With the world of travel slowly opening up again in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, new protocols will have to be introduced for tours and organised adventure trips so that travelers and staff feel safe and protected. Experts have shared with us some of the ways that the industry, and travelers' perspectives, may be different going forward.
1. Staying local
Leigh Barnes, chief customer officer for Intrepid Travel, feels that hyper-local and domestic tours will come back first because people will feel more confident with their own governments' assurances. "They’ll be eager to get out and discover their surroundings after months spent in isolation," he says. "You can expect travel businesses to adapt and respond to these new patterns of travel by developing new experiences to cater to the demand.”
"Experiences will cater to a local crowd," agrees Will Gluckin, head of communications at Get Your Guide. "As the global tourism industry begins its long road to recovery, the first travelers will be locals exploring their backyards. Activity providers will need to adapt the tone, content and itineraries of their products to accommodate this "new" audience, and tell different stories with greater cultural resonance to locals.
2. Social distancing
According to Rob Rankin, president of Incoming Tour Operators Association Ireland, touring and activity holidays will be impacted by the capacity constraints that comes with social distancing. He believes that tour operators will adapt their product to ensure adherence to health guidelines, such as by shortening daily coach touring distances and not moving to as many different locations daily. "Activity providers will offer more outdoors options to less populated locations, with a smaller group capacity that would be easier to socially distance," he predicts.
3. Responsible travel
A legacy of the common experience we have all been through with the virus may be that we think more about how our choices impact people in other countries. In terms of tours and adventures, Bruce Poon, founder of G Adventures, anticipates that we may think more about people as individuals wherever we go and conduct ourselves accordingly.
"By employing local people rather than parachuted-in “experts,” by either staying at local hotels or with families and paying them for the privilege, and by buying your drink from the guy with the cart on the street instead of from the big chains, you can make sure that more of your travel dollars stay in the pockets of the people who make your trips so memorable," he says. "Believe me, you can put together a successful trip on the same principles and not only enjoy it more, but come back knowing you’ve made the world a better place, not a worse one."
We have had plenty of time to focus on nature lately, and Leigh Barnes of Intrepid Travel believes that future tours will focus more on wellness and the wilderness. "Because 2020 has become defined by spending a lot of time at home and indoors due to the pandemic, we anticipate 2021 will be about getting outdoors and getting active, with tours centered around things like cycling, trekking and mindfulness," he says. "Far-flung destinations with fewer visitors and ones that offer a deeper connection with our natural world, such as the Galapagos, will see a lot of interest.”
Going forward, it's likely that technology will play a role in enhancing experiences and ensuring safety. Visitors to Beethoven Haus in Bonn don't get devices provided for tours, for example, but media guides to the museum in several languages can be downloaded for free to play on the visitor's own device. "The days of paying with cash, receiving a paper ticket and renting a headset to listen to an audio guide are gone," says Will Gluckin from Get Your Guide. "In the "new normal," experiences will be contactless, and this is an opportunity to enhance the guest experience through a more seamless combination of physical and digital."
As the world has slowed down to deal with the COVID-19 crisis, we are getting to see wonderful aspects of nature come to the fore. In the absence of boats, vaporettos and gondolas, the world-famous canals of Venice have been sparkling with unusually clear water and are full of fish, for example, and lions are exploring parts of Kruger that they didn't venture to before.
"We should use this time as a rare chance to think about how we travel, and how we can aim to be more ethical and sustainable travelers and global citizens in the future," says Leigh Barnes of Intrepid Travel. "We suspect that consumers will be much more aware of where they travel and how their travels will impact the places they visit. We hope this will result in people making more conscious decisions to travel with responsible companies that prioritise the environment and the well-being of local communities.”
7. Spreading out
Popular locations may become less desirable going forward, as the more in demand a place is, the more likely it is to attract crowds. Some experts think that we may come to see the world as a fragile place and realise that descending on it in hordes to enjoy adventures may not be the right thing to do. "What if we decided to spread ourselves out a little, both to see parts of the world our friends, families, and Instagrammers have never seen, and to land where we land a little more lightly?" says Bruce Poon, author of "Unlearn: The Year the Earth Stood Still."
"That means not only going beyond the usual destinations, but spreading ourselves out in the more popular ones as well. Do you want to see Paris? Of course you do, who doesn’t? But do you have to be in the same room with the Mona Lisa? Take a walk on the Left Bank, sure, but then head into the outer arrondissements, where so much of 21st-century French culture is being made. You can still go to Italy, but maybe head up to Piemonte instead of Tuscany, skip Como and try Lecce."
Being in confined spaces may not appeal to us at present, which is why self-guided tours may gain popularity over the next few months. "We may see a possible increase in self-drive products as travellers look to cocoon themselves from others," says Rob Rankin, MD of Vagabond Tours. Indeed, RV sales and rentals are taking off in the US, with peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace, RVshare, reporting a 1000% rise in RV rental bookings since early April.
9. Health and safety
In the wake of COVID-19, health and safety will be the top priority for every tour operator and activity provider. They will strive to implement new hygiene and operational standards to ensure guests feel safe and secure, according to Will Gluckin of Get Your Guide. "Along with general best practices like masks and social distancing, operational changes like smaller group tour sizes, capacity restrictions in major attractions and distanced seating on bus tours and day trips will become normal," he says.
Lockdowns are easing globally as the planet adjusts to a new normal. Find out how COVID-19 is changing travel.