How COVID-19 Impacted Tourism & My 2020 Travel Plans

I know it’s been a while since I’ve written for my blog. In fact, this is my first post of 2020, and we’re already over halfway into the year! Part of the reason for that is I’ve felt a bit weird writing about travel this year when we couldn’t or at least shouldn’t be travelling as often or freely as before.

However, now that travel restrictions have gradually started to ease up — at least here in Spain/Europe — I figure it’s time I start writing again. And what better topic to start writing about than the one that’s at the top of everybody’s mind: COVID-19, aka coronavirus.

COVID-19: an unexpected global crisis

Oh, coronavirus… how you’ve totally messed up the year for us all.

Coronavirus disease 2019, commonly known as COVID-19 or simply coronavirus, came in like a wrecking ball in 2020 and cancelled or changed many of the plans we had coming into the year.

Did you have a trip booked for the first half of the year? Likely didn’t happen. Were you planning a wedding, honeymoon, or another important event? Probably got postponed. Graduated this year? They most likely held the ceremony virtually. Most, if not all, plans were interrupted.

But those are “first world problems” — let’s not forget some of the main concerns: the actual physical effects of coronavirus and the danger it poses to our health, at times tragically leading to serious health complications or death, as well as the millions of job losses. It’s no wonder why we’ve had to make drastic changes to our day-to-day routine.

This pandemic has affected our lives in numerous ways this year and nobody saw it coming.

The spread of COVID-19 in Spain

Starting in Wuhan, China on December 8, 2019, we all slowly started to hear news about COVID-19 late December/early January and probably thought to ourselves: “it’s far away”, “it won’t come here”, or “they’ll solve it quickly”, but nope… that sadly wasn’t the case.

It was something distant… until it wasn’t. The unprecedented spread of the virus took place almost overnight.

Suddenly, the next thing we knew, it appeared in France, then in Italy, and then, in the blink of an eye, it was here in Spain, transmitting at rapid velocity. For example, the first reported case in Spain appeared on January 31. Fast forward two months to March 31 where Spain is one of the countries hit hardest with 111,541 reported cases and 8,662 reported deaths.

This led to a mandatory national lockdown on March 15, 2020 here in Spain that lasted months, requiring us to stay home at all times, only allowing us to leave for essentials such as groceries, pharmacy visits, vital doctor appointments, etc. 

In Madrid, the city where I’m currently based and one of the places in Spain with the most cases (largely due to population), we were finally allowed to go out for walks and exercise during certain hours starting on May 2, almost two months after the lockdown began.

We then entered Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the de-escalation process on May 25 and June 8 respectively, further relaxing the restrictions, and many European countries, including Spain which had previously closed its borders, started to reopen for tourism, just in time for summer.

As a result, we’ve been able to travel more freely during the summer, but now it appears cases have risen again, so I’m guessing it’s only a matter of time before at least some restrictions are brought back.

The effect on the worldwide travel and tourism industry

The worldwide outbreak of the virus has hit the travel, tourism, and hospitality industries especially hard. 

According to the UNWTO, 100% of global destinations now have COVID-19 travel restrictions and international tourist numbers are down 65% in the first half of 2020.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is predicting a $84 billion loss, while the World Travel & Tourism Council predicts a worst-case scenario of close to 200 million job losses.

What a change from last year when most forecasts predicted travel and tourism would grow.

Source: The World Travel & Tourism Council

I’m sure it will take some time for the industry to recover from such a hard blow.

On the bright side, more than 50% of global destinations have now eased travel restrictions according to the UNWTO.

How my travel plans were affected

I had a few trips planned for early in the year that unfortunately didn’t end up happening due to the pandemic.

I had planned to do a short week-long trip to London to visit some friends. My flight was booked and scheduled to take off the week things really ramped up here in Madrid. Because we went into a full lockdown, I decided to scratch the trip, even if the flight would still take off.

Luckily for me, the government announced that flights were restricted and my flight was eligible for a refund. I know some people were unable to get refunds for their flights if they weren’t cancelled by the airline, so I feel grateful, although it took 5 months for me to get my refund (thanks, RyanAir).

