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5 ways coronavirus could forever change the future of travel

When the coronavirus releases its grip and we slowly start to emerge from quarantine, the world we see won’t look the same as it did when we entered a quasi-hibernation in March 2020.

5 ways coronavirus could forever change the future of travel
© Xingzheng/Getty Images


When the coronavirus releases its grip and we slowly start to emerge from quarantine, the world we see won’t look the same as it did when we entered a quasi-hibernation in March 2020. When we can begin to reenter society, will face masks be as ubiquitous across the U.S. as jeans? Will we all have secret stashes of toilet paper and Lysol wipes tucked away, just in case? Will we ever stop jumping when someone near us coughs or sneezes? Many of these — and other even more pressing questions — don’t yet have firm answers. But we do know that the coronavirus will certainly change the future of travel. From how we book, to where we go, to why we travel, our seat selections on the plane, and what financial and safety risks we’re willing to assume, we will emerge from this worldwide crisis different travelers than before the pandemic began. “As we did after Sept. 11, we will once again need to change how we travel following the coronavirus outbreak. Packing humans into small spaces like sardines and not checking people for even the most rudimentary symptoms like fever will become things of the past,” wrote TPG’s founder and CEO, Brian Kelly, in a recent article on the future of travel. But what will change when we scan our next boarding pass and check into our next room? Here are some ways travel will change in the future.

We'll take that dream trip

5 ways coronavirus could forever change the future of travel
© Tero Hakala/Shutterstock

We all theoretically know that if you wait too long to take a dream trip, “someday” may never come. But now, that lesson is crystal clear. Leisure travel went from being as popular as ever at the beginning of 2020 to grinding to a complete and indefinite halt by mid- to late-March. We’ve seen more than a hundred thousand lives cut tragically short. Those factors will combine to create a world in which travelers will no longer put off making the trip they’ve been dreaming of for months, years, or even longer — once it’s safe to explore, of course. Whether you want to take an epic trip that needs to be booked a year in advance, fly around the world in first-class, go on a safari, see the northern lights, finally take that trip to New Zealand, explore the country’s best national parks or find out for yourself just how special Hawaii is, the flip side of COVID-19 will be the motivation to finally take those dream trips we’ve all been putting off.



Travel insurance will spike

5 ways coronavirus could forever change the future of travel
© Austin Neill/Upsplash

For many travelers, relying on premium credit cards with trip protections has typically been more than enough to defend against any worst-case scenario moments. But after the coronavirus upended the travel industry, we all learned a valuable lesson: Epidemics and pandemics are not covered under most types of travel insurance policies. Even independent policies weren’t much help for travelers who had to back out of travel plans, especially before airlines and hotel groups began modifying cancellation and rebooking policies to accommodate travelers affected by the outbreak. The number of travel insurance policies sold has skyrocketed 200% since January, according to InsureMyTrip. This is the highest increase the company has reported in the past 20 years, suggesting that travelers are already rethinking how they’ll protect their travel investments. “Whenever a major event happens, people start to understand the value of travel insurance,” Cheryl Golden, the director of marketing, e-commerce and strategic planning for InsureMyTrip, told TPG. She said the increase in travel insurance purchases is to be expected, and that it’s an “uptick that holds.” Trip protection and travel delay coverage — the kind you might see attached to your Chase Sapphire Reserve card — may still be more than enough for travelers. But for those who require additional peace of mind, the best way to safeguard your travels is a “cancel for any reason” travel insurance upgrade. This policy, sometimes referred to as CFAR, will typically cost 40% more than your standard insurance policy. But you’ll be able to back out for any reason, whether there’s a pandemic sweeping the planet or you’ve simply changed your mind about taking that trip. (Just be sure to read the policy’s exclusions list and make sure pandemic/epidemic isn’t listed as a non-covered reason.) Golden said CFAR, paired with a comprehensive plan, is a traveler’s “best bet.” Just keep in mind, these policies rarely cover the entire cost of your trip.



