My last post was about traveling with kindness. If you missed it, find it here. I’d love you to have a read. Thinking about how the Covid -19 crisis would change the travel industry inspired that post. Every aspect of our lives has been affected. The world isolated and locked down. The travel sector, dependant on movement and connection, has taken a particularly hard hit. It’s going to take kindness, patience and commitment from consumers to allow the industry to heal.
Having the ability to travel taken away has been a humbling and thought provoking experience. I’ve never had my freedom restricted. I’ve always taken it for granted that, time and budget allowing, I could go anywhere. This belief was very liberating, but it made me take things for granted. Maybe, it diluted the experience a bit, without me even realising it. ‘Fast Travel’ crept in.
It’s not the consumers fault that fast travel has found a place, though. It’s a natural side effect of being so able to travel. Once upon a time, travel was really just for the bold and adventurous. Then the preserve of the wealthy. A boom in the aviation industry and cheap package deals made foreign holidays more desirable and more accessible. And then came low cost airlines, internet bookings, price comparison sites, Air BnB. It all got easier, cheaper, faster.
Social media, that brilliant tool for research and connection, is a double edged sword. Sometimes it feels like travel has become a form of performance. Get to a desirable destination, get the right/best/most FOMO inspiring shot and get home again. To search for the best deal on the next trip. Travel can be fast and cheap, but that can cheapen the experience. And someone, somewhere pays the price. Every. Time.
Fast travel is the industry equivalent of fast fashion, I suppose. Inexpensive, quick turn around, must look good and churn out a constant stream of new ideas and inspiration. In order for that to be possible, there’s a price to pay. It’s a diluted experience for the traveller. It’s lower wages within the industry. It’s faster turnarounds leading to cut corners and endless attempts to separate the traveller from their money at airports, onboard the ferries and the flights. It all starts before you even get where your going.
So having had my little rant on that, you might be wondering how this fits with here and now. Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about post Covid travel lately. When I’ll feel safe , how far I’ll go and what will it look like. There’ll be big changes. It just can’t be as intense or as speedy as it was. It’s going to involve hitting the reset button. A perfect opportunity to rethink how we do things.
Possibly one of the biggest changes is going to be forged from the fact that people aren’t happy to move in crowds anymore. Game changer. Practically, its going to mean being a little more patient. Longer waits and less capacity across the board. But maybe it will also mean people to seek out lesser known destinations, or look at old favourites in a different light.
Take Edinburgh as an example. When I lived there, you could barely get past the Grey Friars Bobby statue for visitors wanting to rub his nose and grab a selfie. The pavement, and even the road would be thronging with people jostling for their time and their space. If travellers are wary of this kind of situation now, maybe they’ll still travel but push out into different areas of the city. Take their footfall and their spending power beyond the honeypot city centre. Edinburgh’s suburbs are full of little gems and independent businesses. Dispersing would be no bad thing.
And likewise in airports and rail stations and so on. The whole experience has become increasingly commercialised. The airport, for example. Take Newcastle Airport. You used to be able to visit the landside of the airport. Use the cafe and viewing terrace to see the planes coming and going. Facilities were pretty limited, even airside. Somewhere to eat, toilets, duty free. Somewhere along the way the commercial aspect took over. Now you walk through a shopping mall to get from security to the gates, the eateries are expensive franchises, there’s beauty counters, nail bars and even a champagne bar. It’s busy, its expensive and its all about packing people in to get money out of them.
But now, travellers don’t want to mingle. No one wants to sit inches from a stranger at the champagne bar or share Duty Free samples handled by hundreds of others. Imagine if the industry could circle back just a little bit to serving passengers needs and embracing the joy of travel? I know we can’t go back to more wholesome ( i.e, less profitable) times, but we could just come out of this a bit more mindful.
The tide is beginning to turn on fast fashion. Consumers are asking more questions about where their money goes and where the product comes from. I hope the travel industry will see the same shift. I’ve nothing against the idea of an all inclusive, fly-and-flop holiday if that’s your bag. But it costs the local economy who see precious little of the tourist income. Local guides, artisans, suppliers who are kept firmly in place by big business. Even those who find employment within the industry are at the mercy of seasonality and low wages ( Often young people and women taking up the undervalued, low paid work. But that’s another rant, for another day).
Since we’re all being forced to think carefully about how we travel , now is a good time to embrace Slow Travel. I know travel is a big business and you can’t undo what is done. But when we start again, lets make it normal to ask questions of the companies we use. To not always stick to the plan. To be open. And to feel proud that making travel fun and accessible for us isn’t reducing the experience or shifting the cost onto someone else. Goodbye, fast travel.
Those are my thoughts, I’d love to hear yours. Let’s have a conversation in the comments.