[Updated 16 June 2021]
It's been more than a year since global travel came to a standstill, as countries implemented travel restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We still have a long way to go before we come out on the other side of this pandemic, but there are hopeful signs hinting at life beyond it. Countries like New Zealand, the Maldives, and Singapore are slowly easing restrictions while many more are coming up with recovery plans to get back on track.
A lot of things are uncertain now, and will likely be for the foreseeable future. But we can (and should!) hold on to the belief that this will eventually pass. And one thing's for certain: a lot of us miss travelling and are just waiting for when it's safe to do so again! We asked on Traveler Thursday (our weekly Instagram series where we get to know our readers better) where everyone would like to travel to once it's safe, and we got so many responses from readers who want to go all across the globe ❤️ We also asked our readers how they will travel differently after this experience and got many interesting responses too. Here are some ways travelling will be change post-COVID-19:
1. We will explore local destinations first
It probably comes as no surprise that domestic travel will likely be the focus for many. For Malaysians, this will mean going on staycations in Kuala Lumpur or chilly getaways in Cameron Highlands . It's a great opportunity to also explore places off the beaten path in our own backyard, as these will likely be less crowded. For Singaporeans, it will also mean staycations in Singapore and uncovering hidden gems. These places will provide that first refreshing change of environment after the stay-home period, while also being a good way to support the local economy as our countries get back into the swing of things.
2. Travelling in 'bubbles'
At this stage, it's hard to say when and how international travel will be allowed, but a potential model is travel bubbles - this refers to regional travel between countries close to each. Australia and New Zealand have launched a travel bubble where international travel between the two countries are allowed and quarantine wouldn't be required. Similarly, Singapore is working towards a travel bubble with Australia, South Korea, and Hong Kong.
It's probably not too farfetched to assume that similar arrangements will start appearing in our part of the world, especially between Singapore and Malaysia, before expanding throughout Southeast Asia. What's important to note, however, is that it won't be an overnight change. Instead, it will more likely be implemented in stages - for example, the re-opening of the Johor-Singapore causeway to allow essential workers and goods to travel back and forth may happen first before everyone else gets to do so for leisure. But if anything, all countries are definitely keen to re-open borders to help boost the economy and will do so as soon as conditions are safe. And many of us will be looking forward to it!
3. We'll continue the hygiene practices we've learned and set new expectations for the places we visit
COVID-19 has definitely made us all become aware of our hygiene practices (have we ever washed our hands as much as we've done in the last year? ?). We've become used to the idea of wearing masks, carrying wet wipes and hand sanitizer, as well as getting our temperature taken when entering establishments. Currently, masks are still required to be worn in Singapore when venturing out of the home and encouraged for those in Malaysia. When we start travelling again, these hygiene habits will likely carry over when travelling, especially in the immediate term.
It will also change how we view potential destinations. For many, we'll likely be more curious about hygiene practices of accommodations and attractions (for example, how often things are cleaned, availability of hand sanitizer, etc.), and social distancing measures that are in place to protect guests. We also have to be prepared for more health screenings and contact tracing measures being put into place. As the technology for this becomes more sophisticated, it'll likely be added to our checklist when travelling. For example, Singapore rolled out its SafeEntry system to help monitor and speed up tracing efforts in the event of a cluster outbreak, with citizens required to 'check-in' at venues like offices, schools, stores, hotels and so on. It is definitely possible that similar systems relying on passports or other information may be implemented for visitors too when tourists are welcomed back.
4. Our airline experience will probably change a lot
The tourism industry has been significantly impacted by the pandemic, but airlines have been hard-hit these past months. With airlines like AirAsia, Singapore Airlines and Scoot slowly starting to operate more routes again, the airline industry is eager to get operations back on track and start flying people around the world again. We'll likely see a lot of airfare promotions in the coming year, but as customers, we'll also probably require a lot more upfront, including more flexibility to changing flight dates, clarity on seating arrangements to allow for social distancing and so on.
