Exploring the backyard: The future of vacations?
Though COVID-19 has suppressed people’s travel urges, their yearning for beautiful natural scenery hasn’t hit an ebb. So, when travel resumes, it would become a major turning point for many people.
Beach, hills, sunset, exotic food, wilderness, eating out — what used to be mainstream until four months ago has turned into a utopian fantasy, and will remain so for a long, long time. The COVID-19 pandemic has ripped through almost every country and changed our world. Nothing is normal anymore. The pandemic has decimated the travel industry, and the rampage is far from over.
The idea of travelling for fun has become preposterous. Since the pandemic has cut a swath through people’s daily lives, travellers have only indulged in armchair escapism — embarking on virtual trips globally, while remaining within the confines of their homes.
With so much uncertainty, many questions haunt travellers: When would they be able to plan their next holiday or a week under the sun? What would their next vacation look like? Can they ever travel fearlessly like they used to?
“Travellers will keep harbouring such doubts till the authorities regain their confidence. And that can only happen once an effective vaccination is introduced,” says Benjamin Simon, a tour operator in Bhubaneswar and founder of Travel Link, a company that has been organising experiential holidays within Odisha and to Chhattisgarh for over four decades.
Though COVID-19 has suppressed people’s travel urges, their yearning for beautiful natural scenery hasn’t hit an ebb. So, when travel resumes, it would become a major turning point for many people, allowing them to go out and relax after months of being locked down in their homes.
Domestic travel first
Domestic travel market will bounce back the fastest. World Travel and Tourism Council, the trade group representing major global travel companies, had also tweeted a few days ago that domestic tourism would be the key. But even within the domestic space, people would still be wary of undertaking journeys to far-off places from where returning home would take long. They also wouldn’t want to get into an airplane to avoid the risk of getting infected. So, slowing down the pace to enjoy a trip will become the norm and rational thinking is likely to define the destination. Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, had stated a few weeks ago during an interview with CNBC that travelling closer home by car would be the norm, at least for a while. So, the proportion of people traveling by car within their home towns or districts, instead of taking a flight or train and coming in contact with more people, is likely to rise.
Arnab Nandy, a traveller and digital nomad, agrees. “Local trips will start first, without a doubt. It’s already happening in Europe. In India, too, newer local and close-to-home destinations will emerge,” says Arnab, who also runs a travel portal ‘travelandy.com’.
Short journeys will become the norm, and experiencing local cultures and customs may become increasingly popular. “If I take the case study of Bhubaneswar, a family wanting to get out of the monotony of staying indoors, may want to travel to Bhitarkanika, Daringbadi or Rajhans Island. A drive to any of these places from Bhubaneswar takes around 2-4 hours,” says Simon.
Regional travel, with caveats
After that, as restrictions begin to ease gradually and if protocol permits, people would opt for regional travel, or travel within states sharing common borders. Even these journeys can be made by cars. For example, a person from Odisha can travel to Chhattisgarh or Araku Valley in Andhra Pradesh. People will still avoid public transport; trains and flights will still be out of the horizon. Simon says, “As on date, whatever flights are operating, whatever occupancy we see, it comprises either migrant people who are going back to their home towns or people visiting their relatives. You’ll not find business travellers because organizations don’t want to put their employees at risk. Also, COVID-19 doesn’t cover certain travel insurances either. So, tourists will not travel. Nobody wants to take a risk.”
Soham Chakrabarty, who organises guided tours of Kolkata through his company Calcutta Capsule, says new patterns of travelling will evolve given the ‘new normal’. “Those eager to get out and discover their surroundings after months spent in isolation will travel in their own car, which would make them feel safer,” he explains.
National travel, far way off?
The third step would be national travel, where people would be able to visit any part of the country. Simon says he doesn’t see that happening anytime soon, because protocols and restrictions differ from state to state. “These protocols are dependent on the number of cases in a state at a particular point of time. They can change suddenly and without warning. Also, now that WHO has declared that coronavirus is an airborne disease, I see the protocols become stricter,” says Simon.
Long way to go for travel industry
Once the contagion is completely reined in and as cooped-up travellers step out again, will the travel industry rebound and scale new peaks? Simon doesn’t think so. “I don’t foresee the industry bouncing back in at least another 18 months. Many entities have shut and those who have been sustaining in these few months since lockdown by spending from their own resources for rent and staff salaries have now reached a point where they cannot do it anymore. As a result, more travel and tour operators will shut shop,” he says.
So, when so much remains uncertain, how do you plan your next trip? Plan to travel closer to your home, so that you can easily get back the same day, or maybe a day later. Choose destinations where you can travel by your own car or bike. Plan several short trips, instead of that one annual big trip. Take advantage of long weekends and holidays.
It’s time to draw up a new travel bucket list — who knows, a weekend picnic in your backyard may be among the first things you tick off that list!
Your must-haves while travelling
Mask: Whenever in public, wear face coverings; carry a few spares
Hand sanitizer: Ensure that it is within reach; use an alcohol-based sanitiser with greater than 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol
Disinfectants: Sanitize frequently-touched surfaces, including steering wheels, door handles, car seats; also, disinfect your credit or debit card after each use
Isopropyl wipes: We touch our phone innumerable times a day; so, use isopropanol alcohol wipes to clean the surface
Food and water: Pack as much water and non-perishable food as possible; you may want to avoid restaurants
Medicine: Carry enough for the whole trip; to avoid unnecessary close contact with people, you may want to avoid roadside pharmacy stores
Thermometer: Keep tabs on your temperature