The travel and tourism industry have been brought to a near-standstill by the Covid-19 pandemic and only recently the sector has started to slowly and gradually come back. It has been one of the most dramatic changes brought about by the pandemic. As an article by the Economist on May 28th notes, “over the past half-century the travel industry has grown faster than a beach-bar tab on a sunny afternoon. In 1970 fewer than 200m people went on holiday abroad; last year the figure was 1.5bn. Soaring incomes in China explain part of the increase. It has also become cheaper to fly and easier to browse for the perfect swimming pool online—Expedia lists 1m hotels and properties.” In just few months, the landscape has completely changed. Borders have closed, and travels between countries and often between regions and cities have been banned.

The EU has reopened its borders to international tourism at the beginning of July, but very few have felt safe enough to travel and as a result, many destinations remain almost entirely deserted. Despite the measures put in place to rebuild trust, a recent poll by Euronews showed around 60 per cent of respondents do not feel comfortable travelling this summer. A recent study from Longwoods International found that 82% of travellers had changed their travel plans for the next six months.

For the few able to travel by air, new measures have become the norm: health screening forms, contact tracing, reduced personal contact, social distancing, enhanced sanitization and the use of masks indoor and on the aircrafts. This would reasonably be enough to discourage even the most seasoned traveller, especially if you add the possibility of flight cancellations, sudden lockdowns and rise in infection rates at destination.

While the freedom to travel will be vital to post-pandemic recovery, with countries weighing the health risks against the need to kick-start their economies, airports still remain very quiet and most travellers are opting for road trips closer to home. Air corridors and gradual lifting of border and travel restrictions have allowed airlines to reinstate flight routes, but as figures show, people are choosing domestic destinations reachable by car or by train over trips abroad and prefer stays at private rental properties instead of crowded hotels and resorts. At the end of June, the Eurotunnel had registered a record number of bookings. In the US, a recent survey by the Travel Association and MMGY Travel Intelligence found that 67% of travellers are likely to travel with their personal cars during the next six months — which is "more than double the percentage planning to travel by air during the same time period."

Airplane-free holidays might be less stressful and reduce carbon footprints too, but expert warn that road trips and train travel are not risk free. As a group of writers from the New York Times reported in an article published on July 16th , “Travelling during a pandemic requires lots of research, precision planning and a willingness to play by new and very stringent rules”.

The travel industry will recover in stages, and some experts believe it will take up to 18 months for international travels to resume at pre-pandemic level.

But the crisis, many argue, will also bring long-term changes in the way we travel. Elizabeth Becker, the author of Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism, wrote on Foreign Policy: “Some national and local governments will redesign their tourism strategies to keep down crowds, keep more money in the local economy, and enforce local regulations including those protecting the environment. Many health protocols will become permanent.

Other governments will compete for the shrinking tourist dollar by racing to the bottom, allowing the travel industry to regulate itself, using deep discounts to fill hotels and airplanes and revive over-tourism.

Smart travellers will trust places with good governance and health systems. They will take fewer trips and stay longer. They will see this pandemic as a forecast of what’s to come from the climate crisis. They will act like responsible citizens as well as passionate travellers”.