Comment: What will travel’s ‘new normal’ look like

WTTC president Gloria Guevara outlines likely changes for industry’s different sectors

The future of travel is always a hot topic of animated discussion. But given the perilous situation now facing the travel and tourism sector due to the Covid-19 pandemic, casual conversation and idle speculation have given way to an urgent and pressing need for a clear vision.

Tens of thousands of businesses throughout the sector globally are desperate to chart a way back to profitability and begin welcoming guests once more.

There is no doubt the travel and tourism sector is in a fight for survival. Research by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) already shows the sector is facing more than 100 million job losses worldwide, at a cost of up to US$2.7 trillion of GDP.

But what will this road to recovery look like? And what form will the ‘new normal’ be as countries begin to loosen their lockdowns and consumers start to plan trips again?

WTTC is in a unique position to help plot the course. For the last few weeks, we have been marshalling the efforts of the private sector, sharing best practices from different regions around the world to work on the path forward.

This has led the development of our Travelling in the New Normal plan of coordinated actions which offer a safe and responsible road to recovery, to enable consumers to start planning trips in safety again.

We strongly believe a public-private collaboration between business and governments is vital to developing new health protocols which will form part of a safe and seamless travel experience and provide the necessary reassurance needed for travelling to resume.

These will enable a gradual return to travel over the coming months as a ‘new normal’ emerges before a vaccine becomes available on a mass scale to inoculate billions of people around the world.

We believe travel will first return to domestic markets with an increase in popularity for staycations. This will then lead to travel with a country’s nearest neighbours before expanding across regions in the coming months. As confidence returns and borders reopen, we will finally see the resumption of journeys by business and leisure travellers to long-haul international destinations, first to those countries less severely impacted by the Covid-19 outbreak.

We also predict younger travellers, in the 18-35 age group, who appear to be less vulnerable to Covid-19, will be among the first to begin venturing out once more.

Peace of mind will be provided by protocols developed by WTTC in conjunction with key multinational organisations, including the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other health experts who contributed by providing their experience from various global medical crises.

Travellers might also be tested at airports before they fly and upon their arrival at their destination. They can expect to see social distancing measures at airports during boarding, and wear masks while onboard, along with intensive cleansing regimes. These measures will be combined with contact-tracing, via mobile app, that will allow flights to leave airports Covid-19-free.

Hotels are already introducing measures to ensure world-class standards of cleanliness and guest safety. These include room-only check to limit person-to-person interaction; alcohol-based wipes and hand sanitizer stations at frequent points including where luggage is stored; contactless payment instead of cash; using stairs more often than lifts where the two-metre rule can be harder to maintain; increased signage and fitness equipment being moved for greater separation.

Cruise operators will take further measures to ensure ships are Covid-19-free zones, with  staff wearing gloves at all times which are frequently changed; room service options changed to avoid contact between waiters and guests; social distancing at buffets and more frequent room cleaning.

Social distancing will be implemented where practical, with contactless payments becoming commonplace. However, this will only happen if governments around the world agree to a common set of health protocols such as those we’ve outlined.

It is vital for the survival of the travel and tourism sector that we work together to map out this road to recovery, through coordinated actions, and offer the reassurance people need to begin travelling once again.

From past experiences we have learned that when the protocols from private sector are taken into account and we have a coordinated approach the recovery timeframe is significantly reduced.

We must avoid new, unnecessary procedures that create bottle necks and slow down the recovery. However, a quick and effective restart of travel will only happen if governments around the world agree to a common set of health protocols developed by the private sector, such as those we’ve outlined.

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