Travel and tourism post pandemic: “More exclusive, more responsible, more expensive”

  • News reports say it may be until 2023 or 2024 (depending on region) before airline travel is restored to 2019 pre-pandemic levels.
  • These timelines seem realistic considering the training necessary to re-certify flight crews who have been furloughed for lengthy stretches, and who may need to train to fly different aircraft than they flew before.
  • Demand for air travel in 2022 and early 2023 may exceed supply of passenger seats. This means flying might require booking months in advance and/or paying much higher fares.
  • Many countries mandating purchase of additional insurance coverage “in case of Covid-19”. Depending on length of stay at the age of the traveler, this can add up to hundreds of dollars to the costs for each traveler.

A news report says Delta thinks it will take ’til summer of 2023 to re-build the airline back to 2019 pre-pandemic levels. Some analysts think it will be 2025 before global air traffic returns to pre-pandemic levels.

Separately, countries are looking at ways to limit tourism, or focus more on luxury/high end travelers who stay longer and spend more money. There is also talk of more fees and carbon taxes on tourists, which may limit future international travel to the well off. Combined with mandatory health insurance purchases, the cost of international travel may relegate such travel primarily to the wealthy.

Before the pandemic, Delta reportedly had about 14,000 pilots. After the pandemic, 2,230 took early retirement and – a guesstimate – perhaps 4000 or more pilots were furloughed (not flying).

In January, Delta recalled 400 pilots to start training for summer flights, suggesting up to six months of training and certification time. (Consistent with comments from friends who are airline pilots.)

This month, Delta will recall another 1,300 pilots to begin training – which probably put this cohort out to the fall of 2021 time frame.

Just doing the simple math to retrain existing pilots and hire new pilots to replace those who retired (from 2020 to 2022) and recognizing training as the bottleneck, it will probably take until 2023 to restore service to pre-pandemic levels.

Travel industry surveys show significant pent up demand for travel, suggesting demand will exceed supply in 2022 (will vary by region). Many travelers may need to book flights 4-6 months in advance and prices for airfare may go up until capacity matches demand. And that may not happen until well into 2023.

Other possible changes

Many countries are discussing changes to travel in the post-pandemic era.

Costa Rica has instituted an $11/day “Costa Rica health insurance” policy requirement for all international visitors. As of March 7, 2021, over a dozen countries have added mandatory health insurance policy purchases. These can cost up to hundreds of dollars per traveler, depending on destination and age of traveler, and are expected to remain in place “for years” until the pandemic is declared over globally.

Costa Rica also reportedly requires a “quarantine” insurance policy in case you test positive and must isolate in a hotel for two weeks. Some hotels are including this in their service charges.

New Zealand and Thailand say they have become overrun with too many tourists and are proposing to “reset” how travel is done, post-pandemic. Norway has similar concerns for travel to Svalbard. Peru intends to make changes regarding visitors to Machu Picchu. There are likely other countries with similar concerns.

Each of these countries would like to see a switch to higher end travelers who spend more money. For example, 25% of visitors to Thailand are youthful backpackers who spend little.

Some countries will emphasize higher end travel experiences in their marketing. Others are discussing mandates and higher fees. For example, New Zealand has also discussed a health insurance requirement and up to $155/visitor “carbon tax”, plus higher taxes on some accommodations. Norway has proposed ways of encouraging or requiring longer stays around Svalbard so that revenue per visitor is increased. Peru has proposed longer stay requirements and more marketing to have tourists visits more sites in Peru.

Dubrovnik, Venice, Longyearbyen (Svalbard) and some coastal cities in the Netherlands may reduce cruise ship visitors. Cruise ships stop in port for comparatively short visits. Tourists disembark – but won’t be using local hotels, and may make limited use of restaurants. Such visitors are often not big money makers but crowd local communities.

Another new focus is “Slow travel” and/or “Sustainable” travel. Much of this is more virtue signaling than reality. The idea behind “slow travel” is rather than see as much as one can in the time most people have for a vacation trip, we should instead visit just one city for weeks, rather than days. And slow down, take the time to enjoy much and learn about the community and culture.

For many travelers that is impossible due to having few vacation days. But in a post-pandemic world where many high end workers are now “remote workforce” staff, permanently, they can stay wherever they want while they do their “white collar” work. Consequently, some hotels are now marketing “staycations” to such workers. Rather than work from home, come visit a country for six weeks – having a vacation-like trip while working.

As one story put it, tourism after Covid-19 may be “more exclusive, more responsible, more expensive”.

Some of the promoters of “slow travel” are inconsistent, of course. I read one promoter saying you should minimize air travel and take the bus or train from your destination. This promoter suggested you fly to China or the EU because they have good train system. Yes, fly so you can use a train – somehow that was supposed to be a “greener” approach to travel. Made me laugh.

It is possible we have passed “peak travel”. Airline fares in the mid-term (2022/2023) may be going up a fair amount. Government regulations on tourism might limit options to wealthier travelers and those who have the luxury of slow travel and “staycations”. Travel post-pandemic might end up quite a bit different – and many of us may be forced into less travel.

Afterward

(I have never done international travel even though about 100% of my peer group had studied abroad, worked abroad or was born abroad, or has done extensive international travel. I found my lack of international experience GREATLY limited my ability to think globally and to recognize global opportunities.

2020 was the year I was going to learn how to be a traveler with 3 1/3 trips paid for and several more in detailed planning. All were canceled, of course. Am now thinking it is out to 2023 before I can try my first international travel. IF governments do not make such travel impossible or prohibitively expensive. It is possible I missed the era of “peak travel” and future travel may be difficult to accomplish. It is hard to know at this point as borders remained closes and travel restrictions are widespread.

These comments probably sound silly to those who have extensive travel experience. I need not look far to see blog posts and Youtube videos from 26 year olds visiting their 60th country.)

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