Coronavirus will change your next volunteer vacation because you may be paying less for travel, and there will be more flexibility. Larger gatherings like festivals and concerts will not be at the forefront of many people's travel plans.
Coronavirus will reshape your next trip, for better or worse. Here's what to expect
Special to USA TODAY
Henry Perez' summer vacation will be a little different this year. In addition to packing his swimsuit and camera for an Eastern Caribbean cruise this August, he's also planning to bring plenty of masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant.
"I will now personally sanitize my whole stateroom," says Perez, who works for an extermination company in Boston. "The attendants do a good job, but I want that extra layer of security."
Perez' behavior may have seemed odd before the pandemic. But it underscores one of three key concerns – and possibly changes – that will define travel in the future.
"The travel industry needs to do a better job communicating with guests to assure them of hygiene and safety," says Xiang Li, director of Temple University's U.S.-Asia Center for Tourism & Hospitality Research.
How coronavirus will change your next vacation
- You'll pay less. Look for lots of deals and better values.
- Your ticket will be more flexible. Change fees and refund rules will stay away for the rest of the year, maybe longer.
- Your vacation will be cleaner and safer. Your airline, cruise line and hotel will emphasize their hygiene and safety.
"All three will help bring customers back," says Li.
How low can you go?
"The price battles will start as soon as traveling is allowed again," predicts Inga Stumpf, who owns a small inn in Höfn, Iceland.
Trip.com Group, the Shanghai-based company that operates online travel agencies Trip.com, Skyscanner, and Ctrip.com, says prices to China may be a sign of things to come. Some of its tours are discounted between 50% and 80%.
"As of now, more than 1,600 attractions have opened in China," says company spokeswoman Wendy Min. "We are already seeing a lot of interest."
Travelers have already seen deep discounts in North America. They include 80% off hotel rates and up to 40% off airfares, as I mentioned last week. But as the shelter-in-place orders are lifted, prices could go even lower as travel companies compete aggressively for your travel dollar.
Bending a few rules for you
Flexibility will be a defining feature of your next vacation, experts say. The coronavirus crisis has forced operators to bend a lot of their rules.
"Hotels and tour operators are usually willing to offer additional flexibility – either in terms of refunds or ability to apply credits to a future stay or trip," says Vanessa Snider, founder of The Luxury Service, a Virtuoso-affiliated travel agency in Los Angeles.
Travel pros expect that flexibility to last until the end of this year, possibly longer. The chance of a return of COVID-19 would make it difficult to sell a more restrictive ticket or hotel room.
But there's a second kind of flexibility that may also affect your future trip. It's the willingness of a country to let you cross the border. Will popular destinations like France and Italy allow Americans to visit? Or will they begin to require health certificates or visas?
"This is something we are watching very closely," Snider says.
Stay clean, stay safe
Here's another way coronavirus is changing your next vacation. Travelers are demanding that everything is squeaky clean, says Tim Kerin, who runs a luxury villa in Costa Rica. "The focus has to be on the guests' peace of mind," he says. "Health and safety first."
At their villa, they've upped their housekeeping services since the pandemic. Kerin has a full-time housekeeper on staff to do laundry and wipe down the interiors of the home every day. That's in addition to the daily cleaning service. Germaphobes will feel right at home.
On a broader scale, airlines have changed some of their boarding procedures to keep passengers safe. For example, Delta Air Lines is boarding just 10 passengers at a time to keep the risk of infection to a minimum. And airlines are keeping middle seats empty to maintain social distancing. That will continue for as long as load factors allow. Beyond that, it may be up to health officials to determine when passengers are too close.
Wayne Smith, a professor of hospitality and tourism at the College of Charleston, says technology will help maintain social distancing. "I expect that more automation will be introduced into the industry," he says. "Things like self check-in or a concierge service via app. I also think you will see more automation in food service as well with ordering via an app or tablet."
Bottom line: Coronavirus will change your next vacation. You'll pay less, you'll have more flexibility than ever. And if you're a germaphobe, there will never be a better time to travel. Everything will be shrink-wrapped and disinfected.
But it'll be worth it, says Thomas Swick, author of the book "The Joys of Travel."
"Cities that used to be packed with visitors will be more like themselves again," he says. "Their residents, rather than resenting our presence, will be happy to see us. It will be rather idyllic, initially, save for the lingering fear of contagion and illness which will turn those first tourists into grand adventurers."
Maybe that's a change for the better.
Three things that coronavirus might kill
The breakfast buffet. Hotels are going to have to seriously rethink the way they serve food, says Stephen Fofanoff, an innkeeper at Domaine Madeleine, a bed and breakfast in Port Angeles, Washington. "We've eliminated our common breakfast dining experience in favor of delivered in-room dining," he says.
International trips. At least initially, most vacations will happen domestically. "After the lockdown is lifted, tourism will be more national and regional," predicts Simone Semprini, CEO of TourScanner. "Countries will exit the crisis at different moments and the only thing they can do to avoid the virus entering the country again will be closing the national borders."
Concerts and cramped seating
"Social distancing will be forever with us," says Michael Sheridan, an assistant professor of tourism and hospitality management at Temple University. "Larger gatherings like festivals and concerts will not be at the forefront of many people's travel plans until a vaccine or known antibodies are present to secure a safe travel experience for their entire family." Also out: crammed seating on planes.