While travel is here to stay, here’s what will change

After months of being cooped up in their homes and having cancelled all vacation plans and business trips, the gradual resumption of international travel has easily become one of the most anticipated events for people across the globe.

According to hostel chain Zostel’s travel survey in July, close to 32 per cent Indians are looking to travel after 2020, whereas 36 per cent intend to do so this year itself, in the next three months. Although modest right now, travel is only anticipated to get more promising going forward. 

On the other hand, amidst all the enthusiasm, the industry is quietly reinventing itself in anticipation of how consumer behaviour will evolve post-pandemic. There could be changes in choice of destinations, increased caution around air travel, renewed preference towards staycations and short-haul travel, and an extremely vigilant eye on health considerations and more, all in the aftermath of COVID-19. To stay a step ahead in addressing these trends, the industry is doing all in its might to enable a safe, smart and digital approach to travel planning, santisation procedures and health and insurance formalities. 

With these new realities in play now, here is how travel will change in the upcoming era: 

Exclusive experiences 

Fairly early into the COVID-induced lockdown, some felt the era of affordable travel was over, in context to the new requirements of physical distancing, empty middle seats in airplanes, etc. Over the last couple of decades, the travel industry had seen a shift from being an exclusive experience to a more accessible and affordable one - with increase in number of budget flights, hostels, homestays, rental accommodations, and some nifty online travel planning. International vacations no longer were an elusive concept to those on a budget. 

However, this largely millennial trend of budget travel is now under scrutiny as the affordability of budget travel also brings with it an increase in human touchpoints via crowded aircrafts, public hostels, group travel packages, local public transport, etc. Until there is a fool-proof way of ensuring that these public spaces are sanitised and are safe, travelling might revert to being a bit of an exclusive experience for some time. 

Personalised tech to guide us forward

Before COVID-19, buying tickets online for tourist attractions constituted only 15per cent of all ticket sales. This will now see a shift change, as people start moving most of their transactions and purchases online. Personalised services that allow consumers to plan their travel with increased flexibility and digital solutions that let them do so remotely will be immensely popular. An added layer will be the need for remote planning of travel, with as few human touchpoints as possible, or with the help of a specialised experienced travel advisor. In terms of visa applications, this change is already coming into play with ahead-of-the-curve services and options like eVisas and ‘doorstep’ services for the visa application submission and biometric enrolment process, as well as pre-departure COVID-19 RT-PCR testing, among other services, to make travel planning a seamless and hassle-free experience for consumers. 

Longer vacations

With most people working from home in the last six months, smaller tourist locations such as Barbados and Estonia came up with concepts such as ‘Digital Nomad Visas’. The concept promotes the idea of remote working while being at picturesque locations, to help people take a break from the mundane while they’re still on the company clock. 

With the intricacy of planning that will be involved in ensuring a safe vacation post-COVID, people will increasingly see merit in spending a longer time away. Couple that with the possibility of working remotely while on a refreshing beach or amidst scenic mountains and you have yourself a possibly indefinite holiday.

Safer in the wild?

Since confined spaces offer a higher chance of contracting infections, travellers are now expected to explore locations beyond the usual urban tourist attractions. Which means museums, monuments, and art galleries will now be given a miss in favour of countryside explorations, vineyards, and trekking trails. This also means that we might see a big shift to second-city travelling, as travellers opt to avoid larger, and thereby more crowded, cities to visit more sparsely populated towns and countrysides in several popular destinations. 

A pandemic insurance

Most travellers who had to cancel flight and hotel bookings post the lockdown earlier this year were in for a rude shock - that their travel insurance did not cover a pandemic. Reading the fine print of financial statements is an often ignored practice, and most paid a heavy price for that this holiday season, even if this was something none of us could have anticipated. 

However, this has created a higher awareness in both the travel and insurance communities, as well as multiplied the caution with which travellers will now approach their travel insurance. In addition, travel insurance will now also be a more customised affair to accommodate needs specific to individuals, as opposed to the one-size-fits-all concept that it once was. 

Even with all these uncertainties around us, there is no doubt about the fact that travel will pick up pace within the next 12 months again. All that will change is the way governments, the travel and tourism industry, as well as travellers, plan for safety and public health - the new cornerstones that the travel sector rests on


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