Like a plane, cruising at 30,000 feet, the travel industry is a robust thing, though its not immune to a bit of turbulence.
The wobbles come from a myriad of sources. High-profile aviation disasters, like the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in 2014, can affect consumer confidence in flying. Civil wars, such as the ongoing one in Syria, can take destinations off the travel map for years or decades. Natural disasters, like the eruption of Eyjafjallajkull in Iceland in 2010, can bring air traffic in an entire continent to a stand-still.
But the travel industry has a way of levelling its wings and carrying on, largely due to the simple fact that we, as a species, do love a good holiday. Not long after air disasters, we board planes without fear. Over time, wars end and destinations are redrawn onto the travel map (Croatia, Vietnam, Rwanda, to give a few recent examples). Ash clouds dissipate. And onwards the travel industry goes.
Prior to the pandemic, more people than ever before were going on holiday there were 1.4 billion tourist arrivals in 2018, up 6 per cent on the previous year. Travel and tourism accounted for 319 million jobs worldwide and generated $8.8 trillion to the global economy, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).
So yes, the travel industry is a behemoth, but this means that when a catastrophic global event causes it to fall to its knees, the earth tremors. And when the travel industry rises again, the way we go on holiday tends to look rather different to how it did before.
In the last 100 years there have been three cataclysmic moments for travel: World War Two, 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis. With swathes of the world on lockdown, borders closed and global air capacity down 65 per cent an event IATAs CEO Alaexandre de Juniac has described as aviations gravest crisis the coronavirus pandemic will undoubtedly be looked back on as the fourth major event in the history of modern travel.
Nobody knows how coronavirus will change the world, and the way we travel across it in the years to come. To make an educated guess, we must look back at the times when travel has been grounded before.
Commercial travel, which was still in its relative infancy at the time, came to a halt for large parts of the world between 1939 and 1945, though this was not the thing that shook up travel and tourism in the years that followed.
Through the history of aviation, military aircraft and engines have always paved the way and commercial aviation has swiftly followed in the slipstream. In the late Thirties and early Forties, Britain and Germany scrambled to develop the jet engine; the first ever fighter jet, the German Messerschmitt Me 262, took flight in 1940 and the British Gloster Meteor made its first flight in 1943.
In the years after the war ended, all of the major powers were developing jet engine technology, and we were soon boarding jetliners to far-flung places. The first commercial jetliner was the British de Havilland Comet, developed at Hatfield Aerodrome in Hertfordshire, which entered service in 1952. However, after three high-profile disasters, another model, the Boeing 707, took its place and became the market leader.
And so the jet set was born, and a new, slightly odd phenomenon that humans had never felt before was also born: jet lag. In the decades after, aviation boomed and has become affordable for the masses, to the point where 39 million flights took off in 2019. Theres an argument the Jet Age would have happened, at some point, anyway. Whats almost certain, however, is that the technological advancements made during World War Two made it happen sooner.
When two aircraft flew into the World Trade Centre in New York City, one flew into the Pentagon, and United Flight 93 was hijacked and brought down southeast of Pittsburgh, all of the 4,000 planes flying above American airspace were ordered to land as soon as possible. Civilian air traffic wouldnt resume for another three days, although the impact the 9/11 attacks had on air travel, globally, lives on to this day.
Its easy to forget just how much aviation security has changed since that day. Prior to the event, security checks did exist in some countries rolled out after a series of aircraft hijackings in the Sixties and Seventies although they were nothing compared to what we go through now.
Today we have to remove our shoes and belts at security, only bring liquids of 100ml or less on board, and in some airports are required to go through full body X-Ray scanning machines to detect anything hidden beneath our clothing. Frisking is a perfectly normal experience in airports, these days. Understandably, some of the worlds tightest checks are now in the US, where the Transportation Security Administration, born in the wake of 9/11, has since spent $56.8 billion on aviation security.
When the financial crisis hit in 20072008, many industries were ravaged as the world entered a global recession travel was no exception. The immediate impact was that people around the world tightened their purse strings; we delayed or cancelled our holiday plans and companies cut corporate spending on things like business travel.
With this new mindset, in the wake of the crisis travellers became more frugal and focused on experiences rather than lavish material goods. So the desire to travel resumed, and the stage was set for a little disruptor called Airbnb to launch in late 2008. Holiday lettings existed before Airbnb, of course, but largely offline and certainly not grouped together on one platform. By 2017, Airbnb was bigger than the worlds top five hotel firms combined, and today has over five million online listings and makes $2.6 billion in gross bookings. Following its lead, a number of digitally led start-ups were born in the wake of the financial crisis and continue to disrupt the travel market just look at how Uber, Monzo and Whatsapp have changed the way we travel, spend and communicate on holidays.
Another trend following the financial crisis was the boom of the outbound traveller from emerging markets. In 1997, people from developing countries made up 21 per cent of international travel arrivals. By 2009 that was 31 per cent. In just five years after the financial crash, by 2014 the number was up to 41 per cent. We can view the financial crash perhaps not as the cause, but certainly as the catalyst for accelerated change in the travel industry in the last decade.
Few industries have been hit as harder, and faster, by the coronavirus pandemic than travel. The scale is quite tough to comprehend, and makes sad reading for anyone in the industry: the WTTC predicts a global loss of 75 million jobs and over $2 trillion in revenue. We are seeing this happen in real time. On April 2, British Airways suspended over 30,000 of its staff, the same day that Heathrow closed a runway. From agents to independent guidebook publishers, and indeed the behemoths like Lonely Planet too, travel businesses face a very difficult time ahead.
