Wearing a mask at an airport isn’t the only change that travellers will need to adjust to. We also need to change the way we think about travel.

As we adjust to our new reality of social distancing and hand sanitizer on tap, the travel industry has also had to make some major adjustments in order to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic. Aside from airlines and hotels changing their practices, travellers are going to have to change a lot of their habits and expectations, too.

Sustainability will be a challenge

Just a few months ago, many travellers would opt for a family homestay over a big name hotel or a cheap plate of street food over a chain restaurant. Now that cleanliness is more of a concern than it used to be, it might be more difficult for some people to choose home-sharing like family homestays or an Airbnb over a reputable chain.

Sharing a meal may change ©goir/Shutterstock

Nuseir Yassin, the creator of Nas Daily and author of Around the World in 60 Seconds, made his career by making videos while travelling the globe, meeting strangers, and sharing meals, homes, and experiences. However, he says it will now be a little more challenging to keep doing that. “There will be a lot less sharing of resources, so we will be sharing airplanes less, people will want to travel private more, anything to be away from others.”

But, that’s not entirely a bad thing. Social distancing guidelines are likely to cause limits on where travellers can go and what attractions they’re able to see, which could inadvertently promote a model for more responsible and sustainable travel. “Imagine Angkor Wat with a ticketing system limiting the numbers to a tenth of those we saw pre-COVID. So naturally, those unable to go to the ‘hot spots’ will seek out alternatives and discover the joy of going off-the-beaten-path,” says Jon Whitby, general manager at World Nomads.

People at the Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve Park in Buenos Aires city.
People at the Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve Park, Buenos Aires ©Natalia SO/Getty Images

According to Jon, travellers will also be motivated to help the communities in places they love after witnessing the economic devastation caused by the pandemic. “Travel, which had lifted millions of people out of poverty, is a force for positive change in the world, and in future, travellers will be motivated to spend their dollars wisely so they have the most impact on the communities in the destinations they love.”

Socially responsible travel will be more difficult in the short term as we adjust to a new normal, but in the long-run, more travellers will gravitate towards making environmentally and socially responsible choices.

Both locals and travelers will put their own best interests at heart

Alyne Tamir, founder of Girls Gone Global, a group for women around the world to discuss travel and women’s issues, was in Bhutan when the country got its first case of COVID-19, found in another American tourist. “Locals were extremely hesitant to interact,” she says. “I’m sure they were just worried about their safety,  keeping their distance, kind of concerned about me.” 

Visitors and locals are going to feel nervous in the early days ©posztos/Shutterstock

In order to break down this barrier, it’s important to understand that the roles and responsibilities have shifted. We used to expect services like accommodations, restaurants, or tours to go above and beyond and to cater to you, the traveller. Now, these services will likely put the well-being of locals first. “Locals will put their needs before travellers, so we will need to adapt to whatever the local scene is,” says Alyne.

When it comes to health and safety, expect a lot more travellers taking matters into their own hands and leaving less up to chance. US travellers purchase travel insurance at a far lower rate than other nations. Just 34% buy coverage for a trip compared to 93% of Australians and 65% of UK citizens, but that could change. “With travel insurance so prominent in the news because of Coronavirus we’re expecting an increase in that figure,” says Jon.

The purpose of our trips will change

Travel has become easy. It’s wasn’t hard to book a last-minute flight, pack a bag, and figure things out when you land. Now, travel is likely to get a lot harder, which means we’ll have to shift our focus in order to make the most out of it.

“We don’t travel for the location, we travel for the purpose,” says Nuseir, who travelled often to create travel and social impact videos. But now, he says his role as a content creator in the travel sphere has to change. “Now my role should become a lot more important.  I’m going to focus less on ‘look at this beautiful beach, look at this beautiful hotel’ and more on promoting globalization.”

Each of our individual drives to travel will be different, but as we’re all likely to travel less, it’ll be a lot more important to really understand why we want to travel somewhere so that we can really appreciate it.

Father and child having fun on beautiful beach, Chiba, Japan
Father and his little girl having fun on a deserted beach with cliff, Chiba, Japan ©Ippei Naoi/Getty Images

For Alyne, that why is to disconnect from her daily reality and reconnect with herself and nature. She says that even before COVID-19, and now more so that she’s stuck at home, she found herself on her phone too much, creating content too often, and generally too reliant on electronics. For her next trips, the purpose of her travel will shift. “I want to go somewhere and not be on electronics and just kind of change the way that I’m travelling. I want to go somewhere and just exist and enjoy the place.”

Once we’re able to travel again, people will probably still want to avoid crowded destinations. Whether this means travelling to spend more time in nature or choosing places that see fewer visitors comes down to each of us individually. However, what it does mean is that travellers will make decisions on their next destinations that are less about the physical location itself, but what it has to offer them on a personal level.

Unattended suitcase in departure zone at airport
Changes may even improve travel in the long term ©Justin Case/Getty Images

We’re Not Going Back to Normal

While some industries like retail or restaurants are looking for ways to go back to how things used to be, the travel industry, and travellers too, will need to make strides forward to a new normal.

These new changes we will face are not temporary. As travellers, we have a responsibility to local communities, the environment, and to ourselves to improve the way we go about exploring our world.

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