What will travel look like post-coronavirus?
In Australia, we have had a fortuitously short battle with coronavirus.
Our island geography, less dense population, and our ability to close our borders almost immediately following the discovery of our first cases, has lead to recent discussions about how we begin to lift restrictions - however cautiously.
Thoughts have turned towards the next steps in our post-corona lives and for many people, an escape from the four walls of their home after weeks of isolation is first on the list.
Here, like in many other countries overseas, the dream of recommencing international travel is just that at this point - a dream.
There is a long road of rebuilding ahead for many countries that rely on tourism for their livelihoods, as airlines grapple with severely reduced movements and travellers cancel upcoming trips due to coronavirus fears.
Discussions about a 'NZ-Australia travel bubble' may extend our options across the ditch, but further afield the travel industry is looking grim. Last month, it was reported that the Balinese economy is collapsing - an economy that leans on up to 80 per cent of its income from tourism. Luxury hotels are offering huge discounts to the few tourists who remain, in order to stay afloat.
In Australia, however, we are preparing for a return to domestic travel among a rapidly falling new infection rate.
As these low case numbers persist, and the Australian government continues to discuss the plan for lifting travel restrictions, Aussies are looking closer to home for future holiday plans. Local 'home hotel' business Luxico - who offer luxury home stays at premium destinations in Australia - report an uptick in inquiries of 138 per cent on this time last year. It's a staggering increase when you consider that we're in the midst of a global pandemic.
Luxico co-founder and CEO Alexandra Ormerod says it's all about the perception of 'safe' travelling options.
"I think there's definitely a lot of people who had planned to go overseas, now staying local - [there's] a preference for staying in self-contained accommodation over resorts and hotels," Ormerod says.
"While everyone is desperate to escape their homes, they are still a bit wary."
Concerns about contact-free check-in, deep cleaning, and social distancing have risen. Densely populated accommodation options, like resorts and hotels, seem less appealing when pandemic fears drive a longing for open, people-free spaces.
"People are still expecting to have some social distancing measures in place, and don't like the idea of being in shared spaces," Ormerod says. "A private home feels like a safer option, particularly if it's [within] driving distance to home."
These kind of emotional responses speak of a pending trend toward luxe, isolated destinations that still feel homey - essentially, the feeling of escaping to 'someone else's holiday house', instead of a resort getaway complete with an overpopulated pool and constant tour groups.
The benefit? Perhaps a chance for Australia's local tourism economy to rebuild after a devastating bushfire season.
Although, that also relies on states reopening their borders - something Queensland isn't willing to do yet.
Meanwhile, local hotels are having to find new ways to pivot their offerings. Many major city hotels have now become 'quarantine hotels' to house international arrivals for mandatory isolation.
Boutique hotel chain QT has taken a different approach, offering what they're calling 'WFHotel'. The idea is to fill rooms during the day as an alternative to working from home - for those seeking an escape from the four walls of their house. It comes with all the perks of a regular hotel room - except you go home for the night.
"We've been inspired by the way in which Australians have transitioned from office to home, and know the challenges they are facing to get a day's work done without other distractions," QT Melbourne general manager Lee Davey says.
With restrictions likely to continue into the near future, a hotel room for the day might be just the ticket for a desperately needed change in scenery - within a safe environment, of course.
As the government discusses options to lift restrictions, including a reported 'NZ-Australia travel bubble', Aussies are at least being given a moment to dream of domestic and trans-Tasman travel on the horizon. And the contribution to the domestic travel economy could be significant.
"It's a great opportunity for Australians to explore their own backyard," Ormerod says. "Longer term, the outlook for Australia to be viewed as a safe and desirable destination has been strengthened by our response to COVID-19 - which is great, as it has reversed the negative impact of the bushfires over summer. Expect to see our international visitors back in droves as soon as borders fully reopen."
It may be optimistic to talk of international borders reopening - however, if a vaccine or treatment emerges, we could potentially see that happen on this side of 2021.
Any positive steps forward in defeating this pandemic will hopefully see a return to normal travel sooner rather than later. We're all in desperate need of a holiday.
Originally published as What will travel look like post-coronavirus?