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When will it be safe to travel again?

11 December 2020 15:30

When will travel return to 'normal'?

When will travel return to 'normal'?

People all over the globe are yearning for an answer to the same question: when will we be able to move around like we did before we'd heard of a so-called “coronavirus”?

To answer the question, let's take stock of the global situation and how the travel and tourism sector is responding.

Will this virus ever go away?

At the time of writing, more than six months after global lockdowns started, the situation around the world is still incredibly complex. New daily cases are at an all-time high and still increasing, with over 300,000 new cases of COVID-19 per day globally. This seems to suggest the virus is still highly prevalent and won't be going away any time soon.

The good news is that researchers in several countries around the world are working to develop a vaccine, and some have already come very close. Right now, 11 vaccines out of the 170 that have entered trials (including one being developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca) have made it through to the third and final round of testing, where they are being tried in large-scale efficacy tests.

While it will take time to distribute around the world, the availability of a vaccine will pave the way for a path back to global travel.

What is the travel industry up to?

The other big question is how the global travel industry is hoping to handle the resumption of travel and tourism at large.

At the height of the pandemic, the number of airline flights dropped by almost 66% worldwide, while said holiday hotel bookings fell by a staggering 93%.

This has, unfortunately, knocked a lot of wind out of the industry's sails. Many small airlines, and even some big ones like Virgin Atlantic, have had to seriously scale down or even cease operations altogether. Hotels and other tourism enterprises have suffered too. While it may soon be safe to travel again, the follow-up question will be: will we have the means to do it?

The good news is that the global travel sector seems to have responded well to the crisis. Hotels were quick to update their health and hygiene policies in response to WHO guidelines around social distancing, face masks and sanitising hands and surfaces. This allowed many hotels to continue operating during the pandemic.

Transport providers, including rail services and airlines, were also fast to implement COVID-secure policies. Many companies mandate that passengers must wear facemasks at all times and have allocated seats to ensure social distancing.

It could be argued, by these standards, that it's already somewhat safe to travel - so long as you choose transport and accommodation providers that adhere to World Health Organisation guidelines.

However, airlines and hotels do not a whole holiday make. Once you're on the ground in your destination, the risk of exposure to COVID-19 is still present, which is why many governments advise people not to travel unless they absolutely have to.

The situation on the ground

The third matter is to understand how certain nations are coping, and what their governments' responses have been.

There are still a number of countries that require UK visitors to self-isolate for up to 14 days on arrival. That could prove difficult for holidaymakers, as it means you will need to book two weeks in your hotel before you are even able to begin your holiday.

Furthermore, travellers returning from many of these countries will also have to self-isolate upon landing in the UK - meaning a short holiday could land you up to 28 days in quarantine. Even the UK government's air bridges can change with very little notice. Plus, there are some countries, including Canada, the USA and parts of South America, which have banned UK visitors entirely for the time being.

Until the situation in these countries starts to ease off, there's no telling when they might re-open to international guests.

It's worth remembering that the risk in certain countries is greater than in others. Many countries have been successful in isolating and containing the virus. New Zealand has even managed to reduce its incident rate to almost zero. While it's not entirely safe to travel anywhere for the time being, certain countries are proving much safer than others.

So, when will it be safe to travel again?

The short answer is: we don't know exactly.

But the long answer is, assuming all goes well in the ongoing vaccine trials, and so long as countries are able to contain and reduce the number of new cases, there is a good chance global travel will be able to get back to normal. Soon.

If we were to offer an optimistic prediction, we believe the risk of global travel should be considerably mitigated by next year - but keep an eye out for official travel advice from the Government.

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