Eventually more lockdowns will ease and public life will become somewhat safer, even though a vaccine will still be a ways off. At that point a species that has been in hibernation will begin to emerge: namely, the tourist.
I have visited about 100 countries over the past few decades, and when this outbreak subsides I am looking forward to getting back on a plane. The thrill of seeing a new place, soaking in its customs and pondering its cultural puzzles, is one of my greatest joys in life. It also helps knit the world together, and I believe it encourages global trade and peace.
Yet in the near future, at least, tourism is likely to be more modest. First of all, many more trips will be done by car to nearby places, as flying still will seem like a risky endeavor. Living in northern Virginia, I’m starting to think I actually will sample the charm of western Connecticut, or revisit Memphis, two trips I otherwise would not make. They are also relatively cheap outings, and that will matter as many incomes are contracting.
Still, even in a recession I think the demand to travel will be high, if only because people feel restless and cooped up. There is also pent-up demand to see family, friends and business associates.
Tourists will Look for places that seem safe to visit. My daughter recently asked me how long it would take to drive to Newfoundland (it’s about as close as Texas, which for me is about a five-day drive). I’ve always wanted to see Newfoundland’s beautiful scenery, and with a large territory and a population of only about half a million (with Labrador), it seems ideally suited for social distancing.
THE PROBLEM, of course, is that Newfoundland may not be so keen about seeing me. It is already difficult for Americans to enter Canada, and Newfoundland currently requires 14 days of self-isolation for arrivals within Canada. Hawaii, another area with a relatively good COVID-19 public health record and a prime vacation spot, also insists on 14 days quarantine for nonessential visitors.
Not all of those restrictions will be in place a year from now, but it is easy to see the problem here: The safest areas will also be the most restrictive. Even if airlines test their passengers for COVID-19, vacation spots may remain nervous about letting in too many outsiders.
Some of the safer locales may decide to open up, perhaps with visitor quotas. Many tourists will rush there, either occasioning a counterreaction — that is, reducing the destination’s appeal — or filling the quota very rapidly. Then everyone will resume their search for the next open spot, whether it’s Nova Scotia or Iceland. Tourists will compete for status by asking, “Did you get in before the door shut?”
Some countries might allow visitors to only their more distant (and less desirable?) locales, enforcing movements with electronic monitoring. Central Australia, anyone? I’ve always wanted to see the northwest coast of New Zealand’s South Island.
Some of the world’s poorer countries might pursue a “herd immunity” strategy, not intentionally, but because their public health institutions are too weak to mount an effective response to COVID-19. A year and a half from now, some of those countries likely will be open to tourism. They won’t be able to prove they are safe, but they might be fine nonetheless. They will attract the kind of risk-seeking tourist who, pre-COVID-19, might have gone to Mali or the more exotic parts of India.
FOR AMERICANS, such areas might be found in the Caribbean, which has numerous relatively poor countries dependent on tourism. Those countries will need the money and many will open up to visitors early, figuring they have little to lose. Even if the airline industry remains crippled, charter flights will connect these islands to North America. Again, there might be a pattern of particular islands being rapidly swamped, before either they or the tourists decide they have had enough.
Other countries may charge entry fees, much as Bhutan has been doing for a long time. Maybe you can make that Taj Mahal trip — but it will cost an extra $2,000 upfront. And you might be tested and monitored, and sent back home if you violate the terms of your stay.
Places reachable by direct flights will be increasingly attractive. A smaller aviation sector will make connecting flights more logistically difficult, and passengers will appreciate the certainty that comes from knowing they are approved to enter the country of their final destination and don’t have to worry about transfers, delays or cancellations. That will favor London, Paris, Toronto, Rome and other well-connected cities with lots to see and do. More people will want to visit a single locale and not worry about catching the train to the next city. Or they might prefer a driving tour. How about flying to Paris and then a car trip to the famous cathedrals and towns of Normandy?
Maybe. But I might start by giving Parkersburg, W.Va., a try.