Covid and return to 'normal', esp. re international travel
November 28, 2021 5:14 PM   Subscribe

Covid's emergence, concurrent with Carbon reduction measures suggests global travel has to drop off - a lot. I'm writing from New Zealand where tourism has collapsed (and the low-paying industry is hankering for return to normal). I doubt normal will return, but what will after look like? Hence this somewhat work-related question, as I occasionally design public space.

When Covid started I thought it'd be ten-years before anything like normality returned. I'm starting to feel my initial hunch was correct with Covid pumping out variants, and all the madness arising from supply-chain collapses, plus bad actors and idiots.

Here there's a frantic expansion/development of a cycle path network - and much resistance to change otherwise - huge road/tunnel programs/demolition and building bubble, and planting the wrong trees in the wrong places.

Tourism now is virtually 100% in-country residents, but nothing like the before - 3.8M arrivals in 2018, with 378k arriving in March 2018, and 3000 in March 2020 (mostly NOT tourism AFAICT).

So with travel what will change where you are? What will come after?

Do you think it'll change and if so, how?

Where you how do you see tourism returning?

If anyone answers this can you please say roughly where you are so I can gauge market size and make rough comparisons. Also what is your regions' climate change stance?
posted by unearthed to Society & Culture (26 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I live in the Boston area of the USA. I have no specific expertise in tourism or epidemiology and I am not a climate science or a transportation engineer. For simplicity, I'm going to assume you're familiar with the US's internal conflicts over climate change. Locally, Boston just elected a 36 year old New Green Deal mayor (yay).

Wednesday was the day before Thanksgiving, and it is traditionally the heaviest travel day in the country. This year it reached and surpassed pre-pandemic levels. Thanksgiving is a day to gather with family more than any other holiday, really, and people were excited to be able to do that again.

Omicron has obviously put a damper on things, but it is too early to see how that will play out. Prior to Omicron, it felt like the US was clearly on the path of returning to pre-pandemic levels of tourism, despite the ongoing high infection rates in our country. It felt like we were reaching some sort of endemic equilibrium, albeit a painfully costly one. But people had adapted.

It is too early to say how Omicron will affect that. We'll know more in a couple of weeks and then in a few months as the vaccine gets updated.

So that's one side of it.

On the other side is air travel and the climate emergency. I have family around the US and I love the fact that I get to see everyone a few times a year. But that happens because my siblings fly. I wouldn't fly, at least not as frequently as they do. As the awareness of the climate emergency increases, I expect leisure air travel to be curtailed dramatically. Unless there are technology breakthroughs beyond what I'm aware of, air travel just has to be reduced, along with all other optional carbon-intensive activities, or we're all completely f***ed. I just have to believe and hope that eventually in the face of hellfire literally destroying the earth that people will stop flying.

I've always wanted to visit New Zealand. I love temperate climates. I love what I know about the people and society. But it's hard for me to imagine getting on an airplane now to visit. I have been to southern Africa and loved the place and would love to take my children there, and I understand the people and the animals there depend on tourism dollars, but I don't see how in good conscience I could take my children there. I live on the East Coast of the US, and would love to take my children to see the redwoods on the West Coast, but even that feels like it would be irresponsible and denialist.

Unless there's some breakthrough in technology, or I find that my understanding of the carbon impact of air travel and tourism is completely off. It feels like we all need to be finding sufficiency in our local regions, even with the losses that entails.

Not sure if that's the sort of information you were looking for, but that's one perspective from the northeast of the US.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 5:50 PM on November 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

What's your timeframe?

Personally, I find global tourism travel somewhat irresponsible (both from an energy perspective and a disease-spreading perspective).

But I'm also somewhat of a techno-optimist, and I think it's really hard to predict the future.

We already have battery powered aircraft under test (adequte for short routes), and many groups are trying to make synthetic aviation fuel for longer routes. Both of these could (potentially) be carbon neutral and bring long-distance travel back into the "OK to do ethically" catergory.

I'm in the USA here, and you can hardly buy a new or used car, because of a complicated set of circumstances which can be summarized as "the manufacturers thought there would be no demand" which proved wrong.

On the pessimistic side, getting stuck in another country or on a cruise ship scares me quite a bit, so until covid is really handled, I'm not leaving the country.
posted by soylent00FF00 at 5:56 PM on November 28, 2021

During the depths of 2020's lockdown, my one recurring thought was "this is going to change so many things about travel, about society, about everything". Then, as things opened up in 2021 and people went headfirst back into the deep end of traveling, I realized...we didn't learn anything.

