There will be more discounts offered to tourists booking such tickets in advance.

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4. Workations

In a world where Work from Home is the new norm, workations are trending. A workation literally means – work+vacation.  Workations are temporary trips that combine work and pleasure. Highly popular with freelancers and others who can work remotely, workations are on the rise. In 2021, people want to step out of their homes and surrounding after the 2020 lockdown. Workations are a good option closer to home. Most people select surroundings away from cities like a hill station to find calm and boost productivity. As a change from routine they travel to smaller less crowded hotel properties, individual cottages or even their own holiday homes. All that is needed is a strong internet connection available at the destination.

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5. Domestic Trips and road trips

Restrictions on aviation services and the risk factor involved in air travel, has led to many to opt for road travel. Travelling in personal vehicles and rented cars emerged as a much safer option. Road trips not only provide one-of-a-kind experience but can be a great time for family and friends to strengthen bonds. It is also safer for children to travel. It is perfect since you don’t come in contact with large groups of people. In a country like India a road trip from North to South or East to West can take days or even months. From enjoying the hospitality of villagers to living in 5-starr hotels along the way, one can safely travel within the country.

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6. Consumer behavior

Safety is a concern until you get your vaccine shots. Those who have started to travel for important business after a gap of months are now looking for places less crowded, hotels with better hygiene facilities, and airlines that are limiting fliers on board or maintaining stringent passenger health and safety rules. Also, they are opting for hotels where restaurants limit diners at buffet meals, keep pools/beaches under scrutiny, have greater spatial layouts, and ample open air facilities for the public areas. People are yet vary with the second strain resulting in a lockdown again as in the UK. Will travel agents get back the large group bookings or will there be a shift to small clusters requiring curated holiday packages? As consumer behavior towards travel has changed in 2021, it will surely transform the travel and tourism industry.

Image credits: Pew Research Centre
7. Travel bubbles

Which country is safe to travel in 2021 is a difficult question to answer.It is yet to be seen how soon the world can go back to ‘normal’ anytime. Several countries have travel bubbles or arrangements with other countries which allow easier movement of people across the borders. There are many travel bubbles in place, allowing residents of various countries to travel freely by rail, air, and sea without or with minimal quarantine measures. As of August 2020, few countries like the Maldives, Sri Lanka, UAE, Japan, Egypt, Seychelles, Brazil, Switzerland, and France declared travel quarantine free. But before you travel in 2021, it is a good idea to check on the destination country rules for international travelers. A website like headout offers live updates on 194 countries in their Global Travel Reopening Tracker.

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8. Conscious travelling to digital travelling

During the global Covid-19 pandemic, there was a short-term reduction in air pollution. With no emissions from vehicles, the air to breathe became cleaner. Further, shopping reduced drastically except essentials that reduced waste from entering landfills and the oceans. All this made people sit up and become more conscious of the surrounding environment. 2021 will give birth to more conscious tourists and sustainable travel. Above that, there is also a growing interest in digital travel experiences that give virtual tours. In this tour, you book online and the tourist guide will lead you on a live session of the city tour while you relax in the comfort of your couch. 2021 has given rise to conscious travelers and digital travelers.

Image credits: The Economic Times
9. Travel Insurance

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world witnessed large scale cancellations of airline tickets, hotel bookings, tour tickets, cruises tickets, and more. While most companies offered an extension on the validity, some refused to refund the amount. This caused losses to many tourists. Of course, for the first time something of this scale affected the world. This is going to force future tourists to look for options that will safeguard their interest. Maybe it is time for the travel insurance industry to offer travel insurance with broader coverage to attract tourism. In a world of uncertainty yet, travel insurance is good to minimize risks and promote safe travel.

Image credits: Healthline
10. Travel with extra caution

What are the best precautions to take while traveling in 2021? That is a question which will be answered differently in 2021.  It will begin with – avoid traveling to areas with known severe outbreaks. When you do travel, avoid touching your face, eyes and mouth without washing your hands. Wipe down arm rests and table tops in hotels and airlines before touching the surface. Pre-book maximum travel tickets to have a contact-free experience on-site. Follow hygiene protocols like using sanitizer and washing hands often. Maintain social distancing norms in crowed places. Eat healthy food to build immunity. Was this what you were advised before you set off on any travel earlier? Surely not before 2021.

Conclusion

Tourism will reopen soon, but travel is going to look and feel different. The impact of COVID-19 on tourism has led to a 78% drop this year. While we are a long way from normal, it’s time to adapt to the situation and keep ourselves safe during travel. Social distancing may need to be followed and face masks may continue for another few months. Health will continue to be a priority with coordinated heath protocols firmly in place to protect both the employees in the travel sector and the global traveller.

Get ready to change from the carefree traveller to the conscious traveller. According to UNWTO World Tourism Organization, ‘Only through collective action and international cooperation will we be able to transform tourism, advance its contribution to the 2030 Agenda and its shift towards an inclusive and carbon neutral sector that harnesses innovation and digitalization, embraces local values and communities and creates decent job opportunities for all, leaving no one behind. We are stronger together’.

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