Recent surveys from sources like the Global Business Travel Association and a new BVK survey focusing on US traveler’s recovery preferences show that travel’s “new normal” won’t look like anything we’ve seen before.
American travelers for both business and leisure say they won’t be flying internationally any time soon. National travel will take first priority as the BVK survey shows. Most travelers will not want to go further afield than US destinations for some time.
For those who wish to know what “the new normal” will look like in international travel, one aspect is sure: it will likely be a lot more expensive.
Although fares are down at present because flights are empty, airlines are already looking at cabin designs that give customers more room in flight and most realize that flyers will not want to sit in the middle seat for some time to come, if ever. The days of packed flights at discount prices may be over. Even the CEO of Ryan Air, Michael O’Leary, recently stated that if he can’t put flyers in middle seats he will close shop.
Governments are considering the reality of requiring health certificates to travel and are already conducting temperature checks. If travelers are required to get an all clear at the airport and are unlucky enough to catch a normal flu or cold, they may have to rely on travel insurance to refund some or all of their expenses on a cancelled trip. Higher prices on travel insurance are likely to result if consumers feel the onus to purchase plans to cover all their international travel.
Hotels, too, are likely to be part of the upswing in prices as recovery moves forward into 2021.
New hygiene rules and social distancing may mean the end of the large scale events that hotels rely on for bookings: conferences, weddings and other social events. The consumer will most likely foot the bill.
The vaunted “democracy of travel” that we have taken for granted for many years will be challenged or may disappear entirely.
Even something as simple as a shared Uber ride may be no more. In NYC, currently, such rides are not permitted but it is hard to think of many people returning from the airport who would want to share their ride with a stranger.
Given such scenarios, how can travelers plan so they won’t be price locked out of their future dream journeys?Think of any international trip as a premium journey, as a trip to Bhutan currently is, with restrictions you must pay for. Realize that you may have to pay for documentation over and above what you normally pay for to prove your state of health or immunization. Last minute jaunts to far flung destinations may be a thing of the past for now, depending on your budget and resources.
Know and use your miles wisely. Airlines are reaching out to their elite status holders and ensuring that they know their miles will not expire prematurely. Check your status and keep on top of it, especially with code-sharing airlines.
Book with a travel agent. Now is not the time to try to figure out potentially needed refunds on your own. A good travel agent will get you the most flexible arrangements available and you may need them.
Consider using a travel specialist physician prior to leaving on any trip of over a week to an international destination. Physicians who specialize in “travel medicine” are up-to-date on immunization requirements and levels of infection around the world. A consultation with one of these physicians before your trip can help you be aware of risks of infections, help you plan for the safest trip possible and advise on what insurance is optimum given the time of year, infection rates, etc.
Consider a “travel bond.” Some companies are floating the idea of travel bonds which will allow you to pay now for travel later. The longer you hold the bond, the more value it accrues. These bonds help hotels stay in business during quarantines and help consumers plan for more value-added trips in the future.
Postpone the multi-generational trip until after a vaccine is available. The risk of traveling with over 60 individuals at higher risk along with children and parents is too high. Pare group trips down to the lowest number of individuals possible and opt for the most flexible travel plans on the market.
Pay for flexibility from now until there is a vaccine. Do not purchase any products, seat, tour or hotel room that you cannot get at least a partial refund on in case of pandemic shut-downs. Experts see a phased recovery that may move in and out of partial or total shelter-in-place orders.
Choose to travel to destinations where you have contacts or family with whom you can stay in case of a shut down. The recent experiences of thousands of influencers who ended up with overextended vacations at the whim of their hosts should be instructive. If you have family or friends in a given destination you may be able to stay with them instead of a hotel until you can find a way home.
Jim Hepple is an Assistant Professor at the University of Aruba and is Managing Director of Tourism Analytics.