We didn't learn that travel is inessential; we didn't absorb the lesson that air travel, particularly, is severely damaging to the planet (and I say that as one who, pre-2020, air traveled for leisure several times a year but have no plans to any time soon), and we didn't learn, most importantly, that it's OK to not indulge our every whim and do whatever the heck we want, whenever the heck we want to, just because we want to do it.

We didn't learn that it's OK to be...smaller, and more intentional, in the choices we make about our lives. We mostly learned to wait for the inevitable bargain that will allow us to go where we want, only more cheaply, because we haven't been able to for two years, so it's on sale now! And thus the cycle will continue.

I hate that the pandemic has made me this fatalistic and skeptical, but here we are. We've learned nothing as a society, and that makes me sad.
posted by pdb at 5:58 PM on November 28, 2021 [22 favorites]

I'm in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I'm staying very isolated because I'm immunocompromised, and I'm not at all sure I'll ever travel internationally again. However, I'm on a cancer support board - everyone on that board is immunocompromised - and a shocking number of people wanted to get right back into going on cruises as soon as the vaccines were available even though it's well documented that the vaccines don't work well for us (see Colin Powell, who had the same cancer people on this board do). I think there are a lot of people who are simply not very cautious and think that nothing bad will happen to them. I'm utterly shocked at the number of people I know who are basically pretending that the pandemic is over. And many Americans are refusing vaccines, which will make this go on for longer.

As far as curtailing travel because of climate change - that strikes me as something almost nobody will do unless the place they want to travel to is literally on fire. We have seen with both COVID and climate change that most people will make mental exceptions for themselves so they can do whatever they want to. Their Thanksgiving trip to see relatives is OK. They can move to small towns and overload their hospitals. It's all right for them to find a some sort of loophole so they can do whatever they want. People do this even when their lives are literally on the line. It's very hard mentally for people to relate their actions to something as huge as climate change - so they'll say gosh the government should do something about it, but in the meantime, I need to keep eating burgers and driving cars and running my air conditioner and buying tons of crap I don't need. Aside from a few vegans, I can't think of anyone making real lifestyle changes because of climate change (and time to cue the MeFites who will leap in and say that going vegan doesn't do any good even though animal agriculture is a significant contributor to global warming - thus making it clear that there's no need for them to change the way they eat).

I'm not someone who thinks I can predict the future, but my own thought is that people are very anxious to get back to normal and will convince themselves that it's OK to do what they want even when it's really not safe and even when it's destroying the planet. I would expect there to be a lot of international travel by next summer, though with new variants of the virus on the horizon, it's possible that things will get bad enough for people to stay home again. I'm probably not being super helpful here, but those are my thoughts. I wish I could be more optimistic, but I feel that this global emergency has really shown me the dark side of humanity.
posted by FencingGal at 6:21 PM on November 28, 2021 [10 favorites]

West Coast USA, climate-change concerned region run by people who believe in science (much to the chagrin those people flaming out on Nextdoor about how they're gonna move to Idaho so they can be surrounded by white supremacists).

I'm well-off and scientifically-oriented, so my anecdata may be especially useless, but going forward I expect to essentially eliminate international leisure travel. There is, for example, absolutely no way I'll visit NZ again as long as a lockdown or quarantine requirement is a possibility; I'm not going anywhere I can't get back from. I might reconsider matters if my travel insurance were sufficiently huge ("caught in a lockdown? Here's $$hundreds/week to tide you over!") or the governments at either end of the trip had similar guarantees.

I've been to 42 countries, and I presently believe that number may never grow again. It was, however, already on a downward trend after realizing how many carbon offset programs are absurd jokes.

Moreover, I've altered my national travel plans as well; I am actively avoiding multiple US states due to their generalized covid-incompetence. Places without mask mandates are out, places with low vaccination rates are out, places where the governor is clearly a murderous jackass are out, and so on.

More broadly, I am considering acquiring several additional passports/residence cards (to which I am entitled as a consequence of parentage etc.) in order to guarantee the ability to travel in a family emergency situation. For example, I've accelerated my acquisition of an Indian OCI card. I have friends with similar plans (eg: finally pursuing grandma to find out more about her Irish birth, where her records might be, etc.)

