The Hazy Future of Travel

Words by Caitlin Parr

I cannot begin to imagine how many people around the world have had major travel plans (holidays, study abroad programmes, business trips, research projects) abroad cancelled due to the Coronavirus; let alone how many short, local, travel journeys have been interfered with due to travel restrictions.

With the struggling music, theatre and hospitality industries all receiving ample media coverage (and rightfully so!), many people are aware of how the pandemic has changed the face of their businesses forever. But one industry that is not receiving too much sympathetic coverage is the travel industry. Even though the news at the moment is covering the impact on our day-to-day lives and how we have had to cease movement, travel and communication across the UK – this is somehow not always associated with the travel or transport industries that are bearing the economic brunt of us not being able to utilise their services at the moment.

This has led me to reflect on how often I pack a backpack and ‘travel’ in a normal year. Usually, by this part of the university semester I would’ve attended at least 2 society conferences somewhere in the UK; gone on a holiday and a lot of summer trips; travelled home to West Wales more than once; visited friends and family in other university cities; and taken some day trips out of Cardiff. Though none of these may be what we automatically think of when we say ‘going travelling’, they do all count as important journeys and enriching experiences that have been put on hold due to Welsh and UK travel limitations.

In many parts of the UK, the travel and tourism industry is one that is highly relied on to sustain the local economy and the lack of tourists over this year’s summer months will undoubtedly have long term impacts. However, the Coronavirus has put the industry and the locals directly affected in quite a conflicting situation. 

Coming from a tourist hotspot on the Pembrokeshire Coast, we are definitely seeing the impact at home of our tourist season being effectively cancelled. But on the other hand, we also protested tourists coming to the area over the summer months in an attempt to keep our COVID-19 cases to a minimum. Obviously keeping the number of cases as low as possible is a priority (especially as we don’t have the medical provisions to look after everyone even before tourists come to visit), but how long can businesses afford to put health first, when their livelihood is at risk? This should never be a predicament that business owners find themselves in, but realistically in this ‘new normal’ it is unfortunately not too uncommon.

Financially, the industry will now struggle to support itself and ensure that it can support tourists too. Not only does the travel and tourism industry have significantly less regular income than usual; but with holidays, tours and trips all over the world being cancelled, there is now a huge amount of money that needs to be refunded too.

This detriment on their finances will of course take a long time to restock. But, with so many people terrified of going abroad (or even on a staycation in the UK) during and after the pandemic, how long will it take for our summer holidays to be confidently back to normal and our travel agents to be profiting again?

Not only this, but people will no longer be able to afford to go abroad as frequently or as extravagantly as before. And, it is also likely that people will be conscientiously saving any profit that the furlough scheme is giving them, just in case it is their job that is lost next.

Agencies such as STA (the global student travel giant the Student Travel Association) have already had to close down due to the pandemic. As a company that relies so heavily on students taking gap-years, university society trips or jetting off to volunteering projects abroad over the summer months, it is unfortunately unsurprising that STA have had to make the decision to cease operations.

If travel tycoons like STA are struggling this much, you can only begin to imagine how smaller, more local, travel agents have been hit by the current climate. Of course, local and independent travel agencies can book your family holidays or backpacking adventures; but they also arrange trips or transport to music concerts, theatre tours, festivals and sporting events which will no longer be going ahead for the foreseeable future. 

In a piece by National Geographic, it was stated that – “If the pandemic continues for several more months, the World Travel and Tourism Council, the trade group representing major global travel companies, projects a global loss of 75 million jobs and $2.1 trillion in revenue.” This really does add another element to the common-phrase ‘unprecedented times’, as I’m sure I can speak for everyone when I say that this is a drastic change for the travel industry that we never expected to see.

There have been many threats to travel in the past that the industry has overcome, but I feel that the fear surrounding Coronavirus as a global health issue is on a different scale. Economic recessions, airline strikes, and terrorism (more severely) have all posed their own threats to feeling comfortable whilst travelling and being abroad, but the perception of the Coronavirus has had a much wider impact than this. Not only because of the fear that the pandemic has reached every destination possible, but also simply because there may be nothing on the other end of the flight to see or travel to. Will hotels be open? Will attractions be functioning as normal? Will you be getting value for money? This uncertainty is one of the many reasons why people are predicted to avoid travelling until at least Summer 2021.

The only perk of this for prospective travellers is that travel agents may be offering deals and discounts on travel packages to encourage more to book with them ahead of next summer. The impact of this encouragement on the spread of the virus is another issue entirely, but being careful and aware of the pandemic related-dangers that could impact your holiday are very important to take into account before even considering looking at your summer getaway. Staying safe and protecting your health is crucial – so maybe 2021 won’t be the summer we return to regular travel and our normal freedoms, after all.

Feature image by JEShoots