Beyond booking a flight, the actual experience of air travel will also change. Airlines have stepped up cleaning and sanitation practices, so we might have to wait longer to board our flights as the cabin gets cleaned. Regulations and cabin policies will also likely change - currently, guests are required to wear masks and have temperatures checked before flying, while airlines like AirAsia and Scoot have imposed stricter weight limits for hand-carry luggage. In the immediate term, we may have to show up earlier at the airport to get through the necessary processes for our flight and navigate interim policies like having health declarations and going through extensive health screenings. In the medium to longer-term, there may be an accelerated shift to more contactless processes such as fully automated self-check-in and self-scanning boarding passes at the departure gate.
5. We'll likely go through added processes to enter a country
Right now across the globe, the people who are still travelling are citizens or residents returning to their home country, or those travelling for essential or special reasons. Most are required to undergo a 2-week quarantine period upon arrival at their destination or show a health certificate that indicates that they're free of the virus. How will it be once travel restrictions are lifted and the rest of us are allowed to travel again?
Well, the short answer is, it's hard to say! The biggest obstacle is the quarantine period - having to undergo a lengthy quarantine every time you set foot in a different country is just not practical for most travellers, so many countries are working on solutions for this. For example, in China, some South Korean business travellers have been allowed to enter without the full quarantine period by being tested for COVID-19 when landing and staying at a government facility for a couple of days until the results return. As borders open up again, we'll likely see more innovative onsite testing that can help travellers avoid the need for quarantine. It's also likely that all the health screening measures currently in place (like temperature scans) will remain part of the arrival process for the foreseeable future.
6. We'll take more precautionary steps in advance of our trips (and read the fine print!)
When the pandemic first hit, many of us with travel plans already in place were left uncertain if and how to defer or cancel our trip, especially in the earlier days before stricter travel restrictions were in place. Many people, unfortunately, had to cancel trips without being able to get refunds due to last-minute cancellations or booking terms that didn't allow for cancellations. When we start travelling again, this will be at the forefront of our minds, with many of us taking more care in getting travel insurance, understanding terms and cancellation policies, and having contingency plans. Similar to airline travel, flexibility will probably be a key focus for many, especially as there will likely be many changing policies in the early days when travel is allowed again.
From a health perspective, we'll also be a lot more invested in arrangements health-wise. From getting our flu jabs to checking the health information and facilities at the destination country, we'll strive to better protect our health and have a clearer idea of what to do if we fall sick during or after a trip.
7. We will try to avoid crowds
Many of us will probably be re-jigging the types of trips we take first when we start travelling again to avoid crowds. Besides choosing destinations or attractions that have lower concentrations of people, we may get smarter about our travel logistics such as avoiding trains or public transport during peak commuting hours, doing more remote activities (like going on a hike vs. visiting a theme park), and opt for alternative forms of transport like choosing the train over air travel or opting for a hired car vs. public transport.
8. Our ability to perform hajj and umrah is still uncertain in the near term
For Muslims around the world, it was a solemn sight to see the Kaabah without worshippers performing the tawaf (the Islamic ritual of walking around the Kaabah) due to the pandemic. As of May 2021, the Saudi Arabia government will allow 50,000 people to perform Umrah and Hajj each month as long as they're above 18 years old, register for an Umrah e-visa, and get vaccinated with WHO-certified COVID-19 vaccines
If anything, this has renewed many people's desire to visit the Two Holy Mosques - many of our readers said they really want to perform their umrah when we're able to again ❤️ Be prepared for stricter regulations, such as smalls quotas for visitors, stricter hygiene policies and health screening measures.
9. We will appreciate our travels better
Last, but certainly not least, is the fact that this experience has re-shaped how we think about travel and what it means to us. It's been a real wake-up call and reminder that the freedom to travel and the experiences we gain from it are huge blessings that we shouldn't take for granted. As we start venturing out to see the world again, we will all hopefully travel with more care and consideration for the people around us as well for the environment. In addition, we will fully appreciate every new adventure we get to go on and explore the world with fresh eyes and curiosity to discover this amazing earth.
We've got some time to go before the pandemic passes and travel becomes a viable option for us again, and when we do get to that stage, it will likely look a lot different! But this experience will also help us be better prepared, collectively more knowledgeable, and have a newfound appreciation and gratitude for the travel adventures we do get in the future ❤️In the meantime, it's important to keep our wanderlust and curiosity to explore alive before we get to go exploring once more!