We are living through one of those times in history when everything changes – a moment in time we will collectively come to describe in terms of ‘before’ and ‘after.’
In the context of the travel industry, that moment came when the novel coronavirus pandemic was declared.
Before the virus, travel was cheap, plentiful, and pretty easy. ‘Overtourism’ was a problem that risked ruining sites from Machu Picchu to the Louvre as 1.4 billion tourists circled the globe last year.
After COVID-19, everything will be different.
Travel will be less frequent, more difficult and probably more expensive.
The moment in time we are experiencing now is not unlike 9/11 – a sudden shock to the system that will lead to permanent changes, that will eventually come to feel routine.
That’s because coronavirus has been apocalyptic for the travel industry.
Air travel is down by 95 per cent, the Las Vegas strip has gone dark, cruise ships are stuck in port, and the ‘happiest place on earth’ — Disneyland — faces an uncertain path to reopening.
For each one of those examples, there are thousands of people directly impacted; the taxi drivers, baggage handlers, pilots, hotel cleaners, gate agents, waiters, and ticket takers, have all taken a direct hit.
The travel sector has grown to make up about one in ten jobs, worldwide, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).
“It is across the board,” said Gloria Guevara, WTTC president, “because of the connectivity.
To claw its way back, the industry is going to have to make serious and permanent changes, which will, in turn, change the way we all travel.
“I hope they don’t think that things are going to be exactly as they were prior to COVID-19,” cautioned Lori Pennington-Gray of the University of Florida’s department of tourism, hospitality and event management. Her department maintains a ‘travel anxiety index,’ tracking how the public feels about travel – to no one’s surprise, fear and worry have shot through the roof – up 311 per cent at their peak.
An Ipsos poll conducted exclusively for Global News found only 20 per cent of Canadians are likely to travel outside the country in 2020, even if it’s allowed, while 50 per cent said they were not at all likely.
That same poll found only slightly more openness to domestic travel – 37 per cent would travel outside of their home province if allowed
Travel faced a perception problem, starting in the early days of the pandemic, when cruise ships became a high-profile breeding ground for the virus.
There was the Diamond Princess, the Zaandam, and the Westerdam – to name a few.
And there was the Grand Princess, which Bob and Dorothy Grubb of British Columbia, were on board as people started to fall ill.
They first noticed something was wrong when their favourite waiter, a man named Xavier, wasn’t there for dinner service.
“One evening he just wasn’t there and I asked what happened – ‘oh he’s off sick’,” explained Bob Grubb. “He was back the next day and I said ‘Xavier you look tired’ – he said ‘I’m okay.’ The next day, Xavier isn’t there, he’s off sick again.”
Within days, the boat was sailing back towards California, as the U.S. Coast Guard airlifted COVID-19 test kits to the passengers.
“Off to our cabins, meals placed at our door with a knock at the door and that was the end of any contact with people,” recalled Grubb.
After days of waiting for a plan to exit safely, they were repatriated to Canada, and rode out quarantine in Trenton, Ontario, before being allowed to return home.
That was probably the last cruise the Grubb’s will ever take.
“We’ve made the decision — we are not going on a cruise — period. End of story. Too risky, too risky,” he said.