I must say, this blog post was meant to be about the Prague trip I took a month ago. However, my mind shifted elsewhere. I’ve had this one burning question since we went on lockdown. — when will we get to travel again?
To be fair, no one, not Google, not even the World Wide Web can answer us; but we damn well know “WHAT” can answer us — Coronavirus. It came into the world like a dictator taking control over our lives within days. It doesn’t even need an army. It is its own army and it’s the only one who will be calling the shots for god knows how long from now on.
The thing is, the travel industry is robust. Although it’s not immune to a bit of turbulence, it has a way of rising up to the next level and carrying on largely due to the simple fact that we, humans as a species, do love a good vacation.
In the last 100 years, there have been three cataclysmic moments for travel: World War II, 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis. With swathes of the world on lockdown, borders closed and world air capacity plunging to its knees, IATA’s CEO, Alexandre De Juniac even calls it the “gravest crisis for aviation”. According to him, we will undoubtedly look back at this pandemic as the fourth major event that puts travel to a halt.
So no one knows how Coronavirus will change the way we travel, or in this case, at this moment in time, no one will be able to tell how we will travel across the globe in the years to come.
So I’m making an educated guess with this. With that, I’m bringing you back to past events, when travel has been grounded before.
World War II: The beginning of the Jet Age
Commercial travel at the time was still in its infancy but it came to a halt in large parts of the world between 1939 and 1945, although that didn’t shook up travel and tourism in the years that followed, something else did.
In the late thirties and late forties, the Germans and the Brits were scrambling to develop jet engines. The first fighter jet went to war; the German Messerschmitt Me 262, took off in 1940 and the British Gloster Meteor made its debut three years later.
(Now, bear with me a little, I’ve been watching too many WWII documentaries).
Soon after the war ended, the two powerhouses started building jet engine technology and were soon sending off jetliners to far-flung destinations. The Boeing (everybody knows this plane right?) – the Boeing 707 became the MODEL and took its place as the market leader after three high-profile disasters of the first few pioneer jetliners.
Then there’s this thing we know all too well the “jet set” was born. On top of that, an odd phenomenon was born. Something humans have never felt before — the “jet lag”. Of course, decades later, aviation boomed and became affordable for the masses. In 2019 alone, 39 million flights took off. However, there are arguments that the Jet Age was going to happen at some point anyway. What’s certain (almost) is that technology advancement during World War Two made it happen a lot quicker.
9/11: The dawn of the security age
Most of us (including me) were still in school and were probably shocked by the images that came out in the papers. People falling out of the World Trade Centre. United Flight 93 hijacked and brought down Southeast of Pittsburgh and 4000 airplanes flying above American air space were ordered to land immediately. This event impacted global air travel and it lives on to this day.
When you think about it, it’s easy to forget how much aviation security has changed since that day. Today at airports you’re required to go through a full-body X-Ray scanning machine and frisking is a perfectly normal experience when you go through airports.
Malaysia however, only started replacing manual body searches with the full-body scanners in 2018 at both airports, KLIA and KLIA 2. According to MAHB, the travel industry had already welcomed 40 million passengers by August that same year. KLIA 2 alone registered 21.3 million passengers. The numbers were expected to grow and the Asia Pacific region itself will represent 53 percent of global growth.
Then again that was in 2018. Today, as you can tell, travel as we know it, is at a full stop, not just between nations but within nations.
The 2008 Financial Crash: The catalyst for change
As soon as the financial crisis hit in 2007 – 2008, many industries were falling apart as the world entered the global recession. Travel was no exception. The immediate repercussion was that people started tightening their purse strings. We delayed and cancelled our vacation plans and companies cut spending on corporate and business travels.
With this new mindset, travellers became more frugal, more focused on experiences rather than luxurious material goods and with it, a different kind of travel emerged. It gave way and set the stage to a little disruptor called Airbnb in 2008. Holiday lettings have always been there but are largely offline and certainly not gathered on one platform. By 2017, Airbnb is bigger than the World’s Top 5 hotels put together.
Following its lead, other digitally-led startups started paving their way into our lives and started disrupting the travel industry such as Whatsapp, Uber, Grab. They changed the way we travelled, spend and communicate while on a holiday.
Another trend that followed is the emergence of travellers from developing countries. In 2009 those countries made up 31 per cent of international travel arrival versus 21 per cent back in 1997. In just 5 years after the financial crash, it became 41 per cent in 2014. I’m viewing the financial crash not so much as a cause but rather a catalyst for an expedited change in the travel industry in the last 10 years.
Coronavirus – what next?
No other industry in the world has been hit as hard and as fast than travel. The scale is hard to comprehend and it makes sad reading for anyone in the industry. Perhaps it isn’t so sad for me because travel and blogging isn’t my core bread and butter.
However, it affects the communities whose survival depends on the sector and need our support. According to WTTC, the domino effects of COVID-19 is that 10.3% of GDP is from the travel & tourism sector and with this, 74 million jobs are at risk and 1 million jobs are lost every day. We are seeing this happen in real-time.
I’m beginning to realise that travel is no longer the right of the fortunate but a luxury to be protected and celebrated because now we have had to stop and appreciate what it’s like to leave our homes on a moments notice for a spontaneous weekend getaway.
So once we start re-entry into ‘normal’ life, we will be changed travellers and most likely with different priorities. I know I will. Though there is no doubt our desires to travel remains, we will, I suspect be more cautious in our choices and will be influenced by different factors.
Once the pandemic ends and the world returns to normal, what changes will we have to look at?
Companies around the world are forced to adapt to new ways of digital working and conferencing and after a while of working this way, processes will surely get sleeker and become the new norm. Will there be a justification for expenses to fly all the way to New York or London to attend a meeting or a conference in the post-COVID world?
Hygiene while traveling
One likely change that we’ll see is how we approach hygiene on our travels. In the same way, 9/11 has led to tighter security, airlines and cruises are likely to introduce stringent procedures to ensure passengers are healthy and doing everything they can to stop spreading diseases.
Of course, it’s ridiculous to think that all air passengers will have to go through temperature checks before boarding a flight – as is our current situation now. Not only at airport arrivals but in our homes too, especially for those living in an apartment, condo or a gated community. But you never know.
Travellers including me will start checking their travel insurance policies. In the wake of the pandemic, many insurance companies have redrawn their policy terms and conditions, imposing limitations on what will be covered when future pandemics occur. Not that I’m saying there will be but best to have a backup plan than being sorry right?
A positive impact: environmental pollution reduced
In the last 3 months, greenhouse emission and pollution have fallen across the world as countries enter lockdown and transport grind to a stop. Satellite images show the reduction of nitrogen dioxide emissions fading away over Italy, Spain and parts of the UK since the lockdown began. Who knew that it would be quite so easy to do.
The question is, will this pause in emission last? It really boils down to whether we’ll keep travelling as much as we did before Coronavirus or if this tribulation will change our behaviours and actually keep us closer to home.
I have no doubt that we will be travelling again soon enough. The resuming of air traffic may not be the best thing from an environmental point of view, but surely will be welcomed by millions of families globally whose livelihoods depend on tourism and will definitely present relief to economies that rely on tourism dollars.