Multigenerational travel will grow

5 ways coronavirus could forever change the future of travel
© Morsa Images/Getty Images

When this is over, it will have likely been many months since families have really gotten a chance to be together. They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and the post-pandemic world may see an already-growing travel trend of bringing many generations together rise to the next level. According to a trend report released in October by Virtuoso, a luxury travel agency network, multigenerational travel was already the most popular travel trend of 2020. Nearly 60% of Virtuoso travel specialists surveyed in February said they expected family travel sales to increase — and that was before we were all told to stay inside and only hang out with our loved ones on Zoom. It takes planning, coordination and commitment to make a multigenerational trip work, but we bet that families are going to break those barriers down and head off with parents, grandparents and children to enjoy the world beyond the confines of their own backyards. The value of time together (as well as photos together), is apparent and we’ll see no shortage of multigenerational trips and travel providers catering to that demographic.



Third-party bookings will shrink

5 ways coronavirus could forever change the future of travel
© anyaberkut / Getty Images

Over the years, travelers have been fans of using third-party booking sites, known as online travel agencies (OTAs), to book all sorts of travel in one place. These companies (think: Expedia, Orbitz, Hotels.com and others) act as middlemen, allowing travelers to compare prices across airlines, hotels, car rentals and more. If you book through an OTA and something goes wrong, however, you have not only the travel provider’s policies to contend with but also the rules of the agency through which you booked. Though major agencies have altered their cancellation and change policies in kind with changes in airline, hotel, cruise and car rental policies amid the coronavirus pandemic, it’s an extra piece of the puzzle that needs to be figured out before a trip is changed or canceled successfully. We’ve seen reports of people having difficulty changing and canceling trips booked through OTAs, often involving hours of calls to the OTA, then to the airline, then back to the OTA and so on. We predict that, in the future, people will feel more secure booking directly through the travel provider of their choice so that in the event something goes very, very wrong like this again, customers will only have to deal with the company that’s providing the transportation or lodging.



Frequent flyer accounts will be drained

5 ways coronavirus could forever change the future of travel
© Getty Images

While the process of living through COVID-19 is far from over, we’ve already seen some contraction in how you can use miles from some programs and even banks. So far, that’s just largely meant the removal of some gift card redemption options from select travel-related loyalty programs. But time will tell if the cuts go deeper. When you combine the 2019 trend away from set award charts to dynamic award prices that can vary day to day with the economic implications and pent-up travel demand caused by COVID-19, we expect to see people use their frequent flyer miles in droves when it’s safe again to travel. It’s not just us. View from the Wing’s Gary Leff said, “There’s definitely going to be a desire to travel after being cooped up, to experience places and things that have been off-limits and to connect with friends and family that we haven’t seen. There’s also going to be a tendency to want to rebuild household balance sheets, conserve cash and replace some savings, and that means miles and points take on greater importance in making trips happen.” “There’s going to be fantastic award availability, travel won’t all come back at the same time [and] planes are going to be empty for a while,” Leff added. Speaking from personal booking experience, TPG’s Mommy Points has been saving up United miles since … forever. It was already getting harder to find well-priced international business class awards flights before the coronavirus, which are the ones she often loves to take using miles. Now, she has cashed in more than 200,000 miles while sitting on the couch in the hopes of future trips to Disneyland (just 7,000 miles per ticket) and for a potential end-of-year trip to Hawaii in lie-flat seats with the family. The thought process? Why wait — you just never know what your miles will be worth later and when such opportunities will come again. To that point, Leff also said that, while programs will likely be “printing points to encourage travel” further down the road, devaluations may follow, so sitting on miles isn’t advisable.

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Travel Magazine: 5 ways coronavirus could forever change the future of travel
5 ways coronavirus could forever change the future of travel
When the coronavirus releases its grip and we slowly start to emerge from quarantine, the world we see won’t look the same as it did when we entered a quasi-hibernation in March 2020.
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