Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, planning for a trip was a complicated and stressful process. However, factor in all pandemic-related rules and restrictions of destinations now, and the temptation to stay home or give up on planning has mounted. Unless someone is an avid traveler just waiting for borders to open, that seems to be the case.
From travel visas to booking flights and accommodation, we took travel for granted. Just mentioning how travel has changed since the pandemic, and abandoned airports, last-minute change of plans, and “extended” trips probably come to mind.
The first documented case of how the pandemic impacted global travel was the outbreak on the Diamond Princess cruise ship that had to quarantine off the coast of Japan back in February 2020. At this time, the severity of the virus had not yet hit the rest of the world. Nevertheless, an 80-year-old passenger from Hong Kong boarded the ship and then disembarked on the 25th of January. Once he had left, news of the virus spread, the ship was put on full lockdown, and the man tested positive for COVID-19.
With this incident and the world going into total lockdown in March 2020, tourism came to a screeching halt, with people having to self-isolate. Even people outside of their home country just waiting for news on when they could go home were disheartened when they saw the prices of ticket sales rising and flights constantly getting canceled. However, they pretty much only had two options, either pay the insane price for the flight ticket home and be quarantined when they arrived back or wait it out and hope that the country they were in would let them extend their visa.
Due to the pandemic, many countries and regions have implemented quarantines, entry bans, or other restrictions on inhabitants of or recent visitors to the most impacted areas. Other governments and areas have implemented worldwide travel restrictions that apply to all foreign countries and territories or have made it illegal for their residents to travel abroad.
The restrictions, combined with a diminished propensity to travel, have had a negative economic impact on the travel industry in those regions. The decline of business travel and international conferencing and the emergence of virtual, online alternatives could have a long-term influence.
Due to all of this, when it comes to travel these days, it is not just about finding accommodation or flights that are affordable. A lot more research goes into booking a trip to check whether the country’s borders are open, the different rules and regulations when it comes to quarantining, vaccinations, or testing requirements. Interestingly enough, because of the pandemic, travel agents are becoming popular again. With so many things to navigate through nowadays, it is always good to have a helping hand. Whether a travel agent or a platform like Covidcontrols, it is highly recommended to use these resources to find out information about a destination. Agents are highly recommended because research has shown that they have insight and knowledge about health and safety guidelines and the ability to change travel plans if necessary.
The pandemic has changed how people spend their money on travel, especially when it comes to flexibility and travel insurance. Before the pandemic, people were more likely to opt for lower prices for airfare or accommodation regardless of restrictions and time consumption. However, people are more than likely willing to pay more for the added convenience of flexibility if plans change. Another trend that seems to be happening more is people opting for travel insurance. In the past, when people saw the option of whether they wanted to purchase travel insurance, they would look the other way and proceed to checkout. However, these days people have realized that there is the potential of getting sick while they are away, and they would need to check whether they have COVID-19 before boarding a plane. As a result, insurance is essential to cover costs if that were to happen.
Third, the work dynamic has also changed since the pandemic hit. With self-isolation also came work-from-home, where people who were used to going to the office regularly had to deal with a new work dynamic at home. However, a group of people has worked remotely for some time before the pandemic; digital nomads. The digital nomad lifestyle is typically viewed with envy because people who choose it may work while traveling the world without worrying about where their next paycheck will come from. While the COVID-19 pandemic has put backpacking on hold, allowing only those with a considerable amount of money and who are wholly vaccinated to travel, many people in the “traditional” workforce have begun to feel like digital nomads, even if they are in the same country and city as their home. Many organizations are now planning to enable their workers to work outside of the office for the foreseeable future, as more employers resort to remote work to keep themselves and their employees safe. Countries have begun to issue digital nomad visas in response to two primary needs: tourist places seeking to attract visitors while avoiding the risk of outbreaks and employees seeking a break from self-isolation.
By definition, all digital nomads are remote workers. A remote work visa is a document or program that permits someone to work from anywhere in the world. The existence of digital nomad visas is that legislation in different countries differs, and most of the time, entering a nation as a tourist does not allow the tourist to work while they are there. Surprisingly, most countries that do provide a digital nomad visa do not employ that exact term. Instead, they give their programs a unique name or use terms like “residence permit” to describe them. Even though these visas are not explicitly designed for digital nomads, it is legitimate to refer to them as such if they meet the criteria.
