The travel industry is reeling from the worldwide covid-19 pandemic. The cruise industry was one of the first to be hard hit by the outbreak.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were likely thousands of cruise ship passengers in February and March infected by covid-19.
Many cruise lines are working on plans to sail again after they were docked for 100 days by the CDC, but these companies are going to have to show passengers they are dedicated to safety and doing things differently in the future.
For cruise lines, this might mean reducing how many people are onboard at one time and cutting out the infamous cruise ship buffets.
Beyond cruising, what can we expect to see changing in the cruise industry as the world tries to return to a sense of normalcy?
Many expect the impacts on the travel industry will be far-reaching, perhaps more so than the effects on other industries, similar to what happened after 9/11.
A Slow Return
Most states around the country are lifting their social distancing and shelter in place policies, albeit gradually. We’re starting to return to work and to do things we did before coronavirus such as shopping or even going to restaurants.
With that being said, coronavirus certainly isn’t gone, and it’s affecting how many of us live our daily lives.
There is a sense of caution being express by the average American traveler, which may mean the industry is slow to rebound.
A Harris Poll from early April found two-thirds of Americans won’t travel for at least three months after coronavirus starts to subside, although that number could be different now to reflect the increasing information we have about the virus.
In that same poll, only one-third of Americans said they’d stay in a hotel, and 28% said they’d be ready to fly within the timeline of flattening the coronavirus curve.
However, when looking at a time that was six months out from the flattening of the curve, around 52% of survey respondents said they’d be ready to visit a hotel.
For years, airline travel has been relatively affordable, and you could quite literally fall asleep on a plane and wind up somewhere around the world by morning.
That wanderlust focused on international travel may decline in the coming months however, and more people might plan trips that aren’t too far from home.
In the U.S., Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin recently encouraged Americans to explore travel options that are domestic for the time being. This might mean that you skip flying altogether, and instead consider destinations that are drivable from your home.
If you do fly, perhaps you’ll take shorter trips rather than overnight flights where you’re in an enclosed space with other people, eating and drinking, for long periods of time.
Whether or not Americans return quickly to even domestic travel is going to depend on not only how they feel about the virus, but the economy as well.
Unemployment is at a record high level right now, so if people continue to feel economic insecurity, it may lead them to avoid the extras, which includes travel.
How Travel Brands Can Appeal to Customers
Whether it’s a cruise line, a hotel or an airline, it’s up to these travel-based companies to market to customers in a way that’s sensitive to the pandemic and the apprehension many may feel for a long time.
It will be up to travel companies to attract customers in a way that promotes their health and safety.
Travel companies will need to show what they’re doing to combat the spread of coronavirus and communicate frequently and concisely with customers.
It’s also important that they let them know what to expect with any changes being enacted because a sense of uncertainty might make travelers reluctant to return.
What About Flying?
Flying, aside from the cruise industry, is perhaps likely to see the most effects of the coronavirus going forward.
Airlines are already making their refund and cancellation policies more flexible, and they’ve been doing so for months. Prior to coronavirus, airlines were notoriously unrelenting with their refund or credit policies.
Beyond that, many airlines are also implementing social distancing measures onboard.
This may mean, for example, that the middle seat of every row is blocked out and stays empty.
Most airlines are requiring passengers and crew to wear facial coverings, and on many flights, most food and beverage services are being discontinued.
There could be more changes in the future as well.
For example, airport travelers will probably see more touchless technology in terminals, such as biometric check-ins.
This is already used in Atlanta’s Delta terminal. You go to a kiosk and use your face as your identification. Then you get a bag tag and you drop your bag at a machine so that you’re not interacting with anyone who works for the airport or airline.
Something else being discussed, although not already put in place, is having passengers book time slots for security screening, rather than gathering in long, closely crowded lines.
In this scenario, you would sign up for a specific time when you would go through security.
There may be more health screening at airports, like thermal cameras to detect fevers without actually interrupting the flow of passengers.
Airports will probably be cleaning and sanitizing more frequently and may use robots to do so. Some airports may close overnight for deep cleaning too, much as is the case with public transportation in New York City right now.
There aren’t currently any blanket federal regulations for airports and airlines, but there will likely be in the future.
Airlines and airports are going to have to work closely with not only the federal government but also with medical professionals to find the best ways of doing things going forward, without infringing on passenger rights.
Much like the changes implemented following 9/11, it can be a precious balancing act when it comes to health and safety and individual rights and freedoms.