Fun fact: I found DMing RyanAir’s Twitter account to be more effective and reliable than trying to reach their online customer service agents. At one point, I waited over 24 hours to reach a representative through their website.

I was also planning to visit Scandinavia for two weeks in April. I’ve been meaning to go to Scandinavia since it’s one of the parts of Europe that I have still to discover, but I’ve put that trip on hold for now.

I ended up spending the entire lockdown period in Madrid, away from family back in Canada. I briefly considered going home to spend the quarantine, but I figured the situation would improve quicker in Spain since we were hit hard before Canada, so I decided to stick it out.

I’m glad I decided to stay around because I’ve since been able to do some travelling within Europe this summer and I know that the current travel situation is a bit more restrictive in Canada and the US.

How I plan to travel in 2020 

Although I’m itching to travel to several destinations abroad and was thinking of visiting home in the fall, I’ve decided to focus more on travelling locally within Spain this year.

This year, I’ve already went to Alicante for a weekend in July, did a two week trip in August through Catalonia, Girona, and Andorra (my only time out of Spain this year so far), and just recently got back from a weekend trip to Tenerife in the Canary Islands.

Depending on how the rest of the year plays out in terms of the pandemic and travel restrictions, I’m thinking of going on at least one more small trip.

Implications for the future of travel and tourism

How will COVID-19 impact the way we travel? Here are five ways I think travel will change:

1. We need to be more proactive when planning trips

Much more research and preparation will be required ahead of time to make sure that you are fully informed of the restrictions. I’m always an advocate for planning your trips ahead of time, but especially during these times.

If you are thinking about travelling internationally, it’s super important to review the travel restrictions, advice, and recommendations of your country and of the country you intend to visit. If you are travelling locally, it’s wise to check out local news regarding the situation beforehand.

Here is excellent info you can review on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website before doing any form of travel.

2. Stricter safety & hygiene measures and habits are required

Transportation operators such as airlines, trains, buses, ferries, etc., and businesses in the hospitality industry such as restaurants, bars, and hotels should follow strict guidelines and processes to ensure they are COVID-friendly. These include implementing contactless payments and procedures, conducting temperature checks, cleaning and disinfecting frequently, and promoting social distancing.

We need to do our part too. Keeping a safe distance from others, washing our hands or using hand sanitizer, and self-isolating when you are sick are just some of the ways we can protect ourselves and others from COVID-19.

Also, masks are an essential item for everyone. This is really important. I know there is a vocal minority in the world that refuse to wear them *facepalm*, but please don’t be one of them. Masks are for the good of everyone. They greatly reduce the likelihood of spreading the virus.

3. More people will consider purchasing travel insurance

If going on a trip abroad, it might be a good idea to pay for that travel insurance, just in case. You never know… you could catch the virus and then need emergency assistance while out of the country, and that can be expensive and stressful if you don’t have coverage. If you do decide to opt for travel insurance, make sure to confirm that your selected provider will cover COVID-19 related incidents.

4. You may want to get to the airport a bit earlier

Being at the airport a bit earlier for your flight will give you more time to line up at airport security. There may be a longer waiting time due to the additional checks and processes. Some airlines are also allowing you to check in your hand luggage free of charge to avoid clusters of people while getting settled onboard the airplane.

5. Domestic travel will increase

At least in the short term, I believe people will be more reluctant to travel out of the country and will instead elect to travel within their own country’s backyard. I know that’s at least how I’ve organized my travel for this year.

2020 has been full of changes and uncertainty across the board due to COVID-19.

The situation is still a bit unpredictable and it’s hard to tell exactly how the global pandemic is going to play out in the rest of 2020 and beyond, but the world will carry on and so too will travel, albeit with a few changes.

I’m not sure how long it will take for travel to return to “normal”. In the meantime, we all have to do our part. If we choose to travel, we must do our due diligence, travel responsibly, and respect the rules put in place by local authorities.

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