The old saying “You get lemons, you make lemonade” has probably been bludgeoned to meaningless numbness with over-use and is certainly too glib to describe the COVID-19 situation. But I will say, in my experience, with every challenge comes opportunity.
COVID-19 has obviously decimated the travel and hospitality industry with loss of income and loss of jobs. It is devastating.
However, it is forcing the industry to take a long and hard look at itself and to start adapting with changes that will probably become a staple.
Not all these changes need to be an inconvenience, nor do they need to downgrade our travel experiences. Some of the COVID-19 fallout could be positive. Of course, I am not suggesting it is all wine and roses. It is not.
But, cruise ships, hotels, airlines and all hospitality/tourism sectors are having to examine how they can create a healthier environment for their clientele.
Hygiene standards must be elevated for any business to survive in a post COVID world. Assurances need to be there.
I feel like the future has been fast forwarded by this pandemic. We have been forced to be innovative, seek solutions with technology and to abandon ‘old world’ thinking and complacency.
Air Travel in the COVID-19 Era
I cannot count the amount of times guests arriving for a cruise would manifest a cold or flu symptoms a day or so after a long-haul flight. Pre-Covid-19, that was an explained and accepted consequence of air travel.
Certainly, this should not be the case after the pandemic has been neutralized in terms of vaccines. Airlines are having to upgrade their filtering systems on board. These will stay.
These are HEPA filters that remove the airborne particles that inevitably accumulate with time and mass. This use of high-efficiency particulate air filters will be employed.
Cleaners, along with cabin crew, will be sanitizing surfaces and high touch areas while the interior will be fogged with disinfectant. Hopefully, this will be a continued practice long after the COVID-19 crisis is subdued.
The big negative to all this, however, will be TIME. Passengers have limited patience and pressing schedules/connections. Airlines need to turn around fast to be profitable. How would all this extra attention to cleaning details affect that? I would imagine it would be a substantial impact.
Marketing from the travel industry will be targeting health security as much as a destination.It will also be bringing in some imaginative and generous Rewards programs to build brand loyalty.
While many may argue that this is whole pandemic is a touch too much of paranoia, the frailty of our immunity to an ugly virus, from the flu to something as threatening as COVID-19 has been brought into our focus.
My argument here is, if I can get off a flight or have the guests that cruise with me with less afflictions of flu, colds or anything else, how can that be bad?
Measures presently taken on the airlines
This is very much a haphazard program of some airlines enforcing very strict protocols while others are more relaxed. I do wish the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Federal Aviation Administration along with other governing bodies would release an all encompassing playbook for ALL airlines operating.
Passengers are confused by all the different levels. Some are insisting on a fast COVID 10 minute test, others have you at a kiosk checking your heart rhythm and breathing. Some take your temperature. Most insist on a mask. Some keep the middle seat open while others cram every seat.
It is definitely not a pleasant process flying right now. I hope it improves. Once some standard enforced regulations are put in place, it will take the stress of guess work for the passengers out of the equation. It will also start to install trust and encourage the flying public to return.
The way Hotels are looking to address the COVID-19 challenge
Hotels have also had to examine their cleaning and hygiene standards. Although you could safely say that most were good already, now they will have to be exceptionally good.
Now, a few chains have already implemented sealing rooms after cleaning to prove that all company regulations of cleanliness have been attended to.
In other words, a suggestion that the room is 100% sanitized and ready for your occupation. The protocol will be deep cleaning after every guest has checked out.
The cruising industry
It is no secret that this is a segment of the hospitality has taken, perhaps, the hardest thumping.
In an analysis of one of the most prolific virus outbreaks — aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship early this year, the indications are that it was the tiny, floating droplets that were the primary driver of virus transmission.
So, certainly a no-brainer would be to look at the ventilation system on board and to adopt restrictive protocols to assure safe distancing. For a large cruise ship, this is very problematic.
- All passengers required to wear masks in for your entire journey
- Maintain 1.5m distance in lines boarding the coach and on tour
- Certain seats are designated no sitting areas to ensure social distancing.
- You must sanitize your hands when getting on the bus
- Your temperature may be required be taken before boarding and if your temperature is over 37,5 degrees you will not be allowed to board the bus and your ticket will be forfeited.
- The bathrooms onboard all buses will be locked for safety and hygiene purposes.
Some coach companies have adopted plastic screening in front of each seat to avoid any chance of contamination.
Vacation Rental accommodations such as AirB&B
The real threat of contracting the virus is from other people. Person to person transmission is the most proven and common way to contract the virus.
So, it stands to reason that if you are with family/partner and staying in your own accommodation, preparing your own meals and not in a high traffic area like an hotel, the environment will be safer.
That does not mean it is risk-free. Science and medical professionals suggest that you pay attention to the high touch surfaces such as remotes, handles, light switches etc. The recommendation is that you do your own personal wipe down.
Cooking utensils and kitchenware should be washed by hand or given a cycle in the dishwasher to eliminate any virus presence.
The air in any space should have recycled within 3 hours of any premises left vacant. Of course air conditioning without a sophisticated filtering system may be a risk factor as viral droplets can survive on some surfaces for 72 hours.
However, science seems to be suggesting that a very intense packet of droplets (i.e. in a sneeze that can produce 30 000-100 000 droplets and a cough 3000-8000 droplets) would be a high risk for infection. Smaller quantities would have less efficacy.
The Enhanced Cleaning Initiative was launched in May by airbnb. Known as the Cleaning Protocol, Hosts must undergo and enroll in an education and certification program.
