Industry Update
Opinion Article 2 July 2020

“Travel, As We Knew It, Is Over,” But There Are Hopes Still

By Linchi Kwok, Associate Professor at The Collins College of Hospitality Management

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Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky talked about the future of travel in a CNBC interview last week. He stated: "Travel, as we knew it, is over. It doesn't mean travel is over, just the travel we knew is over, and it's never coming back. It's just not." His statement made headlines last week, but he also suggested in the same interview:  "… travel is going to come back. It's just going to take a lot longer than, you know, we would have thought, and it's going to be different."

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What do you think? Will people travel again?

The glass is half empty

Some places saw a spark of confirmed infected cases of COVID-19 in just a few weeks after the local governments lifted the coronavirus restrictions. Florida, for example, reported that its daily case count had increased fivefold in just two weeks. Moreover, the median age of the new patients dropped to 36, indicating the coronavirus is now spreading among the younger age group.

Along with Florida, Texas and Arizona also reported record numbers of confirmed infected cases and emerged as the new epicenters. Arizona and Georgia recorded the highest number of new cases on Sunday. Texas just reimposed the COVID-19 restrictions by closing the bars.

California was the first state that paused non-essential businesses and urged residents to stay at home in March. Gov. Gavin Newsom made plans for reopening restaurants, malls, and offices in California on May 12. In the last few weeks, however, the state reported the highest number of new cases and had more infected patients who needed to stay in hospitals. Counties with a high positivity rate of COVID-19 are urged to shut down again.

Other states, such as New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, are imposing 14-day self-quarantine for travelers coming from the states with a "high-infection rate." That is 10 infections per 100,000 people or 10% or higher positively rate over a seven-day rolling average. Currently, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Washington met such criteria.

Internationally, the European Union will soon decide if the U.S. can be included in the "safe list" of countries where residents can travel to the bloc without self-quarantine. The outlook now is not looking positive when many states still reported a high infected rate of COVID-19.

The glass is half full

On the flip side, there are hopes. First and for most, people want to travel. Key indicators are showing some signs of recovery.

More people are flying now than they were in April, according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), although the number of travelers could only account for one-fourth of the 2019 level. Airlines are also adding more domestic and international flights.

The hotel industry saw improvement as well, particularly in drive-to destinations and in the economy class hotels. Likewise, Airbnb observed a dramatic turnaround in June. Over the weekend of June 5 - June 7, Airbnb reported a first-time year-to-year growth since February.

The restaurant industry bounced back from the bottom, with better performance data in May. Sales in food services and drinking places increased by 29% to $38.6 billion.

Will the vaccine be the solution?

Countries are racing for a remedy of COVID-19. Many are hoping the vaccine will become available by the end of this year.

Until then, some places are doing just fine without the vaccine. Taiwan, for example, relies on case tracing to bring down the infection rate. This year, Taiwan was one of the few places on this planet that could celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride with a public parade. Over 200 people gathered in the Liberty Square in Taipei this Sunday for the event.

Will travel be forever changed after the COVID-19 pandemic?

Without a doubt, travel will not be the same in the next few years. Travel companies are adapting to the new changes with enhanced cleaning standards and likely, with linear operations.

Nevertheless, when the pandemic is over and becomes history (let's hope that will be the case very soon), will people still restrict themselves from going out? Will they want to wear masks in public? Will they practice social distancing?

What are your thoughts?

Linchi Kwok

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