Tourism and Future Prospects in Covid Times

by Alex Espanola and Aphrodite Cruz

The corona virus has decided the course of history for every person in the world. After a century from the last pandemic, we have come full circle so to speak and the first quarter of 2020 ushered in a new era where social distancing is the basic precept of all socio-economic and cultural systems and processes.

In the travel industry, social distancing will be the defining factor in how travel will be done. From pre-tour up to post-tour, the processes, standards, cost of travel and rates of services, frontliner competencies, and tourism policies will change and evolve at this point in history.

If the last decade was characterized by democratization of travel where cheap travel, budget airfare, DIY tours became the latest byword, the coming decades will see an inverse marked by relatively higher costs of travel and rates in transport services, accommodations, and frontliner services.

In early Covid pandemic times, a period where a vaccine or cure for Covid-19 is not yet available and the world is still in the onset of adaptation, leisure travel will be considered a high-risk activity. Due to the threat of infection and possible death, unnecessary activities such as leisure travel will become impractical, unethical, and in some cases legally restricted. Countries and governments will enforce quarantine, monitoring, and regulating measures in such a way that it will consume time and resource allotted for travel activities. In the consumer side, individual disposable income will be alloted to basic needs or worse be depleted due to prolonged quarantine expenses and unemployment. In sum, leisure travel will be highly unlikely during Covid pandemic times due to the fact that such act may compromise and put people at risks for infection, death, as well as further contribute to the spread of the virus. Thus, unnecessary travel during a pandemic is a major public health issue and is seen to be restricted or logically unlikely to happen until such a time that a vaccine or cure be discovered and made available worldwide.

In Covid-adapted times, (where either vaccine or cure is not yet available but societies have learned to adapt amidst the threat of Covid-19 and other novel viruses and biohazards coming out and introduced), travel will never be the same. Due to preventive and adaptive measures, we will see an institutionalization of digital information technology worldwide to address these threats to the human race.

National and universal ID systems, biometrics, health tests and certifications will be made mandatory where some individual rights may be compromised for the greater good. Surveillance, monitoring, and enforcement will also be integrated from major air and sea ports, transport terminals, hubs, accommodations, and tour sites acting as health and security checkpoints that travelers will have to go through. We will also expect the introduction of AI and robots in these areas to limit direct human contact. Air purification and disinfection technology will be integrated in closed systems to ensure a sanitized and enclosed environment. Overall, we will see the integration of new technology in the daily lives of people.

In the transport services, air, land, and sea travel will have a reorganization and standardization of seating arrangements, capacity and payload, and commuting procedures. Gone are the days where bus, trains, vans, and other forms of transport are jam-packed to accommodate more passengers and earn more income through volume. Covid-19 will eventually drive the final nail in the coffin for old jeepneys and habal-habal and other public transport services. Motorcycle travel or anything on two wheels will be exclusively for one person/driver only. In general, tariff will increase and transport services and systems will be upgraded to match the new demands of requirements in the Covid-adapted world such as vacant seats in between passengers and sanitizing measures that entails higher operating costs to ensure a safe travel.

In the hospitality and accommodations sector, we can expect a reorganization and standardization of room classifications, dining, public spaces, amenities and other services and setups that are in line with social distancing principles. With businesses operating in 50-60 percent of target occupancy rate and capacity, rates are expected to increase to adjust to shifted operating costs and margins. Due to longer travel processes and quarantine procedures, longer stays for travel will be needed. Thus, we are looking at travel activities that are quasi-quarantine in nature such as long-stay rest and relaxation, and experiential tourism with emphasis in solo to small tour groups. We can also see a pivot in hotels and resorts as quarantine facilities so that travelers can maximize their stay in a specific destination.

Tourism front-liners such as tour guides, drivers, hotel staff & services will need added skillsets & certifications where tour guiding and tourism services training and skills will merge with public health. Professional clothing and attire will integrate self-protective measures such as face masks, gloves, and other applicable PPEs. Soft skills will evolve in an environment where only the eyes are visible, where smiles cannot be seen, and touch is prohibited. As tourism front-liners dealing directly and being exposed to guests, frequent testing will be made to ensure that tourism activities and services will be done in a sanitized and compliant manner.

With social distancing, we can see more people traveling solo and in small groups. Travel agencies and tour operators will continue to exist due to the need for pre-arranged and packaged tour services point-to-point. However, these businesses will have to go through new set of trainings, certifications, and obtain permits that will match the new standards and be compliant. With higher risks in traveling, we will expect more travelers to avail travel insurance. Tour service agreements and cancellation policies will likewise change and be adapted to the new normal. Illegal or fly-by-night tour operators peddling cheap tour services over internet platforms as well as online scammers will have difficulty in a highly surveilled and regulated new world order.

The Covid contemporary times will be beneficial to the environment with less carbon footprints left in tourism activities. Sustainable tourism will become the norm and standard with focus on optimal output, maximized and intelligent use of resources and long-term in vision and scope.

In sum, we will see a rise in the overall cost of travel and tours products and services due to social distancing measures and supply chain systems. Thus, operational costs, rates and tariffs for all travel and tourism-related services will be relatively higher at the onset and shall adjust in time in relation to prevailing supply and demand. Covid Tests and Certifications will be needed and will be considered an extra cost for traveling. Passengers will be paying for the cost of other seats that will be left vacant due to social distancing requirements. Front-liner rates of service will increase due to the added costs in training and certifications, and daily expenses. Hotels, resorts, and other accommodations will likewise increase their rates to match the new occupancy rates and metrics, operating costs in manpower, technology, and maintenance. Tour operators will readjust and increase their rates based on prevailing tour costs, operating expenses, and margins. As such, travellers, tourists, and the tourism shareholders need to realize and accept that the world has drastically changed and will never be the same where biological and environmental factors brought in by the latest pandemic will force everyone to adapt and adopt new ways of living.