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Coronavirus has changed the way we travel. Here’s how the future may look for the industry.

From hand sanitisers in hotel lobbies to cabin crew in masks, localised lockdowns to contact tracing apps, Covid-19 has transformed the world of travel. Amid closed borders and cancelled flights, travel came to a virtual standstill, with the United Nations’ World Tourism Organisation declaring 100% of global destinations had implemented travel restrictions at the peak of the pandemic.

Today, as much of Asia begins to emerge from lockdown, an industry that accounts for about 10% of world GDP is looking towards the new normal. And travellers, many of whom have been largely confined to their homes for months, are starting to dream again of beaches, mountains and monuments. Yet reopening travel presents its own challenges.

The new normal? Travel in the Covid-19 World - Natural

Travel in an uncertain time

James Liang is chairman of Group, one of the world’s largest online travel agents, operating in 19 languages across 200 countries and regions. Liang says product innovation, such as’s live-streaming initiative which brings destinations and accommodation to life in real time, is key to the travel industry’s recovery. 

James Liang, Co-founder and Chairman, Group

James Liang, Co-founder and Chairman, Group’s live streaming event - Travel on Group's “Travel On” launch event saw representatives from 200+ industry partners to launch the industry-wide initiative.’s live streaming event - Travel on Group's “Travel On” launch event saw representatives from 200+ industry partners to launch the industry-wide initiative.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has brought significant challenges to the global travel industry,” he says. “However, it is encouraging that by now, we have seen stabilisation or recovery of travel activities in many of the markets where we operate. In China, travel activities hit the bottom in February and have since been consistently on a recovery track.”

While green shoots are present in some markets, Mario Hardy, CEO of travel industry body the Pacific Asia Travel Association, argues that many Asian travellers maintain a genuine fear of infection. “Here in Asia, many families live with their parents or their grandparents at home, who are more at risk,” he says. “So younger travellers are not necessarily concerned for themselves. Their concern is actually going home and bringing the disease, infecting their parents or grandparents.”

And this fear is shaping how travellers approach journeys. Group CEO Jane Sun identifies three key trends. “First, people are very cautious about the health guidelines, so we work closely with our partners to ensure hotels and airlines are safe partners,” she says. “Second, people prefer to travel within smaller groups, for example, with family or good friends. Third, we’ve seen certain demand that used to be for outbound travel now turning to domestic travel.”

The new normal? Travel in the Covid-19 World - Jane Sun, CEO, Group

Jane Sun, CEO, Group

Amid rising domestic and short-haul demand, packages with rental cars and hotels are more popular than less intimate forms of transportation, such as group tours. “It makes people feel safer because you’re travelling just with your family,” Sun says. Group recently conducted research with Google which showed that customers are booking on much shorter lead-times than previously: 80% of bookings in the new world are within a fortnight of departure, as opposed to 36 days before departure in pre-Covid-19 times. Asian travellers surveyed reported free cancellation, flexible presale bookings and insurance coverage were the most important factors when booking travel nowadays. “There’s a lot of uncertainty around trips,” Sun says. “So people prefer to travel with a lot of flexibility.”


The adapted destination

The World Travel and Tourism Council has developed an extensive range of protocols to cover the new normal, for providers as diverse as airlines, shops, hotels and restaurants. Cleaning, sanitisation, protective equipment such as masks, screening tools such as thermal and infrared scanners, and reduced touchpoints and queuing will all shape the travel experience for some time.

The new normal? Travel in the Covid-19 World - Passport

While “safe lanes” and “air corridors” between nations which have eliminated or controlled the coronavirus are under discussion, these may take time to come to fruition. “In principle, they sound like really good ideas, but putting them into effect is actually not that simple,” Hardy says. “You need to have trust in the healthcare systems of the respective countries, protocols in place, border control both into and out of the country, testing in place and some sort of mechanism to track individuals.”

And, as increasing numbers of businesses shutter under economic pressure, with smaller operators hit harder than larger businesses, destinations themselves will reshape. While boutique hotels may prosper as customers seek less crowded experiences, many small, independent guesthouses and eateries are struggling to survive.


A permanent transformation?

Past terrorism events have changed the way we fly for good. It’s likely, Sun and Hardy agree, that some of today’s changes are here to stay.

“People in Asia nowadays are used to wearing masks and even on a normal day, especially during the flu season, maybe that’s the right way to travel to prevent the flu from spreading,” Sun says. “People are cleaning their hands, paying more attention to things like menus and avoiding sharing drinks and food. These are all good habits in a healthy environment.”

Businesses are exploring new technologies, both to drive bookings and to facilitate safe travel. Developments such as contactless check-in at hotels and airports, virtual tours of museums, and virtual experiences are not going to disappear.

“Even if the vaccine was implemented tomorrow, these changes will not all go away,” Hardy says. “There may be some relaxation in some areas, but some controls will remain in place because this is probably not the only time we’re going to have a pandemic moving forward. So, it’s a new normal.”

But Sun remains optimistic that Asian travellers’ love of foreign climes will endure, albeit with new destinations and nature tourism replacing more crowded places and activities. “Coronavirus is something that has never hit the Earth before,” she says. “No nation, no business has had a chance to rehearse for this kind of natural disaster. Based on my experience in Asia, people’s demand and desire for travel is very strong. They have been locked down for a long, long time. It’s human nature that they want to explore and enjoy their lives.”


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Time to Travel On– together

The Covid-19 pandemic has presented an unprecedented challenge to the travel industry. As a one-stop online travel agency consisting of, Skyscanner, Ctrip and Qunar, Group have led various initiatives to support our customers and partners over these past few months. At the Travel On event, we will be sharing industry insights, safety standards, forecasts as well as launching new initiatives, travel funds and new product promotions for our travelers. Time to Travel On– together.

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