I frankly expect mass international travel to devolve into two categories: people that HAVE to travel for some reason, and people that are assholes. Emergency flights because mom/dad is dying and drunken idiots looking to parrr-tay broseph!
posted by aramaic at 6:23 PM on November 28, 2021 [5 favorites]

I live in Los Angeles, United States. This country and for the most part this state/county/city has decided on an administrative level to largely pretend nothing has happened including all the shit that has gone off the rails, and that has convinced a lot of people that nothing has happened and nothing is happening and if some people die, oh well.

Tourism here is fine. I mean, not quite up to pre-pandemic levels because there are a small number of restrictions on indoor activities and a lot of services industries are finding out that people no longer want to do their shit jobs for the least possible amount of pay, but we went on a drive through Malibu yesterday and the (fairly cold) beaches were as busy as I'd ever expect on Thanksgiving weekend and it was about 50/50 between locals and tourists standing in line outside one of the few beach-adjacent restaurants.

For reasons nobody can explain in a way that makes sense (here the BBC tries) the Port of Los Angeles is full of idling supercarriers full of shipping containers (mostly) from China coming in at a rate 25% higher than the same time in 2019 (leading into Christmas) and they can't unload because there's not enough people to unload them and take the stuff away to go be bought. Production has been uneven in China because of the pandemic and it is causing odd shortages, but also Americans have been spending their usual travel-and-entertainment budgets on extra stuff, especially stuff that lets them bubble to some extent, hence the scarcity and demand for (new and used) cars and RVs and electronic goods. (I am hearing that our ancient Priuses, whose resale value would otherwise be maybe $2500-4000 depending on condition, could go for $9-10K right now. We're considering selling one and sitting on the cash until car prices go down, if they do, which they may not.)

But people are also wanting to travel and most Americans cannot experience a moment of anxiety without assuaging it, so many many people have just decided to "live their lives" because they'll probably be fine if they get COVID and that's all that matters because other people aren't real. I have a number of acquaintances and coworkers away on flying vacations this long weekend, several of them international.

I think it may be hard to understand from inside New Zealand that y'all are very nearly the only ones who tried hard enough for it to largely work. Hardcore quarantine restrictions seem to still mostly be working in South Korea and (now that the olympics are over) to some extent in Japan, quarantine and lockdowns are somewhat successful in Australia, I don't know what to think about the patterns or reported patterns in the smaller East Asian countries, especially ones like Thailand that are deeply dependent on tourism and are opening back up to travelers with money and relying heavily on testing with short quarantines.

Like others, I had thought SURELY THIS would initiate some change, and I was wrong. Nothing will change. Los Angeles will have slightly more outdoor dining options than we already did, and all restaurants will have a better takeout game than before, but nothing will fundamentally change.

I myself have no current plans to fly anywhere, and because of climate change maybe I won't ever again. The little bit of travel we've done has been camping trips within 150 miles of home, alone, vaccinated. We're still only very rarely going out in public for non-essential reasons. But all our party neighbors have been having their big parties all along, the traffic situation at LAX is right back to normal nightmare levels, and I don't think there's enough of us who have been fundamentally changed like this to change behavior overall.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:30 PM on November 28, 2021 [8 favorites]

I live on the West Coast of the US, in an area that considers itself progressive and very conscious of climate change. And as far as I can tell, no one is curtailing any kind of leisure travel due to the climate. They just don't link the two things together. A few are refusing to travel due to safety reasons.

I know people who were saddened that the 2020 lockdown destroyed their overseas travel plans, but they spent the year planning trips when travel was allowed again - and they did so right when bans were lifted. If anything, they were elated at the fact that there were no lines anywhere. I just came from a Thanksgiving dinner where a large proportion of people didn't come, because they were traveling.

Many of these people are rich retirees where cost is irrelevant but time is precious, and they've decided that they're going to travel until they're physically incapable of it. Others simply feel that they "deserve" to travel and are making up for lost time over the past 18 months. The only thing that's going to stop them are travel bans or hard quarantine requirements.
posted by meowzilla at 6:50 PM on November 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

Without meaning to sound cynical, I think climate change will impact travel when or if it makes travel expensive. If someone has to buy expensive carbon-offsets or pay for a scarce travel permit, or if the flight itself now costs ten times more, then people might not travel. Otherwise, people will be traveling. What meowzilla describes above matches what I am seeing.

