Who else needs a bit of familiarity to look forward to?
The coronavirus pandemic has done a number on normalcy. Much of the world’s cities have been in some form of shutdown and have only begun to emerge, cautiously. No place has reached “back to normal.” Some say normal as we knew it may no longer exist, and instead, we should expect a kind of new normal.
Travel bans, border closures, and the overall near-absence of travel has left the travel industry in pieces—and there is a strong chance these will be put back together in ways that look unrecognizable. A lot of the current conversations have been about how travel is going to change or should change because of the coronavirus pandemic; some of the changes will be immediate, some temporary, others long-lasting. But what about all the ways travel is probably going to stay the same?
Fodor’s talked with owners and experts in the travel industry to try and suss out what elements of our travel experiences aren’t likely to change because of the pandemic, at least not forever. During a time of so much uncertainty, where are we most likely to find comfort and familiarity when we start traveling again? Here are some of the staples we’re all rooting for.
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Food and Drinks Service on Planes
It’s no secret that in-flight food and drink service has been on the decline, but it looked like the final nail was in the coffin when multiple airlines announced they’d be suspending food and drink services due to coronavirus concerns. However, Ben Mutzabaugh, Senior Aviation Editor at The Points Guy, is confident it’s only temporary. “Cabin service will have to return,” Mutzabaugh says. As the industry starts to re-emerge after the pandemic, he predicts airlines will need to vie for consumers and offering an in-flight cabin service will be a smart way to differentiate themselves. “It’s not going to disappear in the long run, but the details could be different.”
Those Staple Airport Terminal Restaurants and Shops
So far, airports appear to have remained mostly unchanged through the pandemic, but that may change once leisure travel starts picking back up. Still, Justin Hill, principal at MG2, a design and branding firm, says there’s one thing you can count on seeing when you get back to the terminal: our go-to grab-and-go vendors. “Most of the concessionaires and restaurant operators in major airports are large [companies],” he says. “So, they aren’t going to disappear, which I think is comforting for people.” Can’t travel without a Starbucks, Auntie Anne’s, or branded neck pillow from Hudson Bookseller? Looks like you probably won’t have to.
Some Wellness Activities and Spa Treatments
It’s almost a given that the coronavirus pandemic is going to have some lasting effects on group wellness activities, whether it’s a hot and sweaty group exercise class or how we experience shared spaces like steam rooms and saunas—all hotspots for viral and bacterial contagions. Thankfully, however, a lot of wellness is or can be individualized or pared down to involve fewer participants. We’ll likely still be able to take a yoga class (either private or spaced out with fewer people), do things like small-group guided forest bathing, workout in gyms (which may have capacity restrictions and/or disinfecting spray and wipes at the ready), or possibly even relax through a well-designed hydrotherapy circuit.
Basic solo or even couples spa treatments like massages, pedicures, facials are also good contenders for making it through the pandemic without too many changes, thanks to hygiene protocols that should already be in place. For example, changing the sheet on top of treatment tables, sanitizing equipment and tools, and frequent hand washing between clients. Any new post-pandemic standards or requirements would likely be done behind the scenes and out of sight from the client, leaving us to melt away into a relaxing, recognizable experience.
Buffets at All-Inclusive Resorts
All-inclusive buffets may seem like an obvious fatality in a post-pandemic world, but with a few tweaks, they just might be here to stay. Let’s face it, the riskiest (and arguably most disgusting) thing about a buffet is how many people touch the serving utensils. All-inclusive giant Club Med plans to keep their buffets on the menu with staff-manned guest favorites like carving stations and live cooking demonstrations, and by increasing the number of single, pre-plated dishes on the line. This cafeteria-style take on buffets is also being considered by Original Group, owners of three adult-only all-inclusives in Riviera Maya, who may switch their buffet concepts from self-serve to staff-served.
The Exclusivity of Luxury Travel
For better or worse, the coronavirus is likely to leave luxury travel relatively unchanged. Heck, it might even ramp it up a few notches. The exclusivity of luxury travel already gives it a built-in safety net for those willing to shell out cash in order to be—or at least feel—safer. Very high-end travelers aren’t likely to notice much difference, especially if they fly private jets, rent out secluded villas with personal staff and chefs, have private ground transfers, and hire private guides. Even areas of lower-level luxury travel aren’t likely to see too many changes since companies will likely want to keep perks high or on a pre-coronavirus par—resorts with personal butlers, private pool and beach cabanas, private tours and transfers, VIP check-in and lounges, first-class flights, and secluded suites—in order to charge a premium price. We might even start seeing luxury travel companies tout having a “normal” (a.k.a. more familiar) travel experience as a selling point.
