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How does COVID-19 Change the Way We travel?

Taing Rinith / Khmer Times Share:
More travellers will visit less crowded destination to protect themselves from the virus. GT2/Chor Sokunthea

Businesses across all sectors have undeniably been thrown into confusion by the COVID-19 pandemic, which by this week has seen more than 10 million people infected, with a significant hit to the tourism and travel sector. According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), 96 percent of the world’s destinations are currently impacted by travel restrictions and other lockdown measures.

Although the sector is now on pause with no timeline for recovery, there is still hope that one day, probably when the public health crisis is over, the sector will rebound and people will start travelling again to the destinations on their bucket list. However, it is likely things may look very different once we start traveling again. Here are our predictions on how COVID-19 will change travelling forever.


The end of over-tourism

Before the coronavirus came around, tourist magnets all over the world, from Angkor Wat to Taj Mahal and from Venice to Barcelona, were crowded with visitors from around the world, some with hardly any space to walk. Amid the pandemic, nonetheless, these places have almost empty due to country lockdowns, travel restriction and people’s fear over the virus. Even when we enter the post-pandemic era, it is unlikely this will change much. While the end of the pandemic will be strongly associated with discovery and productions of the vaccine or cure, many experts, including those from WHO, advise that the virus is here to stay and people have to learn to live with it.

“The virus has changed the world, and we have to change how we live, study, travel and work,” says Dr Li Ailan, WHO representative in Cambodia.  “We cannot go back to business as usual. Individuals must continue to take strong preventative action so we do not need to go back to stricter public health and social measures.”

Governments are expected to set out quotas for tourists who are allowed to visit a travel destination at any one time as well as to enforce the social distancing, thus bringing down the era of over-tourism.

A gathering like this will be a rare sight in the future due to COVID-19. GT2/Chor Sokunthea

Flying will never be the same

The aviation sector is hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has reset humans flying, which for decades had experienced booms and allowed millions of people to achieve their dreams of exploring the world. The airline companies which may survive the crisis will be facing seismic changes: empty middle seats, higher fares, fewer routes, pre-flight health checks, less bookings and less free food. In fact, airlines are already making it mandatory for passengers and employees to wear masks, cutting food and beverage service during flights, and implementing good hygeine.

“We should be prepared for a choppy, sluggish recovery even after the virus is contained,” Delta Air Lines Inc. Chief Executive Officer Ed Bastian said in a letter to employees back in April. “I estimate the recovery period could take two to three years.”

Look at the bright side, however, it is quite good for the environment since airplanes alone account for 2 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emission, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

A beach in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. GT2/Chor Sokunthea

New trend of tripping

The UNWTO has warned that worldwide tourist arrivals could fall as much as 30 percent in 2020. However, at the same time, it gives rise to a new trend of travelling. It will focus more on the local destinations and road trips. In Cambodia, for example, for the first three weeks in June, more than 450,000 Cambodians and other residents of the Kingdom visited tourist destinations throughout the country while only 1,000 foreigners did so in the same period. Why? Casual travellers are not likely to accept high costs and a complicated process just to visit other countries.

“Domestic travel, followed by travel to neighbouring countries, is likely to increase first. In fact, our association has always pushed for intra-regional tourism among Asean member states,” Chhay Sivlin, president of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents, tells Good Times 2.

“The number of foreign visitors travelling to a country as their destination will depend on how well the country previously handled the pandemic and promoted the people’s wellbeing.”

Also, as part of this new trend, people will learn to appreciate the journey they had to go through rather than the entertainment aspect of the trip. In other words, more people will prefer camping on an isolated mountain to touring a shopping centre in a crowded city.

People will learn to appreciate the journey they had to go through rather than the entertainment aspect of the trip. GT2/Khem Sovannara

New standard in hospitality

In June, Cambodia’s Ministry of Tourism set out a number of safety measures to be implemented by the hospitality sector to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as the country’s tourism industry is starting to rebound. The measures focus on three areas: the tourists’ safety, resort arrangements and how well they provide training to their workers. They include a number of actions, including practising social distancing among visitors, providing hygienic supplies, limiting guest numbers for resorts and passengers in transportation. Businesses that fail to implement these measures will face having their licences suspended, the ministry said.

Even after the pandemic is over, it could be foreseen that most of these will still be implemented and travellers will have to pay more attention to their health and wellbeing more than ever, no matter where they are.

“Like in other industries, tourism – from travel agencies and airline companies to resorts and lodgings – will have to adapt to what has been touted as the “new normal,” Sivlin says.

“This includes the implementation of a number of measures to protect tourists and clients. For example, a bus which used to transport 30 tourists may have to cut down seating capacity by half in adherence to distancing guidelines while free hygienic and sanitary supplies would have to be provided to visitors.”

Governments are expected to set out quotas for tourists who are allowed to visit a travel destination any time. GT2/Pann Rachana

Less food adventures

According to the US’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on-site dining with both indoor and outdoor seating with seating capacity not reduced and tables not spaced at least 6 feet apart puts the customers at the highest risk of being infected by COVID-19. It means small bars and restaurants are more likely to be affected by the virus. We are not saying it is the end of these venues since they are the main attraction in many destinations (such as Bangkok in Thailand and Osaka in Japan), but some might close down amid the pandemic due to the lack of customers. Those that survive will have to adapt by strictly limiting the number of people they serve and focusing more on low-risk ways of service, such as drive-through, delivery, take-out, and curb-side pickups.


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