When will travel resume? Will it ever return to what it once was? We have so many questions and there are so many unknowns right now. What is clear, though, is that the crisis is forcing a change on us and while it is fresh in our memories, we will crave a different kind of travel. This is not necessarily bad news. In fact, on Earth Day last week the UN announced we could use this crisis as an opportunity to ‘build back better’, and why not apply that to rethinking the way we travel? After all, when practiced sustainably, tourism has the potential to contribute both directly and indirectly to all the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
So, after several long weeks of lockdown and restricted movement, what will the future of travel be like? And what concrete changes can we expect?
1. A change in our preferred modes of transport
With flights characterized by close proximity and people in large numbers, it’s no surprise that airports and flights have got a bad rap during the crisis. For the first time in decades, air traffic has experienced a spectacular drop and it’s likely we won’t rush into planes when lockdown ends. Instead, in the short term, it’s expected that individual modes of transport will become more popular. The classic road trip, with the freedom that it offers away from the crowds, may be revived. Just as people have increasingly started cycling to work in cities, people may also give cycling holidays a go.
2. A more mindful approach to travelling
In the longer term, it’s also likely we’ll be more selective about our holidays, and will seek more meaningful and longer trips instead of frequent, shorter trips. Slow travel may gain momentum, with travelers in search of authentic and simple experiences. Try asking any urbanite stuck inside their apartment for the past few weeks and a simple retreat to the countryside would sound like heaven. It’s also unlikely we’ll want to go places known for being overcrowded. Those areas usually plagued by overtourism may be shunned in favor of less traveled-to places.
Beyond this increased mindfulness in choosing our next destinations, what the crisis may have brought is a newfound awareness of our surroundings and our place in the world. The feelings of vulnerability instilled by the crisis have increased our understanding of our interconnectedness as humans and the necessity of empathy and solidarity. Likewise, the crisis has forced us to reevaluate our links with the natural world; not only are we a direct cause of what is happening to us, but we have witnessed the restorative power of nature during the lockdown, with wildlife taking over our streets and harbors. We can only hope that this new awareness will encourage feelings of solidarity and respect. Travelling may be inspired by this new consciousness, whether through voluntourism, supporting populations abroad, supporting your local hospitality and tourism industry, or through renewed conservation efforts.
3. More demanding customers and more ethical brands
This crisis has been a stark reminder of our impact as humans on the planet and of the need to protect ourselves against future hazards. Because the climate crisis is set to have more devastating effects than COVID-19, it is likely that people will come out of this crisis more conscious of the risks and more eager to affect change. Some governments have started spelling out plans for a ‘green’ economic recovery, as with the Petersberg Climate Dialogue, a two-day online conference between 30 environment ministers.
Travel will not be exempt from this and travelers are expected to start asking more from their holidaymakers. The tour operators, airlines and services that will embrace this shift to reinvent themselves and cater to the new demands of exigent customers, by putting the green transition at the forefront and setting themselves apart as ethical operators are expected to be favored by customers and acquire a competitive advantage in the rebuilding phase.
In spite of the catastrophic effects of the crisis, we can choose to view the crisis as an opportunity for instilling positive and long-lasting change. With regards to travel and tourism, a clear silver lining is that the crisis has the potential to inspire a paradigm shift towards sustainability, which could have a positive effect on both our environment, our local economies and communities. It is increasingly sustainable travel that we will crave after the crisis.