Travel in an Age of COVID-19: How the Coronavirus has Impacted the Travel Industry

Travel is a powerful pastime and a way of life for many. Travel can enlighten us to see and understand cultures that are different from our own, and provide us with indelible memories. While it’s frustrating that many of us cannot travel as we like due to the pandemic, COVID-19 is taking a much larger toll than our vacations or travel plans.

Travel and tourism alone is one of the world’s largest industries with roughly one in 10 jobs being tied to it. It’s even responsible for a little over 10% of the entire globe’s GDP, which amounts to nearly $9 trillion. To drive the point home, travel saw more growth in 2018 than the global economy, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. This industry is more than a massive money-maker, though. It’s also a job creator for young people, which lessens poverty and creates inclusive economic growth. The industry is also supported by women who make up nearly half of those working in travel. That means more women have access to skill development as more enter the labor force in emerging economies.

Travel, however, touches so many more industries than just hotels and airlines. When people travel, it can boost local economies, not to mention travel touches other industries that are bleeding right now like restaurants, bars, museums and so many other cultural and artistic spaces. Even annual events like Coachella, Luck Reunion, and Glastonbury, which all require food and drink vendors among others, have a far-reaching effect with the cancellation of each event.

Skift has reported that hotels are being hit harder than after the September 11 attacks and the 2008 recession put together. That means that as many as four million people could lose their jobs if hotel occupancies drop between 30% and 40% for 2020. The Wall Street Journal has already reported that Marriott International has had to start furloughing tens of thousands of employees—and that is for a global brand. For local boutique hotels or bed and breakfast owners, the repercussions could be much more severe. Even the Las Vegas Strip has gone completely dark, with all of its casinos and hotels closing.

Airlines have also taken a big hit, which is likely why they’re at the top of the list for a bailout. While flights have been reduced across the board, some, such as Virgin Airlines, have suspended all international flights. Delta is already making cuts to the cost of operation to try to save some of the losses the company is taking during COVID-19. Though the pandemic is undoubtedly affecting airline workers, these companies will eventually come back from this thanks to the innate love of travel so many people hold these days. Major operators will, of course, lose a lot of business, but it will not shut the corporations down. If anything, as Skift also hopes, maybe the airlines will shift the way they operate and treat their customers after receiving billions in taxpayer subsidies.

Theme parks have been hit especially hard, with all major parks worldwide closing for an extended period of time. Most are officially closed through the end of March or into early April, but it’s hard to see how they’ll be able to reopen in just two weeks, based on the latest statements from the medical community. Stock prices for SeaWorld, Cedar Fair and Six Flags have plummeted greatly, and, as Theme Park Insider points out, these three companies are all now worth less than Disney spent on Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge alone. There are serious questions if SeaWorld, which was already still hampered by the long term ramifications of the Blackfish PR disaster, will be able to survive this. And with this period of self-isolation and social distancing lasting up to 18 months, according to some reports, they wouldn’t be the only theme park company staring down oblivion.—Garrett Martin

With as many as 50 million jobs at stake due to COVID-19 according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, now is the best time to support the industry without compromising health or safety for yourself or others. While supporting local restaurants and other operators is incredibly important, you can also support those far away.

Whether you buy a gift certificate to your favorite restaurant halfway around the world for the next time you are there, or order a dozen cookies from a bakery across the country that will ship to combat these difficult times, there are options. Reach out to the places you know and love—near or far—and ask how you can help, or explore the companies’ websites to see what they’re offering during this period of social distancing and self-quarantine. And don’t forget to order a few bottles of wine or spirits—perhaps a case of beer—from your favorite small wineries, distilleries and breweries, too.

Many cultural spaces like the Metropolitan Opera, the High Museum of Art and so many other museums across the United States are offering virtual tours or free streaming. While many of these are free, most museums are accepting donations. It’s the right time to donate what you can or buy a membership if you can to support these invaluable educational destinations.

Finally, seek out your favorite locally-owned operators like boutique hotels or travel guides. Again, buy gift certificates or put money toward a future stay with a credit. Some small, locally-owned operators have more tours beyond definite departures. That means you can support now and travel later. Most importantly, however you choose to support travel and those in-industry, remember to tip well and leave stellar reviews and ratings as everyone works through a trying time.

Molly Harris is a freelance journalist. You can often find her on the highway somewhere between Florida and North Carolina or taking life slow in Europe.

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