What will the future of travel look like? It is a hot topic, and there is no dearth of articles about it. Almost all of it, even the most well researched and solidly conceived pieces, is speculation. With so little known about the Coronavirus and its waves of contagion, we are all left to use evolving research to postulate probable scenarios.
We have surveyed the literature and had numerous conversations with our colleagues in Europe, who double as correspondents to the crisis overseas. Our discussions revolve around what travel will look like in the interim between reopening and a vaccine or cure for COVID-19.
With all the expected caveats, here are some clues to what future travel in Europe may look like.
Air travel is changing, with passengers expected to wear masks and increasingly being subject to temperature checks before boarding and at their destination. While much is still being determined, it seems clear that travelers will need to arrive much earlier for flights.
Among the changes experts expect are pre-flight protocols that include health checks, manual seat assignments to accommodate social distancing, the possibility of sanitizing processes for luggage and passengers, and modifications to security and boarding routines to allow for distancing.
Domestic travel first
As Italy reopens, the travel industry there is looking to in-country travel first. The hospitality industry in Rome, for instance, is positioning itself as a destination for Italians from other regions.
We are hearing this from reports around Europe. As borders within Europe open, Europeans will have greater options, but for now marketing to in-country travelers will allow the industry to reawaken and establish new working systems. Think of it as a “soft opening” of tourism.
Masks and gloves
As European countries reopen, masks are not required in all places. Untours colleagues report that in rural areas of Switzerland and places without a lot of cases like Scotland, not many people are wearing masks.
In Italy and Germany, masks are currently required inside shops and numbers of shoppers are limited. In Italy masks are even required outdoors in some urban areas. In some areas, shoppers can grab disposable, single-use plastic gloves outside the shops, though supplies are dwindling. Travelers are advised to pack their own supply.
Beaches and parks
“I am actually looking forward to going to the beach,” our Roman colleague Mary told us. In popular beach resorts along the coast of Italy, France, and Spain, crowds can be densely packed, but new social distancing measures will radically cut that density. It means arriving early or booking in advance on private beaches.
Parks and hiking trails are largely open too. In cities especially, social distancing is being practiced.
When/as the museums reopen, look for controlled reservations, with pre booking and prepayment required, to limit human interaction upon your arrival at the museum. Expect social distancing to be enforced and plan to wear a mask during your entire visit. Museums are extending hours.
Ahead of your trips, why not take advantage of online visits to museums!? You can visit the Louvre, the Uffizi, the Prado, the Rijksmuseum, and many other famous collections online.
Buses and trains
City transit is operating with strict social distancing. As service resumes in Italy for instance, buses, trams and subways will operate at very limited capacity, with alternating rows of seats kept empty. In its early days, this means full buses bypassing some stops. Anyone who has ridden a busy metro in Barcelona or London can only imagine.
For this reason, Untours city staff are advising that as guests return to Europe’s cities, they should be prepared to walk more.
Trains will also operate under tightened capacity limitations to allow for social distancing. Rail systems throughout Europe will require reservations on most trains, no longer just the premium ones. Book ahead.
Private drivers and transfers
Driving services are stepping up their game, sanitizing vehicles between passenger trips. In some countries this is required by law. All of Untours’ drivers are complying with new, strict protocols for cleaning.
Also, drivers will limit the number of passengers on each trip, restricting trips in smaller vehicles to single parties (of people who share a household) or spacing passengers so that they will be running vehicles at half capacity of less. Our driving service in Scotland is looking to add glass between driver and passenger areas, and in Barcelona they are using ozone to disinfect vehicles.
Taxis will be required to clean between passengers.
The fate of Europe’s small, quaint bistro, taverna, and trattoria is in question, as social distancing limits the number of people who can be seated indoors. European colleagues are in touch with favorite business owners who express concern about viability with a markedly smaller clientele. Margins are low in the industry. Look for outdoor seating, plexiglass dividers, and other potential safety measures.
“I believe guests can expect special treatment while eating out as mass tourism won’t be back for a while,” our Budapest colleague told us.
Also look for creative adaptations around Europe. Think of the images from the cafe in Germany that gave its outdoor patrons hats with pool noodles, to enforce social distance. Or the arty greenhouse structures one Dutch restaurant offers its guests. Creativity may win the day!
While vacation apartment owners and agencies are responding to heightened hygiene suggestions published by Airbnb and other big players, they are waiting for legal guidance. It is expected that national laws will regulate the proper cleaning and sanitizing of vacation apartments between guests. This will include rigorous standards and cleaning protocols.
At Untours, we are in close contact with European colleagues and in regular touch with our apartment hosts, monitoring conditions on the ground and the progress of re-opening efforts. Things are improving by the day and the week.
We expect our rural destinations may be the first to bounce back. Untours in central Switzerland, Provence, Tuscany, Andalusia, Ireland, Germany and Scotland are set in small towns and the countryside, giving guests plenty of natural beauty and the safety of distance from others.
Whatever the future brings, we will be prepared to welcome guests to our programs in Europe. Our focus is on safety, and we are confident that our business model offers social distance, personalized local support, and a sense of place that can transcend some of the limitations on this “new normal” we all anticipate.
Things are changing by the moment, but keep checking back with Untours for travel updates!