Julia Lo Bue-Said, CEO of The Advantage Travel Partnership, told the Telegraph: We are now beginning to realise that travel is no longer the right of the fortunate but a luxury to be protected and celebrated. We have had to stop and appreciate what its like to leave our homes freely, let alone jump on a plane for a spontaneous weekend break to Madrid.
Once we begin the slow re-entry into normal life we will be changed travellers with different priorities. Whilst there will no doubt be a desire to travel in many of us, we will, I suspect, remain cautious and our choices will be influenced by different factors.
So what big changes could we be looking at, once the pandemic ends and the world gets back to normal?
One area that is ripe for disruption is business travel. Companies around the world are being forced into new ways of digital working and conferencing, and after months of working this way processes will surely get sleeker and become the new normal. After the pandemic, many businesses will be looking for ways to cut costs without losing staff; will there be any justification for a 2,000 return business class flight from London to New York to attend a meeting or conference, in the post-Covid world?
The cruise industry could be one of the hardest hit areas of travel. Early on in the crisis, the Diamond Princess ship had the highest number of coronavirus cases outside of China, culminating in 712 passengers testing positive and 11 deaths. More recently, the MS Zaandem has been stranded off the shores of Florida after struggling to find anywhere else to dock in South America, with 9 confirmed cases on board and 2 deaths. These stories will likely linger in the memory for anyone tempted to book a cruise holiday in the coming months and years.
Aviation will also take a big hit. Some, like easyJet, have grounded their entire fleet while others continue with minimal services.According to air travel analyst OAG, global air capacity has now fallen to 37.8m seats a remarkable 65pc fall since the start of January. As a result, Southwest has become the world's biggest airline. While Flybe was, sadly, the first to collapse as a result of coronavirus in early March. There are concerns that with low cash supplies, many airlines won't survive if the world remains in lockdown for many more months;Iata has warned of mass insolvencies should the grounding persist beyond May.
One likely change will be the change in how we approachhygiene on our travels. In the same way that 9/11 led to a new era of security processes, it is plausible that cruises and airlines will introduce more stringent processes to ensure passengers are healthy and doing everything they can to prevent the spread of disease. Is it ridiculous to imagine all air passengers will have their temperatures checked before boarding a flight, as is currently happening on arrival in many airports, and either refused boarding or put in a particular seat on the plane if they are unwell? Emirates has already started testing passengers before boarding flights and we may well see more follow suit. EasyJet has also announced this it could resume flights with the middle seats taken out of action. One thing for sure is that we will be seeing a lot more face masks and hand sanitizers on our travels from now on.
We could well see some other behavioural shifts, after coronavirus. With millions of holidaymakers having to cancel plans and request refunds for trips booked long in advance, could we see a rise in last-minute holidays? Quite possibly. And with stories of so many people stranded overseas, I also wouldnt be surprised if we saw a rise in close-to-home holidays after this is all over, with people still skittish about the possibility of a sudden return of coronavirus. More likely these will be short-term shifts, as people adjust to normality and grow in confidence over time. Whether we'll be booking with Airbnb, or not, is another question Laurence Dodds writes that the once-triumphant start-up is now fighting for its life and even if it survives the pandemic, it may not have a place in what comes next.
Travellers who do go overseas will need to check their insurance policy closely, as many companies have redrawn their terms and conditions in the wake of coronavirus, coming with more limitations about what is covered in future pandemics. "Covid-19 has turned the industry on its head," said PK Rao, president of insurance company INF Visitor Care. "There will be major changes pertaining to the underwriting and policies written for travel plans."
Are there any positive changes afoot? The big immediate one is the positiveenvironmental impact of coronavirus. In the last three months, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions have fallen across the world as countries enter lockdown and transport grinds to a halt. Satellite images have shown nitrogen dioxide emissions fading away over Italy, Spain and parts of the UK since the countries entered lockdown. Many people who were reducing flying, such as one of our journalists, didnt realise it would be quite so easy.
The question of whether this pause in emissions were seeing now will last comes down to whether we will keep travelling, and particularly flying, at the scale we did before coronavirus, or if the whole ordeal will shift our behaviours and actually keep us closer to home.
It seems fanciful to imagine a world with decreased appetite for flying. However, a 2018 study from Zurich University found that when people were unable to drive, but were given a free e-bike instead, they drove much less when they eventually got the car back. A similar study from Kyoto University found that when a motorway closed, forcing drivers to use public transport, the same thing happened committed drivers soon became dedicated public transport users.
We have been stripped of the luxury of flying, or indeed catching trains or driving off on a road trip, and are being forced to find other sources of inspiration and escapism. Rather than yearning for a far-away beach, many are yearning for simpler pleasures like pub gardens and visits to see our beloved families. So could we see a drop in appetite for international travel, as we take our proverbial e-bikes to the pub garden?
It seems unlikely. While we may see a slow-down in bookings into 2021, as coronavirus looms large in the memory, and domestic travel will cut muster in the short term, I have no doubt that we will continue travelling the wider world in time. The resuming of air traffic may not be the best news from an environmental standpoint, although it will be welcomed by the millions of families around the world whose livelihoods are dependent on tourism, and will bring great relief to those economies that rely on the tourist dollar.
We will fly off to exotic climes one day, soon enough. But if history is anything to go by, we will be looking down on a very different world.
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