Is it safe to travel for the holidays during covid time

For the past several years, Hong Kong-based fashion designer Marie France Van Damme has spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s in Malaysia — island hopping on a boat with her husband, three sons and their girlfriends.

Travellers to and from India seem to be in a wait and watch mode before finalising their summer vacation plans. With more cases of exposure to novel coronavirus (COVID-19) being detected, holiday bookings have turned to temporary reservations and those that are fully refundable.

The ‘no travel’ trend

According to information from artificial intelligence company Zeta Global, 58% of consumers (based on a sample of 44,000 people) are not planning to travel for the holiday season — up from 49% last year and equivalent to 31 million fewer travelers.

Data from the airfare prediction app Hopper is also a sign that travel is slow for the 2020 holidays in comparison with last year. In the United States, the prices of domestic Christmastime flights have dropped 25% compared with 2019, reaching a new low — and average of $275 round trip.

International prices have also dropped to a new low of $720 round trip on average, a 22% decrease from last year. In addition, demands for flights during the holiday season are almost twice as suppressed compared with last year.

When it comes to global travelers, data from research company ForwardKeys shows that, as of the beginning of August, winter holiday bookings were 65.4% behind where they were at the equivalent moment in 2019.

Sanitizing at the airport

Hong Kong International Airport is testing full-body sanitizing booths that spritz sanitizer on you for 40 seconds, while avoiding the face. The Airport Authority Hong Kong told Business Traveller Asia-Pacific that while these devices are currently being trialled for staff, it may use them on passengers in the future.

Other airports are already practising social distancing and encouraging cleanliness. London’s Heathrow has signage across all its terminals reminding passengers to distance themselves at least two metres from others and to wash their hands regularly.

PPE on the plane

Wearing some sort of protective clothing on the aeroplane is also likely to become the norm, as airlines strive to encourage passengers to feel comfortable flying again.

Airline companies are among the worst hit financially, declaring bankruptcy or asking for government support, and it’s hard to see how social distancing could work in such enclosed spaces.

Some firms are already taking steps to shore up confidence in their cleanliness. Korean Air is providing cabin crew with protective gowns and goggles, which are either discarded after each flight or sanitised before reuse.

Taking a backseat

It is not just the tour operators and hotels that are feeling the pain caused by the pandemic. The entire value chain has even hit hard and the future looks equally bleak. For example, car rental companies feel disgruntled at this point with the lackadaisical efforts of the government when it comes to offering them some support.

Transport and tourist service provider in Delhi, Mann Tours, which used to work with international clientele, have had no movement of vehicles in the last two months.

UK spending and banking habits shifting

According to the Toluna and Harris Interactive COVID-19 Barometer survey, 40% of consumers in the United Kingdom plan to reduce spend related to entertainment as lockdown restricitons ease. That is in contrast to only 14% of consumers who said they would be increasing their spend over the next 1-2 months.

Additionally, of those surveyed, 38% said they would be looking to put more money into savings and an additional 28% said they planned to create stricter budgets in the near future.

What does all this mean? Basically, consumers are being cautious with their discretionary spending, even as restrictions are slowly being reduced in the UK. This shift in consumer mindset will have a trickle-down effect on ecommerce as well, especially in areas like the United States that are still being hard hit by the pandemic.

Uncertainty and restrictions around travel plans are growing.

In the UK, only 32% of vacationers (defined as those who usually take at least one vacation a year) haven’t had their travel plans affected by coronavirus.

In the U.S., this drops to just 8%. Almost half of U.S. vacationers have canceled plans because they were forced to, and even more have done so of their own volition.

But, by asking consumers who’ve delayed or cancelled travel plans when they expect to plan trips again post-crisis, we can at least tease out their readiness to jump back into travel, or gauge whether their behavior has profoundly changed.

There’s a noticeable split between U.S. and UK markets here. U.S. travelers tend to be more conservative in predicting when they’ll be traveling again. UK consumers, however, appear keener to reinstate their travel plans as soon as they can; the majority anticipate returning to vacation planning in the next 6 months.

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