Related to the digital nomad lifestyle, another trend that has emerged is ethical tourism. The concept of supporting local communities and understanding the impact of the place people visit have been around for a while. However, ethical tourism is essential moving forward. As we have seen on the news, the tourism and hospitality industries have been impacted so negatively due to the pandemic. The trends show that more people will opt to stay at local hotels, eat at local restaurants, and buy from local stores in the future rather than stay in large, multinational, corporate hotels. More people now are also looking for more eco-friendly vacations, with research finding that 61% of people want to travel more sustainably in the future due to the pandemic. The concerns and preferences of the customer base have a significant impact on tourism trends. As a new generation gains clout in the marketplace, the values that drive their purchase decisions rise to recent tourism trends. Ecotourism is just one example of these tourism trends, representing a growing demand for ethical and ecological vacation options among travelers. Simple improvements, such as the availability of carbon credits when booking a trip or the choice to hire an electric vehicle instead of a conventional vehicle, are examples of eco-travel. Tourism with a volunteer component, such as working on a wildlife reserve or doing conservation work, is more advanced.
Another issue that is certain about traveling in the future is that health and safety protocols are here to stay. Especially when it comes to proof of vaccination, people will have to go through more processes if they are not vaccinated. Additionally, when it comes to masks on airplanes and other modes of public transportation, people will have to get around the idea that using a mask will most likely become routine practice. Whether airlines, cruises, hotels, restaurants, or bars, safety, and hygiene practices have been incredibly important. For this reason, increasing cleaning, socially distanced seating, and providing hand sanitizer are other health and safety protocols that have been put in place.
With travel restrictions and people’s reluctance to travel, it seems evident that another trend in the industry is to have a larger focus on local customers. This does not mean they’ve given up on international travelers completely, but, rather, they’re focusing on features and highlighting facilities that would bring in the local crowd. Whether it is having an excellent WiFi connection for people looking for a staycation or having great food, tourism brands need to entice locals to choose a specific place over others in their area.
Another trend that seems to be on the rise, not just in the tourism industry, is the growth of contactless payments. Customers no longer need to carry around a debit card or credit card to pay for meals, hotel stays, transportation, and other services, thanks to the introduction of solutions like Google Pay and Apple Pay. By allowing contactless payments, tourism businesses have eliminated the friction and enhanced check-in and checkout times. It also implies that things may be paid for quickly, which encourages impulse purchases. Contactless payments are more popular than ever with the coronavirus outbreak, as employees and customers want to avoid handling cash and cards.
Another big tourism trend impacting the industry is virtual reality. Capitalizing on the technology can provide any area of the tourism industry an advantage over competitors who have not yet adopted it. Customers can take virtual reality tours of hotel interiors, restaurant interiors, outdoor tourism destinations, and more from the comfort of their own homes. Companies can accomplish this, most importantly, during the decision-making stage of the client experience. This can mean the difference between a client completing a booking or canceling it, and VR is beneficial in the context of COVID, when customers may be having second thoughts and require further encouragement to go ahead with their plans.
Along with virtual reality, the tourism business is becoming increasingly reliant on artificial intelligence. Machine learning is now well ingrained in tourism marketing, with AI aiding in the personalization of the experience of finding and booking tours and vacations. In environments such as smart hotel rooms, AI is becoming increasingly valuable in anticipating the expected demands of guests and fine-tuning the environment and services to meet their wants and preferences. Artificial intelligence is being used in a variety of fields, including customer service and security. Self-driving autos and virtual tourism guides are two future AI tourism technologies to keep an eye on.
To cut through the chaos and skepticism on global travel, Covid Controls is a website that answers all the questions people may have about traveling these days. Covid Controls was founded in May by a group of people who met while working at the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART), a research centre founded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in collaboration with the National Research Foundation of Singapore in 2007. The idea came about when the team realized that there was no comprehensive platform specifically focused on travelers. Covid Controls monitors travel restrictions and COVID-19 data worldwide to deliver “everything a foreign visitor needs to know” before traveling.
Information is shown via color-coded maps. Countries can be searched by name to see which places admit tourists (and which don’t), whether airports are open, and whether documents or medical testing are required to enter. If a lockdown is in effect, travelers can check whether curfews are in effect and whether restaurants, bars, stores, and tourist attractions are open – with or without restrictions.
This COVID-19 data is beneficial for determining the scope of a country’s current outbreak. It’s updated daily, and data is vetted both automatically and manually. New daily cases, the number of individuals currently sick, containment information, and outbreak patterns are all available to travelers. The US Department of Health and Human Services, numerous tourism boards, official foreign travel advisories, and local news agencies are among the 500 official sources tracked by Covid Controls.