In the US we just had Thanksgiving, a major travel holiday. I didn't fly, but I did travel to see family by car in the West. The highways were busy, hotels and restaurants were full, and the campgrounds (aka places to park your RV or "vanlife" vehicle) that I drove by looked full also. I passed through one of those smaller towns that makes its living as a tourist destination, and the streets were jam-packed with people.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:55 PM on November 28, 2021 [6 favorites]

It occurrs to me that I didn't actually answer your questions all that directly, so:

So with travel what will change where you are? What will come after?
It looks like nothing of substance has changed - as others have noted, air travel has rebounded to near-pre-COVID levels. The Portland airport was expecting almost double the volume of 2020, and may have gotten more than 2019, as far as Thanksgiving weekend travel (historically, as people have said, the busiest travel weekend in the US). I don't follow hotel occupancy rates, but anecdotally, the hotels that we live by look busier now than they have since all this started.

Do you think it'll change and if so, how?
As I said in my original answer, I do not. People who want to do things can rationalize anything in the name of doing what they want, and that's why air travel will always be a big thing.

Where you how do you see tourism returning?
Honestly, I think the only permanent "change" that a lot of cities will see as a result of this last couple years is a lot more outdoor dining, which isn't so much a "change" in the way you're thinking of. I'm not seeing anything of substance change in how my city has organized itself as far as COVID-related infrastructure/city-level changes (at least not tourism-related; people can get licenses renewed via email now when that always used to be in person, and there are other governmental operation changes, but those don't really impact tourists).

People are desperate for things to be "normal" again, and haven't tried to process that there really should be a new normal, reflecting what we (theoretically) learned in 2020 and 2021, and that we shouldn't just hurtle ourselves into a future that looks exactly like 2019 looked.

If anyone answers this can you please say roughly where you are so I can gauge market size and make rough comparisons. Also what is your regions' climate change stance?
I'm in Portland, OR. It's fair to say that we in the NW are very pro-acknowledgment of climate change, and at least in theory, pro-doing something about it, although that usually results in a lot more talking about doing good than actually doing the good, at least on a macro level.
posted by pdb at 7:21 PM on November 28, 2021

I'm in Australia and live in a city dependant on tourism to even survive economically, so that may colour my view. I don't think (as others have pointed out) we've learned any lessons from COVID at all. None related to travel, none unrelated. I feel the pervading view is that this is just something we have to wait out and then we can jump back on a jet as if nothing has changed. I also don't think governments are going to make people wait any longer because they can't afford the political damage. Here, formal plans are in place around the country to move to 'living with COVID' and almost total reliance on vaccines rather than trying to exclude it, especially now that Delta has proven both exclusion and extermination to be a pipe-dream. This has to become true in NZ as well before too long, in my view. Omicron is not going to change that, once more is known and it moves to being 'just another variant'.

I don't think the overwhelming majority of people even connect air travel with climate change and, if they do, it's to the extent that they'll pay the 'carbon neutral' surcharge and feel all warm and fuzzy for doing so. The Australian government has taken some token steps to look like they're addressing climate change, but coal is Australia's second-largest export and there's no way a conservative government is going to endanger that. The climate stance here (as I see it) is largely that 'the government should do something about it, as long as it doesn't adversely impact me'.

Tourism will bounce back, as it does from everything that looks like wiping it out. There's just too much money to be made by too many people with too much influence. Tourism is NZ's biggest export earner and no competent government can ignore that for too long. I do think there is likely to be increased interest in so-called 'eco tourism', which make people feel good about killing a few trees to fly to the other side of the world and marvel at the natural wonders there instead of driving down the road and marveling at their own natural wonders.

We may see a noticeable reduction in business travel, now that people are used to meeting via video when they would previously have flown a dozen people to a common city. Even then, I think any such reduction will be temporary because people like to do it and because they can. Big companies that had embraced 100% remote working (and the savings they could make in rent) are now pulling back amid findings that 100% adversely impacts on productivity, although most seem to be embracing some level of remote work.

Short version - plan for a resumption of what 2019 looked like, over the next couple of years at most.
posted by dg at 7:27 PM on November 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

Passenger flights make up just about 1% of greenhouse gas emissions. It's highly visible, but ultimately not as big a contributor as things like residential electricity (10%) or passenger road travel (7%). Source. Obviously this depends quite a bit on the duration of the trip, but there are higher yield ways to mitigate climate change than eliminating leisure travel.

