On March 11, coronavirus was officially declared a pandemic in the United States. We will all remember 3/11/2020 as the day travel officially died. In fact, I was in The Catskills on this day, and the first thing that came to mind: Travel as we know it is officially dead.
I’ve been a travel writer and editor for more than 15 years. I’ve been to 113 countries, hundreds of destinations, and I’ve flown more than a million air miles. I’m also known for staying in more hotels than anyone else on this planet (over 600 hotel check-ins). I know travel like the back of my hand. I’ve studied it, reported it and spent most of my career helping millions of readers plan their trips. All of my effort is gone, sort of how Thanos snaps his fingers in Avengers. Just like that, COVID-19 won.
Due to coronavirus, the travel industry is slated to lose $2 trillion in revenue. That’s an uncomfortable number. But let’s also consider the people working behind the scenes, the millions of workers who have been furloughed or let go. The workers who have been looking for new jobs outside travel and may never come back. Think about the vacationers who aren’t traveling because they don’t want to get infected or spread a virus, so they’re spending their money in other ways (or saving it due to the recession). Think about the beautiful museums and hotels and restaurants around the world where spiders are beginning to web corners. Think about how, in March 2020, only 19 countries did not have COVID-19 cases, and the rest of the world is significantly impacted.
There are so many ways travel is officially over. For one, my job is a good indicator. I lost most of my assignments as a travel writer because who is planning trips? Hotels are closed or offering minimal amenities (you have access to a lobby and your room, but no spa, restaurant, gym, bar, etc). Destinations are enforcing 14-day quarantines as they see large surges in COVID-19 or completely shut down (NYC is a great example: Restaurants, bars, Broadway, museums, literally everything is closed or running at limited occupancy). And of the course, airlines will forever change.
Airfare is the cheapest it’s been in history, and that’s a travel story right there, but few will hop on a flight right now. Even as airlines continue to operate, passengers gamble with COVID-19 on flights, and also at airports. Coronavirus has instilled a new-found fear that could last into next year. Just how much has COVID-19 hurt airports? In March 2020 this year, 92,859 passengers went through TSA. March 2019? 2.6 million. That’s more than 2 million people who would have gone on trips and spent money on travel, and that is going to be the standard loss as we move toward the end of the year.
Even my website, Travelbinger.com, has changed. I’ve lost pretty much any income with my affiliate partners, who are not paying, and while my website clicks have significally increased because more people are reading, nobody is reading travel content. I covered COVID-19 in travel (stories like Should you cancel your trip due to coronavirus), Black Lives Matter and coronavirus stories, which have gotten the most clicks. But general travel content related to hotel reviews, destination features and planning tips? Nobody cares. Honestly? I wouldn’t care either.
I’m not the only one who has been impacted in travel. Airlines, hotel chains, restaurant chains, event venues, travel operators, travel PR agencies… they have all been hurt and lost substantial revenue, and they will continue to.
Millions upon millions of travel industry workers have been furloughed or let go, as these jobs are no longer relevant, needed, or affordable by businesses. “Corporate restructuring” is an understatement. I personally know at least 60 people who work in travel who have been impacted by COVID-19. I still receive emails daily from people within the industry who are now looking for new work because travel is officially dead.
Also, due to COVID-19, we have the wars. Maskers vs non-maskers. Non-social distancing enforcing airlines vs airline shaming passengers. Destination partiers vs sensible Americans. Airlines misleading passengers about their safety precautions to make a buck. Major theme parks (ie: Disney) reopening to the anger of politicians. Politicians vs residents vs travelers vs politicians.
COVID-19 has caused friction in all areas of travel. At the very least, readers don’t care to read about what’s the best destination to travel to right now, or how someone had an amazing trip or flight. Relevant headlines are those where there’s resistance, fights, shaming and furloughs. These are the trending stories that have replaced the feel-good stories. It feels tone deaf to post any type of story that would inspire people to travel.