Additionally, to the cleaning mandates, any listings in this program must maintain a 24-waiting period after a guest checks out before entering to clean.
This ensures that no property is flipped in the same day. Another option open to the Hosts would be Booking Buffer.
This is less stringent then the Cleaning Protocol but will make a buffer mandatory to those in this program.
This is a longer vacancy period between stays so that any guests knows that, aside from cleaning, there has been no activity in the property during that time. 72 hours will be automatically blocked between guests in the booking program.
Hosts who participate in the Cleaning/Buffer programs will be indicated by a badge.
This means that it is not mandatory for airbnb hosts to join the program. So, if you are looking for extra security, the badge will show it.
Unfortunately, the downside to all this will be less availability and more costs with cleaning fees surcharged.
I think many overlook the effect of the COVID-19 fallout and adjustments needed.
Our focus is on precautionary and reactionary procedures. But what of the human element?
Pandemic Post Trauma Syndrome (PPTS)
While there is no official such moniker as PPTS, there is certainly PTSD (Post traumatic Syndrome Disorder) that will present in many people after the worst has passed.
According to mental health experts, a lingering anxiety, fear, the sense of a lack of control, the fear of death and panic may be an issue for many.
This is a massive interruption in our lives and 2020 will forever live in infamy. We are still going through this pandemic and probably have not been able to process its significance right now. We are living through history and it is profound.
We have felt the economic impact and the pain it is inflicting on so many, from finances to the loss of loved ones. It is a crisis that will linger in many forms after the dust has settled and ‘new norms’ are put into place.
Whether we want to believe, like some, that this is just media hype or actually accept what the scientists tell us, the year has been a momentous episode that will forever be remembered by all who have lived through it.
At the very least, I think we will come out of this with a more profound sense of what to expect in terms of our health and security. I imagine we will be mildly germophobe and aware of risk behaviors and environments.
The days of shrugging off the minor violations of a dirty ‘anything’ have gone. Ultraviolet light psychosis, at least in our minds eye, will most probably dominate our thoughts.
We will be looking at our hotel rooms, public areas, restaurants and a whole gambit of hospitality with a CSI forensic attention.
We pay good money to be pampered or given good service. A smile and friendly execution and competitive pricing should not suffice anymore.
Our health and safety and that of our families, needs to be paramount. Add the friendly service and cost effectiveness to that, and this should be a bare minimum of our expectations.
The COVID-19 Hangover - Some Good and The Ugly
Obviously, searching for a silver-lining is misguided. We would all have been a lot better off if this virus would have kept the hell away. But it did not. The reality is that from this situation, we have to look at it as a reset in the travel industry.
The earth is scorched and we need to rebuild. The advantage here is that we can re-design the industry with thought and lessons learned. We can create something better and more resilient. The growth will be stilted. Regardless of vaccines and magic bullets, damage has been done.
It has yet to be proven long term, but the trend of many travelers is to focus on regional or local travel. Domestic travel may increase substantially as wary tourists avoid long haul flights to other countries or continents.
The exploration of ones own country has become very popular. * As an interesting side note: The inquiries into RV’s has skyrocketed.
Travelers may be looking to a more flexible cancellation policy without draconian financial penalties. If someone feels unwell, they should not be forced into taking a flight or booking into a hotel.
Naturally this is opening the proverbial Pandora’s box – policies easily targeted for abuse. The tourism industry will have to come up with some very strategic thinking.
More biometric screening and touchless aspects of travel will start to surface. Technology will be innovated and geared to avoid the handling of physical items such as cash.
From travel through airports to other types of operations, the goal will be to limit or completely abolish the need to pull your wallet or passport out.
Aspects of gluttony existed pre-COVID. I recall being in tourist areas such as the Louvre in Paris and wishing to God, I was anywhere else. The crowds were suffocating. Those days should be gone. Now, controlled access and smaller groups should be the norm. Museums and attractions worldwide will most likely adopt scheduling and time slots to control the crowds.
This could mean younger international travelers with less money and time would be arriving at foreign shores. Of course, it would mean a new model would have to be created to cater for them. Certainly, Tour Operators may have to look at their B game. The what-if scenario needs to be added to their playbook.
Events and Festivals could be changed for a very long time. Large crowds gathering en-masse will be unlikely. Ideas being floated would be to have ‘campus’ style locations with large screens from which to watch the main event. Music festivals would not quite be the same with 1.5m distancing and masks
The King of Wishful thinking
There is still no one person or organization who could accurately predict the future of tourism.
We all are giving it our best guess. I think, if we surveyed our own thoughts honestly, and those of others, we would find a common thread of wishful thinking that everything will go back to our old normal once we have a global vaccination.
I am one of those people, but it is an improbable hope. Things will have changed. I accept that. The changes I hope will be positive.
I would like to see tourism adjust from this pandemic in a positive way. I resent the greed of some operators, those airlines that cram space, some hotels that under deliver and overcharge.
I would like to see those few unscrupulous cruise lines that seek profits over employee welfare and environmental considerations make changes. Also, with general touring, dispose of the blatant over crowding and minimal control at popular landmarks. I want to see that gone.
I want to see the crass commercialism of travel taken out of the equation. I want people to really enjoy their vacations at a level that it should be enjoyed, that their experience is authentic and without rushed blah and being led to the kick-back souvenir stores.
I would love to see a surge and an awakening of our environmental responsibilities, focusing on eco-tourism and responsible tourism
I also want to see faces again. I need to see faces again! I want to see smiles. I fervently hope that masks will not become our standard garb. God forbid! I want to laugh and touch and hug.
In short; like you, I want to be human again….