I've lived on the US East Coast my entire life, moving in fairly progressive, academic and ac-adjacent circles. Pre-covid, international travel was a major part of my life, to see family on the other side of the world, to connect with professional colleagues, and yeah, for fun too. I was one of those 378k people who went to NZ in March 2018, am incredibly grateful to have had those experiences. I really miss the frisson of waking up in a new land -- Rick Steves reruns are not the same -- and I fully intend to go back to it once safer from a covid perspective. Like others above, I hesitate to travel internationally right now but frankly that's because of the risk of quarantine restrictions and getting stuck abroad, not climate change.
posted by basalganglia at 7:31 PM on November 28, 2021 [24 favorites]

I live in Vermont where we are somewhat climate conscious (laws about composting and that sort of thing) and we also rely on tourism a great deal. I had already dialed my work air travel way back both for climate reasons but also because I didn't really love it. And since I traveled for work, I rarely traveled for fun since I basically stay home for fun.

We're kind of lucky in the US in that you can go to a lot of places without getting on an airplane and there are ways to travel by car that are more climate-friendly. I have zero commute and also no kids so my climate activism is more about trying to influence policy and other big picture things. However I am also on the governing board for a national organization which only grudgingly started being able to "do business" online because of the pandemic and I have been really vocal trying to get them to consider keeping it this way for climate reasons but other inclusion reasons. You can get more people at the table (at the level of the org that I am in) if you don't require massive travel just to attend a bunch of meetings.

We get a lot of tourism here in Vermont and for the past maybe eight months we still do. Kind of like New Zealand, people came here because, as the US goes, it was safer for a while. Some of our tourism however (maple syrup, skiing, wintertime) is climate dependent so we see people thinking about it more than they might otherwise. My region is fairly COVID-conscious in a general mask-wearing-and-vaccines way but I am really surprised how many of them still did major travel during this last Thanksgiving week.
posted by jessamyn at 8:14 PM on November 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm in the northwestern US, in a progressive area. My community is made up of folks who are into bikes and public transportation and who are super concerned about climate change. Just before the pandemic, I started to see folks talking about the Swedish flygskam/flight shame movement. These were folks who were looking to travel by train rather than plane. But, the US is big, and rail options are limited, so many people, even environmentalists, hop on planes all the time.

So without government limiting travel options, I'm not sure we'll see all that much of a shift in travel because of the pandemic and climate change doesn't seem to do it either.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:47 PM on November 28, 2021

Passenger flights may be only 1% of global carbon emission in the aggregate, but it comes from a much smaller fraction of global population.

Look at it this way: as one person, it would be hard to double or triple your car usage. There's not enough hours in the day. But it's pretty easy to increase it 5, 10, 20 times by having no flygskam (thank you bluedaisy).
posted by dum spiro spero at 9:59 PM on November 28, 2021 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow, so many answers, will take days to digest! A little background and digestion:

NZers are/were big travellers, in the before there was always ~1M offshore. ~300k want to rtn permanently [] asap due to C19 disruption and how they're seen nations behave when the chips are down.

NZ is reasonably well (lot of caveats) integrated racially and Maori are pushing for not opening up internally - Auckland's been on hard lockdown for months. Many rural Maori are poor, live in remote areas and have strong memories of what the Spanish Flu did. Also govt is fundamentally racist (caveat #1), so vaccine roll out to Maori/Pacifika was very poor until very recently. They are doing roadblocks again and I don't blame them.

Internally during all this we've made signif. moves ratifying Carbon controls and many youth are changing their travel ideas. But there's a lot of internal surface travel by NZers - huge increase above historic.

Mass tourism was destroying us; pollution, low pay, litter and worse, rampant hotel development and circular Chinese (esp.) tourism where no money is spent in NZ.

We opened (very) briefly to Oz before closing the door again. Anyone who does come is via MIQ, so a two week quarantine run mostly by the army.

Lyn Never Yep, we're reas. aware of our near-uniqueness (+Aus to some extent, Vietnam, Taiwan, some Pac Islands)

pdb "People are desperate for things to be "normal" again" - yes, I see that a bit here too, it seems so .. completely unrealistic. My school history seemed so basic but I now realise we learnt a lot about the history of plagues, and years later through landscape degree did a lot more on public health/public infrastructure; just because it's the 21C doesn't change how bugs move through human pops. Yet we have a cult-level full-on Q movement going here and getting dangerous, mainly outcome is union of racists/climate deniers/anti-vax across all sectors of society yet led by a Maori (who many Maori hate) - it's getting weird here.

