It could be months or it could be years before travel returns to normal

When will travel return to normal? It’s a question that a lot of people are asking, but depending on who you ask, you’re going to get a different answer.

Much of it will depend on when individual countries lift travel restrictions that would allow foreign visitors to return and whether those nations place specific restrictions on foreign nationals from certain countries.

In a New York Times article that sees early signs of travel returning, they look at 10 popular tourist destinations to see when they plan on re-opening and the dates are all over the map. Some places that have not been as hard hit by the pandemic and are especially reliant on tourism like Greece and Mexico could start welcoming visitors as early as June, July and August, while others, like France, are looking towards 2021.

Australia and New Zealand are talking about a travel bubble that would allow travellers from each nation to travel back and forth, but they would restrict people from other places. It’s possible that we might see more countries taking that approach.

A lot will also depend on consumer demand. After being locked down for months and being warned to keep socially distant, will people want to go anywhere?

In a recent interview with Yahoo Canada,  the associate director, economic forecasting at The Conference Board of Canada Todd Crawford said that they don’t think travel will  return to a relatively “normal” level until 2021, or later.

“We do not think that the domestic market will return to its previous strength until April of next year,” Crawford told Yahoo Canada. “Talking about international travel, people coming into the country or Canadians flying out of the country, we think that won’t be until December 2021 or early in 2022.”

A CNBC story spoke with U.S. travel experts, who conceded they  don’t have a crystal ball, but all agreed that it would take around 18 to 24 months before there’s a significant spike in demand and the industry begins to return to regular levels.

In the UK, Silver Travel surveyed older travellers to see when they might travel again and the consensus was some time in 2021. What was interesting was that they grouped the respondents  into four main types. The first group, most susceptible to the virus, are staying at home while the next group wants more information before they decide to travel again. A third group trusts that travel providers and governments will tell them when it’s safe to travel again and a fourth group are pissed off that they are losing valuable time while they are still healthy enough to travel and want to get going as soon as they can.

And then there’s business travel.  Will it ever come back to normal? With a lot of companies using online tools to communicate as employees work remotely, they might wonder whether video conferencing is a cheaper and effective-enough substitute to having to pay for expensive flights and hotels to send people around the world for in-person meetings.

That lack of demand is certainly going to hurt airlines, many of which are struggling to survive.

In a video conference hosted by the UAE-US business council last week Emirates President Tim Clark and Etihad Chief Executive Tony Douglas said it could be 2023 before airline demand recovers to pre-crisis levels.

In USA Today’s popular Ask the Captain feature, retired US Airways Captain John Cox is somewhat more optimistic, stating that he would be confident to book international travel by early 2021.

Even when flying returns to normal levels, a lot of people are predicting that the experience will be even more unpleasant than it was before coronavirus.

Four-hour check-ins? Immunity passports? Self check-in? Mandatory disinfection? Face masks? Don’t be surprised if it’s too much for some people.

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