Airlines Look to the Maritime Past
Have you ever flown in a private jet? Me neither. And yet there are thousands of these birds, shuttling the rich and powerful wherever they want to go, bypassing the line-ups and waits. Commercial airliners might well be forced to adapt to a less crowded model. What if they turn the resulting empty space into rooms, transforming into flying hotels cheaper by the hour than private jets, but far beyond the reach of us unwashed masses. Could airline travel return to the model of 19th and 20th century ships, with tiny pod capsules for the poor below deck and opulence above for the wealthy? Business travel, long the profit centre in commercial aviation, is going to take a massive hit in light of the Zoom revolution. Digital video conferencing has long been around with Skype, Whatsapp, Facetime, but it has never been normalized for full time office use). As the airline industry grapples for survival, I’m sure all options are on the table.
Don’t Forget Your Health Passport
I remember travelling up east Africa with a little yellow booklet confirming I’d had my yellow fever shots. Just like my grey international drivers licence, not one person ever asked to see it. But health passports will be upon us yet again, confirming our Covid-19 vaccine, and whatever else rattled health authorities want to throw in the mix. Much like an e-Visa, you might have to confirm your health status online before being allowed to fly, and will be turned back at the gate if you don’t have one. Alternatively, we might have to undergo quick blood tests at the gate, false positives be damned. I predict our government certified health status will grow the divide between the haves and have-nots.
Air Bnbs and Vacation Rentals vs Hotels
Given the circumstances, this has been a hotly debated topic. Hotels might surround you with more people, but they have a diligent process and history of sterilizing, certification and constant cleaning. Lord knows I’ve stayed in Air Bnbs with pubic hair on the shower walls and sheets I hoped had seen a laundry. Air Bnb have already brought in new processes for social distancing, including booking guests three days apart and vigorous cleaning…but that’s self-policed. Do you trust a large corporation with their profits, reputation and brand on the line, or Peter T. Schmuck Jnr, who may just be stock photo for an unscrupulous Air Bnb fixer? This will be a personal decision and much will depend on the vacation rental in question. Given my own experience with iffy Air Bnb properties, I think hotels will be better positioned to pivot towards our sterile-obsessed future.
Camping is Back and Better Than Ever
The great outdoors is a social distancing playground. I predict a boom for campgrounds, RVs and holiday parks. Travelling across Australia, my family lodged in cabins at a dozen Discovery Holiday Parks and much preferred it to hotels. Beautiful space, playgrounds, waterparks, family-friendly amenities and a sense of community really worked for us. It’s going to work for more families too. Camping is not for everyone, which is why cabins and RV’s are going to have a real boost. Glamping will hit the bulls-eye. If more people embrace the outdoor, campground lifestyle, sticking with it when Covid is over, those rustic holiday parks will evolve and grow into bigger resorts with even more outdoor attractions.
There’s already a furor about the relationship between health tracking apps and privacy. It’s not inconceivable for future apps to include temperature scans and biometric health data. Much like the Health Passport, your entrance into resorts, clubs, attractions and destinations will depend if the app – hackable as always – gives you an all clear. Dating apps might include this forensic data in their matches. Cue Gattica, designer babies, leper-like colonies for the infected, bubbles over cities…and other dystopian sci-fi scenarios.
Stay at Home VR Travel
Want to kayak with penguins Antarctica? Or stroll around Machu Picchu? National Geographic already have a virtual reality experience which allows you to do exactly that. We’re still in the infancy of this technology, which is growing exponentially. Soon you’ll be able to slip on a headset and be thrust into realistic, cinema-quality worlds that respond to haptic touch gloves and your own sense of discovery. Ready Player One, the book and movie, predicted a virtual world far more interesting, entertaining and stimulating than the real one. I expect we will be able to visit the Pyramids, Venice, the Louvre, Taj Mahal, outer space and everywhere else without leaving our living rooms – and without spending thousands of dollars. Google’s Arts and Culture App, coupled with growing lists of VR experiences, are a sign of what’s to come.
Cruise Ships and Resorts
If you think banking is too big to fail, spare a thought for tourism. It’s the third biggest economic engine after cars and oil, generating over 10% of global GDP, and is – was - responsible for one in four new jobs. There’s too much money and too much demand for it to fold. Still, mega cruise ships, including the dozen 5000+ ships set to launch in the next few years, are going to have to claw back public confidence, with incentives that might border on the ridiculous (they can always upsell you at the bar). Small ships and river cruises might have a better go of it, and be a trend for the future of cruising. Resorts and theme parks will limit capacity, increasing the exclusivity factor, and the entry fee that goes along with it.
Return of the Travel Agent
It’s easier to drive a chopstick into your ear than reach an actual human at an online travel agency, aggregator, or bucket shop. Navigating the future needs a fresh look and sharper eye at insurance and cancellation policies, and new regulations. We don’t need a travel agent to tell us where to go anymore, but we do need someone who can spot these evolving details and ensure all our bases are covered. Travel agents are ideally positioned to pivot into concierge, administration, and troubleshooting services. They’ll have our back, and we’ll need them more than ever. As they tool up and train for the brave new tourism world, agents will be worth every cent of their commission.
All these predictions result in a world that has more barriers, larger divisions, and an increasing separation between those who financially and physically qualify, and those who don’t. I find myself hoping that society’s memory loss – the one that guarantees we keep repeating stupid mistakes – finally plays to our favour; that we’ll conquer this pandemic, and with a greater sense of appreciation and increased commitment to sustainability, continue on the path that brings us all together.