Airline Loyalty and Mileage Programs
While there are so many facets of flying that are likely to remain up in the air, The Points Guy’s Mutzabaugh firmly believes frequent flyer loyalty programs are here to stay since airlines rely so heavily on these programs to promote their products and keep their passengers flying with them and not their competitors. “Like everything else, there will be some shake-ups and some rule changes, but they are going to remain,” he says. “You’re still going to earn miles or points on your flight, and you’ll still have the opportunity to redeem them.”
Private Dining Experiences at Restaurants
While we might not know exactly what the complete dining out experience is going to look and feel like once the rubble from the pandemic has been cleared, celebrity chef David Burke is willing to bet that private and group dining will not only survive but thrive. “You walk in with your own group, you have the room, you have your own bathroom, your own waiter,” he predicts. “Then when you leave, everything gets cleaned up and another group comes in.” Burke, who owns restaurants in New York City, New Jersey, Saratoga Springs, and Washington, D.C., is planning to take this familiar concept even further when he reopens David Burke Tavern in Manhattan, where guests will be able to book a private, contact-less, glass-enclosed dining space built into the back of a flatbed truck.
The Home Rental Experience
What we can expect from a post-pandemic hotel experience has yet to be fully realized, so those looking for a comforting slice of familiarity when it comes to where to stay need look no further than vacation home rentals. There’ll likely be little-to-no discernable difference when it comes to booking places through sites like AirBnb, VRBO, or Plum Guide as long as you’re booking out an entire house. We’ll still book online, set up check-in with our host, stay, and then depart just like we always have, possibly paying a higher cleaning fee, depending on the host.
The Use of Contact-Limiting Mobile Apps and Technology
Using your phone as a tool for traveling is nothing new, and we can look forward to having familiar technology by our sides when we start getting back out there. Things like mobile check-in and keys, mobile boarding passes, and concierge apps aren’t going away—in fact, they’re probably more likely to become the norm. Other examples of recognizable contact-reducing travel technology that is sure to survive (if not conquer)? Hotel room TVs that allow you to cast from your own personal device, robot butlers, touch-free elevators, digital room service requests, face scanners in airports, and apps that give hotel guests the power to control room features like lighting, do not disturb alerts, air conditioning, entertainment systems, and even the drapes through their phones.
Some of Our Most Beloved Hotel Room Amenities
While we’re living through the pandemic, several items we’ve come to know and expect to be in our hotel rooms may noticeably go missing in the near-term: glassware, minibars, coffee makers, and hair dryers. We’ll be honest with you: some items may never return, like, say, the decorative pillows that never get washed or the branded paper and pens you probably never used anyways. However, we have faith that staples like bathrobes (they are as washable as sheets and towels, right?), in-room coffee makers (depending on the design), and (hopefully, please) minibars will return once we’ve got a handle on the coronavirus. (We can only hope that hotels’ extra-stringent guest room cleaning protocols will also be here to stay.)
The Experience of Going Camping or Taking a Road Trip
Camping and road trips may come out of this as two of the least-changed aspects of travel since they already require minimal contact with others, are self-catering, and, ideally, with camping, leave no trace. Kristin Hanes, owner of The Wayward Home, a site dedicated to campervans, vanlife, and tiny living, says that dispersed camping (camping outside of a designated campground) hasn’t changed that much, even during the pandemic, and she doesn’t anticipate some of the current changes she’s seen or heard of at designated campsites—turned-off water taps, closed public toilets, and communal sinks, and picnic table removals—will be permanent. Roadtrippers might face a few temporary rest stop, roadside restaurant, and/or hotel closures, but they likely won’t last long.
Both camping and road trips are also likely to remain some of the most budget-friendly options for families and folks financially affected by the pandemic (aka almost everyone). Donald G. Bennet, Jr., President/CEO of Campground Owners of New York State, Inc., recognizes that big vacations may not be in the cards for many cash-strapped travelers this year, but “what campers can count on without change is the affordability of camping.”