But maybe people will avoid us as our flight routes may get cancelled - info here - October was 12000 incoming, normally would be 600k

dg Yes, NZ has become too dependent on mass tourism too. I'm hoping for modern clipper ships bringing the youth of the world on 3-year visas, which would provide much of the seasonal workers our economy has come to depend on - some of that is normal pay for seasonal jobs - ski-industry / skilled horticulture etc. And a revitalisation of our train network. But the Tourism Minister has not even replied to my question - it's not like they have much to do at the moment!
posted by unearthed at 10:30 PM on November 28, 2021

FWIW as awesome as Metafilter is, its responses are only representative of MetaFilter.

That being said, anecdotally I think there are sizable number of USians (fully vaxxed and unvaxxed) who are feeling antsy for domestic and international (leisure) travel. However, I don't think I can overstate how partisan the whole situation is and the effect of inconsistent messaging from government officials about the issue.
posted by oceano at 5:18 AM on November 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure if this will answer your question or not, but I'm going to try.

We live in St. Louis, middle of the US. My family lives on the east coast. I fly to see them once a year. We also fly, domestically, for leisure, 2-3 times a year. That has not changed throughout pandemic. Pre-pandemic, we flew internationally 1-2 times a year for Mr. Meat's work - medical missions, conferences, etc. Not sure when/if that work travel will resume - we thought 2022, but that's looking less likely now, but we miss it - I want an excuse to go to Istanbul.

With regards to climate change: there are major things in our daily life that we do to reduce our impact on the world. We don't have biological children. We share a car and use it very little - our lives are set up to bike to most things. We live in a small house and are working on insulating it and making it more energy efficient. We garden and eat a largely vegetarian diet. Then there are smaller things: we choose pet food made of chicken instead of pet food made of beef. I tried washing everything in cold water and now choose which items need to be washed in hot instead of just assuming. We're getting our dishwasher fixed because it's more efficient than me handwashing everything, and replacing a small part is both cheaper and better from an environmental perspective than replacing the whole thing.

Again, I don't know if that answers your question specifically, because I'm more a tourist than a host, but it is my perspective.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 6:44 AM on November 29, 2021

(People are sharing their personal feelings on travel and climate change...but are you looking for more of a regional attitude, like the local government's response to climate change? It seems a small part of your question but a large part of responses).
posted by tiny frying pan at 7:01 AM on November 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

From London, UK (though I am originally from Australia. We have not travelled back to see family since 2016 for a combination of environmental and then COVID reasons)

So with travel what will change where you are? What will come after?
Despite being able to get to A LOT of places by train, Britain is still big on flying, both internally and internationally. Even now, some organisations will only book you to travel between certain destinations by plane not train. I may have to do some work travel internationally next year and I am pushing to be allowed to travel London to Berlin by train, but my work is pushing for flying because it is quicker. I will probably ask to use some of my leave allowance to go by train because it is more environmentally responsible, and frankly less stressful. But plenty of Brits travelled overseas this past Summer, and I am sure plenty are already gearing up for skiing holidays in the Alps this winter.

Do you think it'll change and if so, how?
Like many above, I am a complete cynic. The height of it was for me someone I know tangentially alternating posts on social media about how good it was for the environment that so many things were shutting down due to Covidrestrictions, followed by posts at how sad they were that this year they had to cancel their family holiday from Australia to Europe. People, even those who think of themselves as caring about the impact of humans on the world (or at least like to virtue signal about it), just don't see themselves as part of the problem.

Where you how do you see tourism returning?
I work in 'central' London and it is *heaving* with tourists, both domestic and international. Even when there were lockdowns there were international tourists getting around London but now it feels like it is back to usual levels. Places like the Strand are packed of an early evening, and that is without all the office workers that are still WFH - alot of the people are 'from the counties' in the city for a day or two to do shopping and enjoy a show. No masks, no social distancing, don't even know how to stand in a public place without getting in everyone's way.
posted by Megami at 9:28 AM on November 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

I wondered if Covid would act as a 'bridge' to more responsible attitudes to the planet's health.

I wondered the same, and it seems, from my spot in the northwestern US, that the answer is no. In fact, there are folks who went in the opposite direction: after feeling stuck at home and so isolated, they are more eager than ever to travel further and will take advantage of every opportunity. Or, at the very least, they don't want to delay seeing family again. Last spring and a bit into summer, some folks were reluctant to share travel photos because of fear of Covid-shaming, but now I'm seeing photos from trips of American friends around the world. When travel dips, airlines lower ticket prices dramatically, and it becomes much more alluring to folks, too.

The article itself might be paywalled, but in a Nov 25 piece on travel over US Thanksgiving, traditionally one of the busiest travel times of the year here, the New York Times reported:
Thanksgiving air travel did not reach the record highs of 2019, but it was close. About 2.3 million people passed through Transportation Safety Administration checkpoints on Wednesday, more travelers than on any other day during the pandemic.

