Cities are creating new ways to entice tourists.
Cities are creating new ways to entice tourists.
( Source: gemeinfrei / Pexels)

COVID-19 What will bring tourists and business travellers back?

Author / Editor: Cate Lawrence / Isabell Page

Today travel is intrinsically linked with the risks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Within a backdrop of quarantine regulations and preparation for future vaccinations, transport providers and cities are creating new offerings to woo travellers, while new forms of mobility which may reduce the risk of infection continue to progress.

COVID-19 has halted the travel plans of almost all of us. While some countries have kept their borders open (or reopened them at a later date), the impetus to travel to a place where at best most tourist sites and restaurants are restricted or closed and at worst you’re infected or at risk of being stranded by a sudden lockdown if numbers increase means many of us have had to holiday at home.

News of three vaccines in development means many people are considering their travel plans for 2021 and 2022. How will mobility providers win travellers back?

Business travel requires new enticements

Large international conferences and tradeshows are geared as virtual offerings for the next year, including big events like CES and Mobile World Congress. However quarantine-free leisure travel between Hong Kong and Singapore resumed this week and its success could serve as a blueprint for other bubbles.

Mexican carrier Volaris, has created Volaris pass, a subscription that allows you to fly within Mexico once a month, to any destination you want, by paying a monthly fixed fee, paying only for taxes when booking your flight. Single flights retail at 399MXN (16.70 EUR) and round flights are 639MXN (26.78 EUR).

Eurostar, the high-speed rail link between the UK and mainland Europe, has launched an exclusive new booking platform for business travellers. For every 15 bookings each company makes, free upgrades or tickets are unlocked for the next trip so that those that travel more frequently can experience higher classes of service and let their travel budgets go further. The company responded to financial relief award to the airline industry with the statement “Eurostar has been left fighting for its survival against a 95 % drop in demand, whilst aviation has received over £1.8 billion in support through loans, tax deferrals and financing.”

Would you travel in a flying taxi to your next business meeting?

Interest in unmanned, vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aka flying taxis also remains strong this year and it’s likely that with prices comparable to aeroplanes, business travellers are their first audience. While it’s unclear how much the COVID-19 shutdown has impacted industry players, flying taxis could be a pandemic-proof way to fly. In China, EHang 216 has completed its maiden flights in three Korean locations - Seoul, Daegu, and Jeju Island.

In the US, Lilium announced the City of Orlando as the country’s first urban and regional air mobility network. Enaire, Spain’s air navigation authority, has announced plans to begin demonstrating flying taxis in Barcelona and Santiago de Compostela in 2022. In October, following successful demonstration flights in Stuttgart, at Helsinki’s international airport, and over Singapore’s Marina Bay Volocopter announced the world’s first public sale for electrical air taxi flights with 1000 reservation only presale tickets at a cost of €300 each. While it’s fair to say the flights are something of a gimmick, it’s one that’s likely to appeal to early adopters, a reasonable chunk of whom are likely to be potential business travellers.

This month we also saw the first human travel within the Virgin Hyperloop where a team of four climbed aboard an experimental pod which hit a top speed of 48.07 meters per second (107 mph) on a short track of 500 metres:

These new modes of transport are unlikely to result in a commercial rollout until the second half of this decade or later, but are likely to play a role in efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

What about tourist travel?

When it comes to tourist (aka non-essential) travel, most countries are rightfully preoccupied with quarantine measures and the future roll out of COVID-19 vaccinations as a precursor to travel with some airlines such as Qantas Australia suggesting that only those vaccinated with be able to fly internationally.

Tourism providers predict a return to local travel with outdoor travel prioritised over travel in close contact to others.

We’ve not seen much to entice travelers to trains and buses - yet. However, micromobility is on the up: This month Lime scooters announced their first profitable quarter this month, and micro mobility company Fenix secured a $3.8 million seed funding round led by Israeli Maniv Mobility VC and Tier Mobility raised $250 million to expand operations.

More curious are the tourist campaigns attempting to woo travellers earlier this year. A campaign called Uzbekistan: Safe Travel Guaranteed promises $3,000 in compensation to any tourists infected with Covid-19 during their trip. The government of Cyprus also offered to reimburse the cost of accommodation, food and treatment for travellers who test positive during their stay.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is developing an IATA Travel Pass incorporates four open sourced and interoperable modules which can be combined for an end-to-end solution:

  • Global registry of health requirements – enables passengers to find accurate information on travel, testing and eventually vaccine requirements for their journey.
  • Global registry of testing / vaccination centers – enables passengers to find testing centers and labs at their departure location which meet the standards for testing and vaccination requirements of their destination.
  • Lab App – enables authorized labs and test centers to securely share test and vaccination certificates with passengers.
  • Contactless Travel App – enables passengers to (1) create a ‘digital passport’, (2) receive test and vaccination certificates and verify that they are sufficient for their itinerary, and (3) share testing or vaccination certificates with airlines and authorities to facilitate travel. This app can also be used by travelers to manage travel documentation digitally and seamlessly throughout their journey, improving travel experience.

The first cross-border IATA Travel Pass pilot is scheduled for later this year and the launch slated for quarter one 2021.

Do digital nomads point to a future of long-term tourism?

With a foot in each of the respective camps of business and tourism travel, we’ve seen the rise of traditional tourist cities creating specialist visas targeting digital nomads. In the last few months Dubai, Bermuda, The Cayman Islands, and Barbados have launched initiatives that take advantage of the move to remote work. The schemes target traditionally mobile, tech-savvy remote workers who stimulate the local economy and are likely to be users of local mobility offers and patrons of tourist sites.