By Nahla El Gendy
Siwa Oasis, photo courtesy of Gazef
From shopping to work to sightseeing, COVID-19 has radically changed travel and tourism around the world, leaving room for post-pandemic predictions on how the travel industry will look like, especially after the vaccine takes effect. Will people feel comfortable hopping from one country to another? Will people feel safe being on a five-hour flight? Will people feel comfortable getting lost in a city and roaming around its smallest streets, closely mingling with others? Will people still travel to ‘shop till they drop?’
Omar Galal ’11, co-founder of Gazef travel agency, predicted a shift in the choices people make. “COVID-19 is expected to change the name of the game to what we call sustainable travel,” he said. “Traveling will most likely decrease post COVID-19 because people are inclined to invest their money on safer experiences like virtual cooking classes or yoga, and the luxury of traveling for shopping is not guaranteed in the future.”
Khaled Zakaria ’12, owner and director of Taba Travel, expects that since travel is not a necessity, it will no longer be a top choice for people during such difficult times, possibly until mid-2021. “Travel is a luxury commodity depending on the traveler’s disposable income; thus, the damages of COVID-19 on the industry are devastating and have a disastrous domino effect, especially in developing countries,” he said. “Taba Travel mainly works with Latin American and Spanish tourists, organizing customized programs for them in Egypt, so we expect them to resume their travel plans at a later stage since their economies have been greatly affected by the pandemic.”
Karma Negm ’15, founder of The Honeymoon Co., believes there will be a change in people’s travel behavior post-pandemic. “Travel and tourism will grow back quickly post-pandemic but with a different perspective,” she said.
“We expect to have pickier travelers, as low-budget travelers will be more selective in choosing their destinations — they will loosen their strings and put safety first,” Negm noted. “We expect them to book in chain hotels where hygiene measures are taken seriously. The pandemic changed traveler priorities — people are now taking precautions, getting tested and booking at refundable rates.”
Travel destinations are also expected to change. People will probably go for off-the-grid destinations or less crowded ones and stay away from crammed places like archaeological sites, amusement parks and zoos. “I think people will start targeting places with natural scenery and activities like hiking and fishing,” said Galal.
Internal trips exploring Egypt – including Sahl Hashish, El Gouna, Sinai, Luxor and Aswan – are among the top destinations for Egyptians during the pandemic and are expected to last afterward, especially for newlyweds. “Exploring Egypt has become attractive and convenient for Egyptians,” said Negm, whose agency specializes in customizing internal and external honeymoon packages.
While international honeymoon packages are still gaining momentum, people are looking to the safest places with as few limitations as possible. “Honeymooners now target safe international destinations that are open with the least restrictions and no drastic requirements, including the Maldives, being an island where social distancing is automatically applied, in addition to Dubai and South Africa,” said Negm.
Galal anticipates that people will start experimenting more with road trips around their safe zone instead of air travel. “It has become exciting for everyone now to drive across borders,” he noted. “I’ve personally experienced this. I was planning to travel to South Africa for the New Year, then after the second wave, we decided to travel from Cairo to the southern tip of Egypt past Aswan while stopping to explore every governorate on the way to discover some of our country’s hidden gems.”
Air travel itself might change. “Airports made new policies that I believe are seeds for practices that will continue in the future, such as blocking off seats between passengers and decreasing the number of tickets for a flight,” said Galal. “Some aggressive airplane and airport policies like ‘No Fly Days’ are also expected to be implemented in some countries.”
In addition to changing travel patterns, governments may impose new restrictions and protocols to control the spread of the virus and flatten the curve. “A vaccination passport will probably be required from all travelers post COVID-19, where they will be required to fill in their medical information, including vaccination dates and test results before they travel,” Zakaria indicated. “Touristic institutions, including hotels and tour operators, will have to change their operations to accommodate these new protocols and ensure the safety of their guests.”
These new protocols will undoubtedly include hygiene. Tour operators will most likely provide masks and full sanitation kits to ensure the safety of everyone on their trips, including tourists, tour guides and even bus drivers. “A traveler’s packing list will now include masks, wipes and hand sanitizers along with the recommended list of medications,” said Negm. “Travel agencies have already adjusted their plans accordingly by offering more flexible booking options and updating clients on restrictions for every destination.”
And cost will rise. “We have already seen a significant increase in hotel prices in Egypt due to high demand and the added precautionary and hygiene measures taken,” added Negm. “Travel insurance will also change and accordingly become more expensive.”
While all this will come at a cost, quality is what will make it or break it for travelers. “There will be higher costs to maintain a certain level of quality and add the new protocols and safety measures, but this will elevate the service quality and differentiate between the good, bad and ordinary,” affirmed Zakaria.