This figure was more than twice as many travelers as the Wednesday before Thanksgiving last year. This year’s total was about 88 percent of the travelers that flew on that same Wednesday in 2019.

Many Americans are fully vaccinated and many are also boosted, so even folks concerned about Covid (which is to say, not anti-vaxxers) likely feel much safer traveling now, especially to visit older relatives.

Having said all this: Gen Z (teens and early 20s) might have a different approach to all this. The travel I'm seeing is from the older generations, or kids tagging along with their parents. Maybe attitudes will shift as climate change accelerates.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:10 PM on November 29, 2021

I live in LA County but some info on my former home - Honolulu. Hawaii has the unique position of being only accessible by air travel. Hawaii also was in the news for having a) asked tourists to not come b) having an actual quarantine policy.

There was already a lot of pushback against tourism as an industry, and the "reset" button of the pandemic has accelerated some of the reconfiguration of the industry: "a new blueprint for redefining tourism in the post-COVID-19 era by mitigating community concerns over traffic and overcrowding on Kauai while maintaining the benefits from the state’s dominant industry... It could dramatically alter the visitor experience on the Garden Island, but the head of the Kauai Chamber of Commerce stressed the need for airlines to be part of the solution by limiting the number of seats sold on flights."

There will likely be a shift towards domestic tourists rather than international tourists, in part because customs and immigration restrictions are still so much in flux.

Domestic travel since March [2021] has been strong and has actually exceeded 2019 in July and August, according to DBEDT. But Asia travel has been almost non-existent. The result is some businesses that cater to international visitors have been slower to reopen. Here's an Oct 2020 brief from the University of Hawai‘i.


Re: my personal international travel, I plan to not make any non family trips for the foreseeable future - so no UK academic conferences even though there is one I've been meaning to go to and no scuba diving in Palau even though I would dearly dearly love to go (and have a classmate I could visit). Family visits to Seoul will resume once everyone is boosted and restrictions aren't too rigid re: quarantine.
posted by spamandkimchi at 4:57 PM on November 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm really thinking that your initial hunch of ten years may be correct, sadly. Or five years if we're lucky? Unfortunately, with so many people refusing to get vaccinated here in the US despite immunization access for all, I don't see it getting better any time soon. Furthermore, the continued unequal access to COVID vaccines around the world, also due in part part to countries like the US not stepping up more, isn't helping either. I know you asked more for facts and statistics but I see a lot of my fellow awesome MeFites have added their opinions so I will too!

I used to travel a lot and lived abroad, too. COVID has completely changed my life as it has so many people's: while I'm doing well now, all things considered, for most of 2020 I was displaced/homeless/stranded and unable to return to my chosen home abroad. I actually tried going back but was rejected at the border; I lost my cat, my apartment, and most of my belongings. I look forward to returning one day but just as a visitor. Maybe on paper I was a tourist but in reality I was a resident; a lot of people around this world fall into this category in one way or another. Likewise, there are many forms of tourism and we need to remember that visiting family, friends and/or our place of origin is often considered tourism, too.

Back to my story: I was able to travel across the US in my old car in 2020, which I slept in to save money, but also visit national parks and other sites near and far so I was lucky. The drudgery of every day life has returned and I feel for all the people, especially parents, stuck at home 24/7 with no escape and few breaks. National parks and the like in 2021 have become packed due to domestic travel and a return to nature. This has many pros for the tourists and the communities that benefit financially but bring other challenges, too. Conversely, I now live in Washington DC and see fewer tourists than ever so I'd say a lot of the cities are experiencing that loss in tourism. People aren't holding conferences like before, domestically and abroad; it's probably for the best but really affecting many people's livelihoods. I went to my first concert in two years yesterday and it was amazing but, again, something that just won't return to normal any time soon.

I really hope to go to Europe this summer to see friends, many of whom are like family, and some of whom are old. This trip was planned for 2020, then postponed again in 2021. I realize I can probably return to the US should borders close again but my recent negative experiences have made me wary.

