Nick Karvounis

Many European countries previously hard hit by the coronavirus are now entering into a phase of easing restrictions and lockdowns. More people are starting to return back to their workplace and “normal” daily routines, restaurant and coffee bar terraces are starting to be filled with life and laughter – although most under strict measures of distance-keeping and mask-wearing. As life is seemingly starting to return back to somewhat closer to normal in these countries and with the weather heating up by each week, some of us might begin to wonder about the future form of travel in a post-pandemic world.  

Closed borders and the strong advice to stay home as much as possible to stop the spread of the virus made travel and tourism impossible in the last few months. The travel industry is one of the most affected areas by the pandemic with an estimated 100 million job losses globally in the sector. The travel industry generates around 10 percent of the GDP in the European Union. 

AIR TRAVEL

As the process of easing lockdowns has begun in some countries, airline industries are not hesitating to get back on track as soon as possible, despite the current outlook that is still far from the regular. One example is the Hungarian airline Wizz Air that is travelling again. However, most of the passengers fly for reasons other than holidays and tourism; they are mainly grabbing the opportunity to reunite with their families and loved ones who stuck in other countries. Travel is subject to safety measures, passengers are required to wear masks and the use of hand sanitizers is offered to them throughout the flight. This is something that might become a new routine for those who are planning to travel after the restrictions have been eased. The idea to install thermal cameras or measure the temperature of each passenger upon check-in as introduced by Air Canada might be the part of the new “ritual” before taking off. The Delta Air Lines also introduced the use of a specific fogging procedure that allows for the disinfection of surfaces inside the aircraft. 

Picture by Ethan McArthur on Unsplash

By far the most effective way to prevent infection is testing against the virus both before taking off and upon arrival. However, as effective and easy testing sounds, the harder it is to make it happen. Vienna Airport has recently introduced the possibility of virus testing on-site. The test-findings become available to passengers within three hours and a negative test eliminates the need for a 14-day-long self-quarantine for those arriving in Austria. However, the possibility to avoid self-isolation also comes with a cost of 190 euros per test. 

The example of Vienna Airport shows that testing comes at a high cost both in terms of money and time. Such burdens might be even more constraining when there are masses of people queued up for getting tested with two-meter distances between each other resulting in lines of people around airport buildings. Cleansing procedures of airports and aircraft also have to be applied throughout to ensure passenger safety and reduce the chance of infection. 

SAFE TOURISM ZONE

Greece, Cyprus and Israel are already considering the establishment of a safe travel zone that would welcome travellers who are seeking to go on holidays but would only travel to neighbouring countries. There are, however, several difficulties to face. First of all, Israel requires a two-week self-quarantine upon arrival to the country. Such a measure would need to be adjusted or lifted before the country becomes available for travel again. Moreover, both Cyprus and Greece are EU countries part of the Schengen Zone which requires open borders to all EU member states. Once they open their borders to visitors, they might not have the option to cherry-pick and allow tourists only from neighbouring countries. 

Greece has kept the outbreak under control and is claiming itself to be ready for travellers. The country’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis argues that by setting strict travel protocols, the country might be able to welcome tourists as of the 1 July. As for now every international who arrives in Athens is being screened for the virus, the testing method would also be continuously enforced when the country would reopen itself to travel. Predictably, tourists would be required to hold up a negative test before boarding the plane. The prime minister also highlighted that he expects comprehensive standards to be established internationally, or at least on an EU level. Similar hopes have been expressed by the Croatian Tourism Minister who has been discussing the possibility of travel with his Italian counterpart recently. However, considering the broad range of restrictions and measures set by European countries and the lack of coordinated response and guidelines on the part of the EU, it might be too optimistic to expect harmonised regulations and standards regarding travel. 

While it is still doubtful whether we should be planning any holiday soon, it is quite certain to say that without a global vaccine the form of travelling will be much different than we experienced before the pandemic. A solution might lie in the use of contact tracing mobile apps that would enable to track down all the contacts that an infected person had beforehand. Moreover, airplanes would possibly be required to leave empty seats between passengers on board to allow for social distancing. Masks, gloves and hand sanitizers are likely to belong to the travel essentials now. In fact, airlines and hotels might be wise enough to provide their guests with a package of such items instead of a welcome drink. Nasal swabs and temperature measurements are expected to accompany security controls at the airports. Even if some countries will reopen to tourists, we could only expect a return to the new normal that might leave us with a much different travel experience than what we were used to under regular circumstances.