COVID-19 has also impacted travel influencers. Pre-Covid, influencers would get paid to post photos on their social media from travel companies. Now: crickets. They will have to look for real jobs that pay.
Speaking of social media, nobody in their right mind will travel for Likes. Travel is discouraged as cases surge across America, and nobody wants to flaunt their cool fun vacation photos. In fact, I know many people who have gone on vacations recently, and they did not post it on social media. So, is travel dead, you ask? When we get to a point we can’t share our vacation photos, yes, that’s a good indication we’re in a travel black hole.
I have to admit, I was compelled to write this story because nobody else has. People skirt around the truth, but the truth has come out in so many ways, and we’ve ignored it, trying to remain positive. I agree this is helpful, but sometimes, it’s better accepting the facts. For instance, take a look at Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky.
“We spent 12 years building Airbnb’s business, and lost almost all of it in the matter of four to six weeks,” Airbnb CEO Brian Cheskey told CNBC in June 2020. “Travel as we knew it is over.”
"We spent 12 years building Airbnb's business and lost almost all of it in the matter of 4-6 weeks," says Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky. "Travel as we knew it is over. It doesn't mean travel is over, just the travel we knew is over, and it's never coming back."@cnbc @dee_bosa pic.twitter.com/BLjb9HH2Pe
— TechCheck (@CNBCTechCheck) June 22, 2020
Why is this statement important? Because Airbnb, a multi-million dollar travel company, has the top resources, from marketers to legal teams, forecasters and analysts, to determine the future of Airbnb, and their analysis was not good. In fact, we can see that, behind the scenes, after all their computing, they saw a bleak forecast for the company, and there was nowhere to hide it. What Chesky said spoke for almost every travel business in the world.
Hotels have been hit just as hard. According to a report by Statista, average hotel occupancy rates in the US hover just about 31.9% in May 2020 versus 67.6% in May 2019. Let’s not forget that hotels will likely lose up to $925 billion in revenue this year from COVID-19. We’re already seeing that loss in action, and smaller hotel chains, like Ace hotels, have been struggling.
We are heartbroken to announce temporary suspension of hotel operations at several Ace properties. Ace Family Fund helps to support the staff impacted by COVID-19. https://t.co/jf1FERGeEZ pic.twitter.com/EY78nNcgZW
— Ace Hotel (@acehotel) March 23, 2020
Empty. That’s what the travel industry is right now. That’s the buzz word. Hotels are empty. Parks are empty. Restaurants and museums and landmarks are empty. Flights are empty. Business class seats, which drive a huge amount of revenue for airlines, are empty. When travel can’t fill seats or rooms with people in general, does it even exist?
There’s also the psychological effect COVID-19 brings to top publications. It’s funny to think that I reviewed some of the most spectacular business class seats this past year, and it feels weird to even try to pitch it or post something here.
No destination will ever tout being completely safe to visit right now without getting slammed or shamed. Even Disney, which reopened this past weekend under social distance guidelines, received mixed responses, and authorities have said that it’s too soon. Remember the days when a travel business reopened and it was only met with positive reactions? It feels like a lifetime ago, but it’s not even six months.
So is travel officially dead? Yes. It is. I hate to say it, but it’s deader than dead. It’s not only dead, it’s already a ghost.
I’m not saying travel won’t ever make a comeback. Like Chesky says, travel will once again come around. It may not be tomorrow or next year or even this decade, but it will be there when we’re ready to move forward from the pandemic. Travel is a force of good, and we as a race thrive on good. Travel will never be the same, and it will never want to be the same, but it will continue to offer us respite and unforgettable memories when the time is right.
If you’re looking for the light at the end of the tunnel, you really have to squint, but travel is something that brings people together, not apart, and I can’t wait to tell the stories when that time comes.
More Travelbinger stories:
Airlines are still flying planes with no passengers during the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s why.
How 11 major hotel chains have responded to the coronavirus pandemic.
Why frequent travelers should buy a passport wallet in 2020.
New Harvard study shows when U.S. can end lockdown
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