The problem with a lot of the talk about the impact of travel is that so often its dominated by privileged white people from industrialized countries. Sure, travel for people in the US is often seen as a thing of privilege but that's too bad; in Europe it's seen more as a right for all. I teach languages to public school students and am always encouraging students to meet people from different backgrounds and go abroad themselves. Many of my students come from immigrant families. We have such a problem in the US, and even more so now than in many years, of people being so closedminded if not downright xenophobic. Travel can really help open people's eyes! It's not the only way but it's an important option. These travel bans are so often based in fear a.k.a. racism and xenophobia. The new one is no exception. We all did what we had to do at first with the knowledge we had but now it's like we should know better.

For those who claim travel is so bad for the environment (among so many others things, right?) and should be taxed heavily, are you willing to completely give it up yourself? Or are we unintentionally promoting the idea that only the rich should be able to do it? Flights have gotten so expensive again already and gas prices are going up; getting time off is hard and, with recent inflation, budgeting for travel is even harder than before.

I was living in Argentina recently, which had one of the longest lockdowns and strictest border closures. Their tourism industry has basically collapsed and their already-fragile economy has been devastated yet again. I have seen its affect on friends and it's just too bad. Again, people who are so righteous about how great it is that people aren't traveling abroad for various reasons are privileged to not have it affect them so greatly. And let's remember that most of us are not indigenous so any rights to the land we live on are really bullshit.

I have always dreamed of visiting New Zealand and hope to one day... in maybe five years?! I'm sorry that COVID has affected the income and livelihood of so many people there. I hope things improve everywhere for everyone soon.

Finally, I'm tripled vaxxed myself. Fortunately, most of my students and colleagues are vaccinated as well. We are still wearing masks and adjusting to the new normal, which is no fun at all. We are all dreaming of fun stuff like travel abroad. Many students with international connections are starting to travel again, slowly but surely, like to see family over Christmas but anything beyond that feels so far away!
posted by smorgasbord at 7:34 PM on November 29, 2021 [6 favorites]

The comeback of tourism will be very uneven across the world, I think and the differing views here may reflect that to some extent. Given that the question originates from New Zealand and that Australia and NZ both rely on each other for a significant portion of tourism and other travel, how quickly travel comes back for that part of the market is a much different question to when either country will see large numbers from places such as China, North America and Europe.

Reluctance to travel too far from home (relatively) may play a big part in this, given the inclination of governments everywhere to make sudden, seemingly irrational decisions that fly in the face of what they said a day or an hour earlier. I'm personally nervous about even travelling interstate, having had to pay an extortionate amount in May this year to buy the last seat out of Sydney so I could slide home under the border closure literally by minutes.
posted by dg at 9:48 PM on November 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

I've got friends/family who work in tourism in Australia, and every time a border opens, demand screams up to almost full capacity. And when borders close, or look like they're closing, they all spend days and days cancelling everything. (It's truly depressing and I'm amazed they haven't gone mad).

There's a huge build up of demand, and I think tourism/travel to visit family will bounce back to it's original levels fairly quickly, once the threat of borders closing or risk of catching covid has reduced. Cost and insurance issues may be the only thing that limit demand to less than precovid levels, but savings amongst people who've kept they're jobs has been strong, so some price increase will be absorbed I think.

Travel for work may take longer to rebound. I think businesses have become more comfortable with zoom as a replacement for many things that used to be done face to face, and they are always looking for ways to make cost savings.
posted by kjs4 at 10:33 PM on November 29, 2021

Response by poster: Thanks tiny frying pan, yes re regional attitudes, just finger-in-the-air ideas from people on their home ground is what I'm seeking. Yeah, sure, metafilter is biased and Western but it's an essential community for me, I ask these questions elsewhere and IRL too.

Megami is spot on, as is spamandkimchi []

Wow smorgasboard that sounds tough, I hope you feel more settled now.

Yes dg that's a thing in Australia and even NZ - I know a farmer who went to the north Island to buy a tractor and just squeaked back in before our first lockdown. Also there's a growing move towards informal road blocks/blocking park access where govt. is being careless with Maori - many Maori are calling on the nation to not go on holiday this Christmas - I hope this gets broad support.

Our foreign earnings economy (apart from tourism) is booming, and internally things are very busy too (except tourism, and some retail - but shopping as a way of life needs to reduce IMO, too carbon-intensive). Tens of thousands of cashed up returnees and a shortage of houses, plus many companies getting very serious about climate change, and a return to some manufacturing after seeing the supply chain collapses.

IDK if I'll travel again, it's expensive from here anyway and the places I like (and learn the most in) have gone mad. Australia will become possible again and I would go there (have never been except for work, and future travel would still be work-related; I don't do sit on the beach/shopping travel).
posted by unearthed at 12:17 AM on November 30, 2021

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