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Post COVID-19: Experts on the future of travel

After months of staring at the same four walls, there is finally hope on the horizon. Al fresco dining spots and shops are opening, the sun is out and that summer holiday you had envisioned suddenly feels possible.

And if you’re eyeing-up holidays, you’re not alone. In a recent, survey, 53% of Europeans say they want to visit other parts of Europe this year, purely for a holiday. Meanwhile across the Atlantic, Americans are already planning their vacation to Europe for 2020. 

Even so, once the world starts moving again things will feel very different. New social distancing and hygiene measures will mean that we might have to plan our holidays a bit differently. At the same time, open-air venues, bigger sidewalks, and less crowded spaces might end up making travel more enjoyable.

We asked a range of experts, from Lonely Planet to National Geographic Traveller UK about how travellers are likely to behave in the coming months and what these new experiences might look like.

Here is what they had to say.

We'll go back to nature

Most research suggests that beaches, parks, and other outdoor experiences are very consumer friendly for travel activities. Travellers will be keen to avoid overcrowded areas and maintain social distancing.

“There are going to be two conflicting forces that will shape behaviour as result of COVID-19. The first will be a desire to compensate for the long stay home and be outside, wander in nature and recover using nature's rejuvenation forces,” says Milena S. Nikolova, expert in behavioural economics and travel behaviour trends. “[At the same time] this will make people cautious about traveling to places where they may be in touch with more people and crowds.”

This will fuel demand for outdoor nature-based experiences, she says. Travellers will want to share these experiences with close friends or family members that they have missed during lockdown while keeping them away “from other larger groups of people.”

Lori Pennington-Gray, professor and director of Tourism Crisis Management Initiative, agrees on the nature point, adding: “There is going to be a conversion of indoor activities into outdoor environments.” Gray has been tracking American travellers’ perception of risk and says outdoor activities are attractive because they offer a safer environment. Indoor theatres for instance, are converting their car parks to drive-ins as it has been recognised as a great way to consume a fun movie while adhering to social distancing. She says drive-ins are likely to become popular for the remainder of the summer.

Travellers might also decide to hire a car and drive to nearby spots to get out of the city. The Champagne region, about a two-hour drive from Paris, might offer a welcome respite. Rich with vineyards, winemaking, and easy-to-explore Gothic town Reims nearby – regions like this could see a surge in travellers.

This demand for drive-tourism is something Gray is seeing: “People might want to avoid heavily concentrated areas and drive to smaller towns.”
 

Local people who live in a particular arrondissement of Paris or a particular area of Brussels are going to know which places have opened, adjusted well, and have had some buzz generated

Do as the locals do

It might be time to befriend a local if you fancy a trip as you will receive useful insight on places to eat and hangout, reliable routes, and off-the-beaten track tours. Tom Hall, VP of Experience at Lonely Planet, says relying on local guidance will be key to be able to navigate around cities post-coronavirus.  

“Local people who live in a particular arrondissement of Paris or a particular area of Brussels are going to know which places have opened, adjusted well, and have had some buzz generated. In some ways that's going to be one of the hardest things to find in an urban environment when you are exploring.”

Major attractions will become more enjoyable

Major attractions across Europe are starting to open again, with certain adaptations. It is likely that a stricter booking process and one-way systems will become an integral part of the visit. This might make for a more intimate experience; the Pompidou Centre in Paris, one of Europe’s largest art museums for instance, will do guided tours of permanent exhibitions for groups no larger than 10 people.

The Eiffel Tower is offering visitors stairs-only access and the Carrousel and Tuileries gardens, one of Paris’s most popular green spaces is already open, adhering to social distancing measures. Musée du Louvre has made online booking an essential requirement.

“You could be looking at a much more pleasant experience for people who are going to see the big attractions. The combination of having lower overall visitor numbers plus real thought and sensitivity going into making a visit manageable and worthwhile will make a huge difference,” says Hall.

He continues: “In some ways smaller museums have a bit of a challenge because it could be a good time to see all the classics. You might think – this is my chance to see the Mona Lisa. There is an element of this being an opportunity for very popular cities – they are never going to have a cleaner slate than this to think about how to do this.”

Street art will see a boom

It is likely that certain areas of cities will attract visitors very quickly as they are already set up for the ‘open-air’ experience. The Street Art museum in the 13th  arrondissement of Paris is one example. Featuring gigantic murals by urban and contemporary artists, the open-air museum has become quite a hotspot for tourists. Similarly, graffiti-friendly city Ghent in Belgium enjoys a thriving art scene with maps to help visitors find the street art. 

Corinne Menegaux, general director of the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau sees open-air museums becoming a top choice for the summer.  

“The public was already in the mood to visit smaller attractions so what we are seeing now is just an acceleration of existing trends. It is important these smaller museums get the visibility they deserve and its where the opportunity lies – a way of visiting cities differently,” she says.

