The pandemic will change the way we travel, but what can we expect when we finally pack our suitcases? Sarah Marshall asks the experts.
Several weeks ago, the idea of even stepping outside your local area felt like a fantasy. But slowly, as lockdown restrictions ease, the situation seems to be changing, and there’s a glimmer of hope it might be possible to enjoy a holiday this year.
The situation, however, is far from normal. From beach breaks to escorted tours, the way we travel will look very different from now on.
Some hotels, tour operators and cruise lines have already published details hinting at how we might navigate a new world of socially-distanced sun-seeking and ethical escapism. These are some of the trends starting to emerge.
Caravans and cottages promise peace of mind
Although the race is on to squeeze in a summer holiday, it’s likely, once government advice allows, that most people will choose to staycation. Along with self-catering cottages, demand for caravans and holiday parks is set to be high.
According to Auto Trader, searches for caravans are up by 18 per cent compared to this time last year. Hardly surprising given The National Caravan Council’s claim that caravans and motorhomes are ‘socially distanced by design’. There are no issues with shared facilities, they say, and camping lots are generally set five or six metres apart.
Lloyd Figgins, chairman of the Travel Risk & Incident Prevention (TRIP) Group, says holiday parks are a low-risk option for similar reasons. “With everything included within the four walls of your holiday park rental, your holiday can be as safe as being at home,” he says. “There’s also the advantage that many holiday parks are situated in stunning locations, allowing you to get outside and enjoy the countryside or nearby beach, while still being able to maintain social distancing.”
It’s hygiene on the high seas from now on
The return to normality is set to be tricky for cruise ships. The floating hotels have a history of upsets with virus outbreaks, and companies are having to work much harder to regain their customers’ trust. But many have already taken steps towards making their fleets as germ-free as possible.
All passengers travelling on Norwegian Cruise Line’s fleet will be given a touchless temperature screening every time they return to the ship and when entering dining areas. Capacity will also be limited to allow social distancing on board.
Princess, meanwhile, have pledged to constantly monitor the global health map, cancelling stops and modifying itineraries if areas have been impacted by Covid-19 outbreaks. Self-service buffets will be heavily reduced and hand sanitiser will flow like water.
River cruise company Uniworld has gone even further by discontinuing self-service snacks, removing all books and magazines, discontinuing buffets and introducing set mealtimes.
Tech will replace human contact in hotels
As hotels across Europe plan to reopen, companies have adopted a range of new measures to make sure their guests feel safe.
Although reputable hotels already have high hygiene standards, new levels of meticulous disinfecting and scrubbing are set to become the norm. Groups such as Wyndham, who have an international portfolio, are working with Ecolab products specialised to prevent the spread of infections on surfaces, and have promised supplies of PPE to staff.
Even smaller, family-run resorts, like Elivi Skiathos in Greece, are upping their cleanliness game: public areas will be regularly disinfected and online check-in will reduce face-to-face contact.
OYO, who have properties ranging from guesthouses and B&Bs, to city-centre hotels, are introducing a new system of “sanitised stays”. Their plans include: removing excess furniture from lobby areas to discourage guests from lounging; presenting disinfected room keys and TV remotes in zip-lock bags; and limiting lifts to one group of room occupants at a time.
Ikos, who have luxury all-inclusive beach resorts in Greece and Spain, have designed a new Infinite Care Protocol. Staff will be regularly tested for Covid-19, and anyone staying at the properties given a free rapid antibody test upon arrival. An in-resort ambulance and 24-hour medical support are reassuring additions, while a mobile app will allow contactless room service, restaurant and spa bookings.
Group tours set to connect in new ways
An entrepreneur and philanthropist who started one of the world’s most successful group tour companies with nothing more than a vision and a credit card, Bruce Poon Tip is an agile thinker. Rather than dwell on the negatives of the pandemic, The G Adventures founder and CEO sees this as an opportunity to reflect upon and readjust the way we travel.
“Why fight so damn hard to return to normal when the opportunity to transform travel is on the other side of this mess?” he says.
He’s used his time in lockdown to write a free e-book, Unlearn: The Year The Earth Stood Still, detailing his thoughts. (Download it at unlearn.travel.) The future, he says, revolves around the power and privilege we have as travellers to make informed choices about where our money is invested.
“At the moment, people are being sold amenities – the biggest ship, the biggest go track etc – and they are forgetting about the destination. This is no longer travel in my mind,” he writes. “The travel industry has made us into tourists, consumers of culture, rather than contributors to it.
From now on, he suggests we should take a different approach: “Destination and local people are key.”
For that reason, G Adventures will continue to use local restaurants on their tours with options for “grab and go” boxes and al fresco dining. Affordable ‘My Own Room’ rates will also make it easier for solo travellers to avoid sharing.