Obviously, the onset of COVID-19 has upended the international travel industry since March 2020 due to travel restrictions and the collapse in demand among travelers. The United Nations World Tourism Organization estimated that global international tourist arrivals might decrease between 58 to 78 percent in 2020 leading to a loss of US$ 0.9 and 1.2 trillion in international tourism receipts. In many of the world’s cities, planned tourism went down 80 to 90 percent.

Countries Open to Air Travel

Entrepreneurs traveling in airport during pandemic

Currently only a few countries are open to American tourists arriving by plane. Mexico is open but requires filling out a form with some questions about possible COVID-19 exposure. The airport staff will also check your temperature upon arrival at the airport. Brazil is open as well but requires proof of having international health insurance coverage that covers COVID-19. Several other countries are open to tourists, but they require a 14 day quarantine upon arrival, for example The Bahamas. 

Other countries, such as Columbia, require a negative PCR test taken no longer than 96 hours prior to arrival. In the Dominican Republic, 3 to 10 percent of arrivals will be tested for COVID-19 randomly. 

Consequently, the international travel insurance industry has perked up quite a bit. The top international companies that offer health insurance that covers COVID-19 are:

Allianz Travel Insurance
John Hancock
World Nomads
HTH Travel Insurance

A growing number of countries have established “travel bubbles” and “corona corridors” as first steps to jumpstart air travel and tourism. These measures involve agreements with neighboring regions that allow for travel across borders for non-essential trips without quarantining upon arrival. Australia and New Zealand have been working on a proposal, known formally the trans-Tasman COVID-safe travel zone, which would allow residents to travel freely between the two neighboring nations, without a need for quarantine.

The proposal reportedly would help kick-start the tourism and transport sectors, enhancing sporting contacts, and re-uniting families and friends. There have been suggestions that if a corridor between Australia and New Zealand were a success, it could be a blueprint for re-starting travel worldwide.  Australia and New Zealand have made strong progress bringing their local coronavirus epidemics under control. But there’s still a risk that such efforts will be short-lived given the resurgence of COVID-19 and the subsequent reimposition of quarantine practices in some parts of the world, including Spain.

Technology in Airports

Woman using kiosk at airport

Technology is under development now that will help passengers move confidently through new touch-points such as:

  1. Thermal imaging technology, or temperature screening, for passengers and crew at the entrance.
  2. Self-service check-in and a more hands-free or automated, processes.
  3. Self bag drop encouraged.
  4. Contactless and orderly boarding process.

It’s all about reducing contact between passengers and airport personnel and eliminating the physical act of touching surfaces where the virus could be viable. A few apps have entered the market in the past few months that offer a touch-less airport experience, similar to TSA PreCheck. Instead of using traditional ID documents, the apps use Biometrics – your eyes and face – to confirm it’s really you.

The traveler starts the registration process before flying and their information is transformed into an encrypted code. These solutions allow you to enter into the security queues faster for a more seamless travel experience. As opposed to TSA PreCheck, the other options now on the market provide access to expedited security lines at stadiums and arenas, as well as airports. If no solution to COVID-19 is implemented, airline passengers will probably continue to avoid airport boutiques, restaurants, and bars and plan just-in-time arrivals. The expectation is that masks will remain mandatory on flights, unless the traveler is eating or drinking, for the immediate future and perhaps even longer-term as the practice becomes habitual while traveling.

Most airlines have reverted to the previous seating arrangement that doesn’t include empty seats for social distancing. Airlines will also most likely need to make it easier for passengers to change their flights if they are not feeling well. There will be no additional charges for these changes. JetBlue Chief Executive Robin Hayes has said during a Washington Post live discussion that “because it’s never going to be acceptable, I don’t think, for someone that is un-well to feel that they are being made to fly”.

Airlines have also been cutting food and beverage service during flights. The International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations agency, put out guidance recently that says airlines should restrict access to lavatories and encourage passengers to only carry on luggage that fits under their seats. Airports are also making changes, and the pandemic could force an overhaul of the way passengers move through the facilities. There’s a possibility travelers could buy anything in the airport without taking their wallet out by using biometrics. 

If conditions don’t improve dramatically, the cost of international airline travel and accommodations could increase sharply. Much lower volume will necessitate that the airline and hotel industries start charging new customers more to fill the gap in their revenue streams.

Other Forms of Travel

Entrepreneur traveling on cruise ship during pandemic

The cruise industry is expected to make a gradual return to sailing. The cruises will probably be less packed than during pre-coronavirus days and there will be temperature screenings before boarding. Serve-yourself buffets will be a thing of the past and construction of new ships will almost certainly be delayed.

You could also see more focus on shorter cruises and replace existing air filters with medical-grade air filters as well as the addition of more extensive cleaning procedures.

Private travel should also be more prevalent moving forward with travelers preferring private transportation such as cars and staying at villas and private islands. Hotels might start encouraging guests to check in online and use their phones as room keys.  Housekeepers should not enter rooms unless they obtain permission from the guests.

Business meetings and events will probably be geared towards local audiences in large cities, rather than events that draw national and international crowds. These events might be shorter, say 30 minutes or less, and last a single day rather than several.

A few studies have been released recently that note that the air on planes is circulated once every three minutes via HEPA filters and is thus quite safe and people have gradually returned to flying when it’s a necessity.  Much like how air travel changed after 9/11 with security screening, COVID-19 will most likely change our demands for a safe, clean travel experience if they haven’t already.

What changes to travel have you noticed during COVID-19? Let us know down in the comments.

This article originally published on GREY Journal.