 

Safety protocols will become more obvious

As travellers start to book hotels and make reservations at restaurants, they will be keen to see some form of ‘stamp of approval’ to show the right hygiene measures have been implemented. Radisson Hotels has already implemented a 20-step protocol for hotels, and a 10-step protocol for meeting areas. Timhotel in Paris has released a graphic showing what measures it is taking such as leaving the breakfast box outside the room and not re-letting vacated rooms for at least 24 hours.

Gray refers to the global safety protocols released by the World Travel & Tourism Council and says we are going to see a lot more of this.

“It is important that the industry puts the effort into responding to the demand so that people feel safe. Otherwise people will just pick the business that [goes above the bare minimum]” she says.

The Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau just launched its “Caring attitude” Charter which expresses the commitment of establishments to respect the protocol of sanitary measures. So far 200 have signed up and counting. “We've been working hard on that and the idea is to reassure customers from the common voice about all the measures we've taken,” adds Menegaux.

For Nikolova, experience and service providers will need to find smart ways to communicate information about hygiene protocols: “They will have to find a good balance between not making this information trigger fear and negative emotions but presenting it in a way that fuels a sense of safety and care.”

Seamless journeys will be remembered

Disjointed social distancing measures will greatly impact the way a traveller will remember their holiday experience. One set of rules in one city versus another will not go down well.

“[The experience will count not just from when a traveller gets on the train] but also when they visit the Louvre or go out for dinner. At each stage, it is going to feel different. In some ways there is an opportunity to make that experience into a better experience. There will be an interesting exchange between tourists and people who live in a destination which I think is going to be a hugely positive one,” says Hall.

Unusual dining experiences

Some food chains have had to adapt quickly to keep customers coming.  Maria Pieri, editorial director at National Geographic Traveller UK, refers to Mediamatic ETEN, a vegan restaurant in Amsterdam that is experimenting with a new socially distanced layout with servers wearing face shields and gloves: “It has set up these greenhouses and is welcoming tourists and allowing them to dine.”

 

Family might come with you – or you might fancy an escape

Our reactions to travelling post-lockdown will vary according to our age groups and our life situations. A recent study suggests that millennials will be the first to travel as they are considered to be less risk averse than Gen X and Baby Boomers. A desire to get away alone or with friends might be desirable after being stuck in a small flat. At the same time, a sense of shared experiences might make you want to take your family with you.

“Millennial's don't feel as threatened as perhaps the older generation do. If you are living in a one or two bedroom flat and have no green space, you probably can't wait to get away,” says Pieri. Pieri also envisions families visiting each other and making the most of the summer, “depending on FCO advice”.

Hall agrees, adding that families will want to travel together and will probably look for a trip close to home.

“Families have obviously been through quite a different experience over the past few months than people who don't have children. There's been a lot of home-schooling and time spent cooped up together.”

And while the older generation might be more cautious to travel initially, their knowledge and experience in navigating tricky situations will come in handy.

“They know where to receive information so that they can gather information to stay safe. All those experiential factors play a role and their willingness to go there or their perception of risk,” says Gray.

Hall agrees and adds: “This generation has been painted in all of this as being very fragile which does not match my experience of that generation at all. These are the people who really drove travel forward in the first place and who were out there exploring and breaking down barriers all throughout the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s.”

Get your bike ready

One positive side-effect of lockdown has been our planet’s chance to recuperate. We’ve seen an unprecedented drop in air-pollution compelling us to not undo all the environmental good that has come out of the last few months. Jellyfish have been seen swimming in the canals of Venice and even goats in an area of Wales decided to venture out into town, eating flowers and hedges in people’s gardens.

During lockdown, there was also a surge in bike-riding making it an even more common sight on our roads.  As the thought of using public transport feels more nerve-wracking now, e-bikes have become increasingly alluring. Amsterdam already enjoys a reputation for offering eco-friendly transportation, making it easy to get around the city. Paris has also accelerated its ambition to become cycle-friendly by 2024 by ramping up its bike lanes around the city, offering an alternative to exploring the city without using a hop-on hop-off bus.

“The first thing a person travelling to a city will look for is going to be: can I get on a bike?” notes Hall.

For Marina Novelli, professor of Tourism and International Development at the University of Brighton, the pandemic has provided an opportunity to create better partnerships, more sustainable solutions, and a better future for the younger generation. She also believes smaller businesses need to be supported now more than ever.

“The sector really needs to think about investing in cost-effective ways to replace plastic packaging and to encourage people to be environmentally friendly,” she says. “If you can prove that you are supporting the local shops and the environment – I think people are going to be really inclined to engage in that discussion. It should be a shared responsibility.”

 

Find out the latest travel information regarding COVID-19 here.

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