But with the storm clouds come a silver lining. Without the steady stream of cruise ships (some of the worst polluters in the world), the canals of Venice have become clear for the first time in centuries; pollution around the world has dropped dramatically and cities that had been trampled by overtourism are recovering.
And travel experts say that when the world recovers from the rampant spread of COVID-19, the industry will come back stronger than ever. And when the world starts moving again, it will be in the right way.
“I think when this has finally come under control it will create a huge need to travel,” said Samantha Brown, who hosts “Places to Love” on PBS. “And I’m not talking just travel to far places … but small trips to more local and state destinations. We will want to move and most importantly reconnect to people.”
Pavia Rosati, who founded the travel site Fathom, agreed and said there will likely be an “increased interest in local travel, for those who want to stay relatively close to home. This might be the year that New Yorkers who usually go to Greece make their way to Nantucket or the Gullah Islands instead.”
Wherever people go, there is sure to be a sense of “mindfulness and appreciation for the local people and vibrant tapestries of cultures for the destinations we visit,” according to Tom Marchant, co-founder of luxury travel operator Black Tomato. “After weeks and perhaps months staying home, this longing for authentic human connection and togetherness will be stronger than ever … but there will be less of a cookie-cutter travel mentality.”
While cruise ships will always trundle on, Rosati hopes cities will cut down on mega, mass tourism, specifically in places like Venice.
“The Italian government need(s) to start restricting the number of visitors allowed into the city daily,” she said. “And probably do a better job of restricting — or even banning — the floating-mall-sized cruise ships that disgorge tens of thousands of people into the city, making its narrow streets un-passable for Venetians who are just trying to get home from work. If this unwanted forced reset helps us get smarter about our limited resources, and be a little less selfish about how we behave when we go out into the world, we will come out of this crisis in a better place.”
As the travel industry recovers, travel options will be more limited than before the virus struck. Smaller destinations will likely not be as easily accessible.
“One upside is that people will not take for granted the ease of travel and the freedom to explore so many places,” said Melissa Biggs Bradley, CEO and Founder of Indagare, a boutique travel planning company. “There will be less over-tourism, but that is also going to be a consequence of fewer travel options, which will have shrunk when we come out of this. There is no way that you will have the quantity of flights or the range of flights when travel comes back. I doubt that the smaller regional areas are going to have the same kind of flight lift that they had in early 2020 for another 10 years. Airlines everywhere have been decimated and they are going to cut routes and many of the hotels and businesses that existed because of arriving tourists are going to disappear.”
The limitations will help protect travel destinations from what Bradley calls “fast tourism.”
“Like fast food, quick travel that is not really nourishing or supportive of local communities,” she explained.
Travel industry experts hope that the spread of COVID-19 will make travelers more aware of their surroundings, with “clean” countries winning out.
“Once this pandemic is behind us, big cities that were suffering under the weight of wall-to-wall tourist crowds will likely see fewer and smaller groups of travelers for a few years,” added Wendy Perrin, who established the Trusted Travel Expert’s list.
“Poor, rural communities that were devastated by the pandemic will probably see more donations from philanthropic-minded travelers who visit these villages and want to help. And countries such as Singapore and South Korea that implemented successful public-health responses to the coronavirus will likely attract more tourists than before, as these countries will be viewed as relatively safe and clean.”
Paula Froelich is the founder and editor of the online travel magazine for women, A Broad Abroad. Instagram @pfro.