Churchill’s famous remark at a crucial turning point in World War II (“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning”) seems finally applicable to COVID-19. At the time of writing, a majority of older Americans have been vaccinated, and the role of vaccine passports in the revival of the travel industry is the source of growing speculation. But what will travel be like when the pandemic is over? Will we just go back to the way things were before, or has the crisis brought about lasting change?
Some experts believe that for the foreseeable future, travelers will prefer remote, rural and seaside destinations to cities, and health concerns will not soon go away. Perhaps the current enthusiasm for villas, as opposed to hotels, will continue. Certainly, a widely quoted comment by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development that COVID presents a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to move towards more sustainable and resilient models of tourism” seems more hopeful than realistic.
In 2019, tourism accounted for 11.8 percent of Spain’s GDP and no less than 18 percent of Thailand’s, so I suspect that the first priority will be rapid growth. Indeed, my own hunch is that as soon as it seems safe to travel, there will be an explosion of pent-up demand, or “revenge tourism” in the Economist’s memorable phrase. Over the past year, my own travels have been greatly curtailed, and I am straining at the leash to revisit places, like London and Paris, that I once took almost entirely for granted. I imagine that I am not alone in my current craving for far-flung lands!