By Emilie Murphy
Portrait Photography by ChiChi Ubiña
If you had a trip planned this summer, you already know that travel is looking a bit different at the moment. That honeymoon in Italy is definitely not happening, nor is that family trip to Mexico or a post-graduation backpacking victory lap through Southeast Asia. We are traveling differently now, if we are even traveling at all. But that doesn’t mean these changes are indefinite. We spoke with Sarah Evans, a partner at the luxury PR firm J Public Relations, to get her take on the future of travel and what Covid-19 means for the industry as a whole.
Travel has been one of the world’s hardest hit industries amidst the Covid outbreak. With shelter-in-place orders and a pervasive fear of flying, this comes as no surprise. What might be unexpected now, however, is that the industry is already bouncing back. According to Evans, “hotels in certain destinations are already seeing strong bookings for the summer, some up to 50-75% occupancy levels.” Hotels and resorts have made serious investments in improving the comfort of their guests, putting in place stringent cleanliness policies and unveiling a whole new range of options for travelers. This includes keyless entry and mobile check-ins, private villas and stand-alone accommodations, and socially distant activities and dining areas. “Those who will bounce back the fastest will be the hotels that have measures and experiences ready to press play on once markets reopen,” says Evans. “If you’re waiting for the government to release their guidelines for hotels in order to revise your protocols, you’re doing it wrong.”
The Changes Ahead
For now, long-haul flights or trips around the world are on pause. That means that the destination of choice is changing, especially for Americans. Instead of a summer trip to the south of France, most of us will be looking domestically. “Think of open air destinations like Utah, Arizona, and even wine country,” says Evans. “Rural destinations in upstate New York or New England will be big for the summer…road trips will reign.”
For those who feel comfortable flying, they will likely be looking at shorter flights to closer vacation spots. Given this, Evans believes that “short-haul flight destinations like the Caribbean will have an extremely strong winter travel season.” Evans sees this as an opportunity for the industry as a whole. An increase in domestic travel translates to opportunity. Not just for hotels to attract a new audience, but also for less popular destinations. “People will look at new under-the-radar spots,” says Evans. “Secondary cities will be big, which will be great to boost the tourism of smaller regions around the world.” In fact, a large number of travelers are already eager to get back on the road. “Many resorts are already full in 2021 and moving in 2022,” says Evans, indicating that there will be plenty of demand going forward as restrictions ease and comfort level increases.
However, the same might not be said of business travel. With remote work showing that productivity can happen at a distance, companies might press pause on business travel. “People will certainly be doing business trips differently,” says Evans, “and companies will assess what’s essential and what can hold.”
A Curated Experience
If you do decide to take a trip over the next few months, you should expect a new normal. Luxury travel outfits are using this as an opportunity to restructure their existing practices and offer a more curated experience for guests. To evolve with the times, resorts are getting creative with their approach. At the moment, outdoor recreational opportunities are particularly attractive, especially for families traveling with younger children. In response, Twin Farms in Vermont has added almost 100 acres of land to provide more space for outdoor activities like biking and hiking. “Eden Roc Cap Cana in the Dominican Republic will be operating at a maximum guest occupancy rate of 30% with restaurants seated at half capacity to ensure a six-foot distance between tables,” says Evans. With everyone wearing masks that obstruct much of the face, Old Edwards Inn & Farm in North Carolina has implemented facial expression training for their staff members.
While demand might not be at the levels it was before the pandemic, travelers shouldn’t suppose that prices will drop. According to Evans, it’s unlikely that lower rates or other discounts will be offered. Instead, “you’ll be seeing a new level of elevated service and a more customized hotel experience, especially in the luxury market.”
So while that Eurotrip might be on hold at the moment, one thing is for sure: the international traveler is here to stay. And with the only constant being change, we look forward to seeing how our own experiences will transform as we look ahead.