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Unmasking the future of travel

Shalini Verma
Filed on June 10, 2020
The more diligent and responsible travelers are becoming anxious in the company of unmasked fellow-travelers.

(Reuters)

Just as we learnt to drop our handbag in a tray for a security scan, we will learn the new way of travel, with masks, sanitizers, wipes and gloves as our travel companions

Now that Dubai has opened up, it is easy to spot the different profiles of mask-wearers. Some wear a mask like an accessory rather than protective gear. The chin-wearers feel that a mask around the chin can scare away the virus, while others are convinced that the mask worn under the nose may confuse the virus. The more defiant ones with a false sense of invincibility, prefer to hang the mask from one ear.

Once we start to travel, chances are that we will meet such differently masked travelers. The more diligent and responsible travelers are becoming anxious in the company of unmasked fellow-travelers. Travel has changed in extraordinary ways. This time last year, it would have been impossible to imagine that a pandemic would lock down the world. Who knew that a tiny virus could tether the travel and tourism industry so ruthlessly? Yet those of us who love to travel, can't wait to do it again.

Aviation companies like Emirates airlines are ready to welcome their passengers aboard. Hotels have undergone a Covid-19 makeover, their temperature guns trained at guests, and their sanitization regime cranked up. Hotel guests can find a hand sanitizer sooner that they can find a dustbin. The travel and hospitality playbooks are being rewritten as hotels and airlines are learning to manage Covid-19 suspects at the check-in counters.

Despite the readiness, we won't see the travel floodgates open all at once. The reasons are far too obvious. The pandemic is far from over. The quarantine period makes only essential travel possible today. If there is a spike in new cases, we don't want to be locked down away from home. Countries are opening up in a measured manner for essential travels and taking a local approach to start with. Travel bubbles will open up for select countries that have similar standards of testing protocols.

In the past two decades, security redefined our travel experience. In the next decade, hygiene will be on our minds. Hotel advertisements we see today appear more like a promotion of a cleaning agency. Why not? We need to be assured that they are following the standards set by the World Health Organization and getting frequently audited and certified for hygiene. The touch-free travel experience means that cash will become even more rare.

We will adjust sooner than we think. Just as we learnt to drop our handbag in a tray for a security scan, we will learn the new way of travel, with masks, sanitizers, wipes and gloves as our travel companions. We will get used to being served by cabin crew fully kitted in chic PPE gear. Social distancing will become part of our travel etiquette. We will learn to stand in designated boxes to watch the Dubai Fountain show.

Some destinations will require us to carry a Covid-19 certificate just as the 'yellow fever card' is required in African countries. The vulnerable and the homebodies will still be at home, some wearing virtual glasses to visit distant places from the comforts of their living room. So, the ones who venture out will likely get more attention.

The lockdown has given us plenty of time to virtually explore destinations and to reflect on how and where we want to travel. Our self-fulfilling prophecies about more experiential travel, road trips through roads less traveled, unwinding at smaller boutique hotels are likely to play out. Staycations will pick up as remote work will give us more flexibility to work from anywhere. Hotels are asking us to check in for a few days for a change of scenery, a break from the city. Those locked down in apartments for months have a good reason to get away. If you cannot travel far, you can certainly travel to a nearby destination.

We reckon that travel will have a more Zen-like feeling. Social distancing will give us the simple joys of personal space in a crowd. We may even become more self-aware of the impact we make on the planet. Perhaps we will be the new improved travelers, more mindful of local communities and the ecosystem. So, as soon as we feel safe enough to travel, we will travel like never before. - Shalini Verma is CEO of PIVOT technologies


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