How COVID-19 could impact travel for years to come

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There are likely to be a number of initiatives underway in the areas of passenger hygiene and sanitation and the facilities that will remain in place after the pandemic.

This article, written by John Gradek, McGill University, originally appeared on The Conversation and has been republished here with permission:

At the end of 2019, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) published its report “Economic performance of the airline industry”. It contained a forecast for 2020 of 4.1% growth in global air traffic demand and after-tax net profits for North American airlines of US $ 16.5 billion.

Travel industry consulting companies have predicted the continuing trend of travel growth across all major travel components including hotels, cruises and surface travel as well as air travel. The trip forecast was sunny, with few clouds on the horizon.

Fast forward to summer 2020, and IATA forecasts the worst financial performance in commercial aviation history, forecasting a global loss of US $ 84 billion. And the aerospace industry that backs airlines with parts of equipment and services has said 2020 is the most severe crisis the industry has ever seen.

Permanent changes?

Let’s review the lessons learned by the travel industry during the COVID-19 pandemic and how travel could be different as the world deals with the aftermath.

Travel has changed dramatically in the past six months since the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. There will likely be a number of initiatives underway in the area of ​​passenger hygiene and sanitation and facilities that will remain in place after the pandemic.

The woes of cruise ship operators, meanwhile, will continue as travelers continue to be wary of travel in confined spaces.

Public health officials have identified three societal practices essential to controlling the spread of COVID-19, each impacting the attractiveness of travel – two-meter social distancing, frequent and intense hand washing to reduce the risk of hands . transmission of the virus to the face and facial coverings in confined spaces.

While it is generally accepted that minimum social distancing cannot be maintained when traveling on today’s commercial aircraft, some carriers – but not all, including Air Canada – have adopted a policy of a free seat next to a passenger.

Empty middle seats

The move caught the attention of both public health officials and airline executives and associations, which resulted in an attempt by a U.S. lawmaker to regulate empty middle seats on flights. Airlines executives have predicted a dire financial impact of this attempt to reduce airliner congestion.

Authorities are also using quarantines to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by travelers arriving from jurisdictions that have a higher level of virus cases.

These quarantines range from travel bans within the country between states or provinces to national quarantines for travelers from high-risk areas. Typical quarantine arrangements can range from seven days to 14 days of self-isolation, with some authorities enforcing strict adherence through personal monitoring systems.

Travelers’ health concerns are bolstered by public health officials pushing for a return to lockdowns and no-travel advisories, including from the top infectious disease specialist in the United States , Anthony Fauci, who expressed concern about the risks of contracting on a plane. The debate between public health officials and airline executives will no doubt remain tense as the world continues to grapple with the first wave, and in some places a second wave, of COVID-19 outbreaks.

‘Travel bubbles’

A growing number of countries have made it possible for the travel industry to promote “travel bubbles” and “corona corridors” as the first steps in reviving air travel and tourism. These measures involve agreements with neighboring regions that allow borders to be crossed for non-essential travel without quarantine on arrival.

But there is always the risk that such efforts will be short-lived given the resurgence of COVID-19 and the subsequent reimposition of quarantine practices in various parts of the world, including Spain.

The need to develop an effective contact tracing platform that would have global connectivity was discussed, but remains only at the discussion stage. Issues such as personal information rights and the general distribution of location data have raised privacy concerns in a number of countries.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has recommended several data sharing practices, but the United Nations body also recognizes that a global and harmonized deployment should be a guiding principle to successfully contain the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

IATA has also produced a set of guidelines for a phased return of air services.

The consensus among public health officials and leaders in the travel industry is that travel will continue to stagnate until a COVID-19 vaccine is effectively delivered around the world.

But questions remain.

Will the industry survive until a vaccine?

How long until there is a vaccine, and can the travel industry survive by then?

What role should governments play in ensuring the survival of the travel industry while waiting for the vaccine?

Will public health pressure be sufficient to overcome reluctance to share personal contact movements and information?

As the world progresses towards a COVID-19 vaccine and eventual control of the virus, the travel industry will most certainly face demands from the traveling public to maintain several of the current safety and health initiatives.

Cleanliness and disinfection will become the norm. Non-contact interactions will proliferate and technology will reduce human interactions.

Will the joy and exhilaration of the journey return? Yes, but with a new value proposition built around safe and secure travel. Just as air travel changed after September 11 with security screening, COVID-19 will change our requirements for a safe and clean travel experience.

John Gradek, Lecturer and Program Coordinator, Global Aviation Leadership Program, McGill University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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