What will the future of travel look like?

The future of travel has, perhaps, never been in greater doubt than it is now.

When coronavirus started its steady sweep across the globe in February, it seemed like a storm that needed to be weathered – but that business as usual would resume at some point.

But eight months on, with localised lockdowns still in place, countries being added to quarantine-on-return ‘red lists’ and continued uncertainty over second (or third) waves of the virus, many are now trying to adapt to a future in which coronavirus may continue to play a part.

If that is the case, it’s illuminating to ask how travel will adapt to a virus (perhaps other than coronavirus) in the long term. Will it be the end of travel as we know it? Or simply another risk which can be mitigated through sound travel prep?

Online

At one extreme, many companies have already put in place ‘virtual’ alternatives to products or services which have been hit hard by the drop-off in travel.

Accommodation platform Airbnb and tour company Intrepid Travel have both launched online experiences, allowing their networks of providers to give tours or teach classes online.

Adventure sports and events platform Rad Season, meanwhile, quickly pivoted to provide info on live-streamed concerts and events, as well as podcasts with tethered adventurers, whilst real-world festivals fell like dominos in the early days of the virus.

But whether these continue as a revenue stream post-pandemic or not, staring at a screen will only get you so far. Travel is fundamentally an ‘in-real-life’ experience and there is little that can replace the feel of sand between your toes or the evocative aromas of a night market.

An emphasis on ‘local’ experiences offers a glimpse of how travel may adapt. The uncertainty of the past few months has meant that many have opted to holiday closer to home – and perhaps gained a new appreciation of the beauty that exists on their doorsteps.

At the moment, planning your trip around a single country is certainly easier than planning a multi-country trip – and having to adhere to separate travel restrictions enforced by national governments.

Fat bears

Which is why some still prefer to explore more remote locales, virtually.

But, for many, the urge to travel far and wide has not diminished. And, generally speaking, that means hopping on an international flight.

Airlines have been among the many companies hit hard by the sudden fall in holidaymakers. How they’ve reacted has hinted at the procedures that may form the ‘new normal’ of the future of travel.

This has involved greater efforts to disinfect planes, aiming to leave seats on flights free to allow for social distancing and extending booking flexibility normally only offered to premium customers in an effort to entice those who, understandably, fear their trip being curtailed by restrictions.

Will all these measures continue if coronavirus remains a part of our lives long term? Most probably. But expect to see prices rise as they try to recoup their losses.

All in all, how companies – and travellers – have adapted to the tumultuous past few months has hinted at the future of travel longer term. Whether these changes stick may depend on the public’s willingness to opt for ‘local’ and ‘online’ over ‘exotic’ and ‘far away’.

Time will tell, of course, but coronavirus may have the deciding vote.