A view of Manting Garden in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan province. (Photo: China Daily)
Despite the expected long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic's fallout on the aviation industry, leisure travel is tipped to rebound soon, because it's now considered an essential element of modern life.
Latest technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality, livestreaming, and super-large high-tech displays like LCD, LED, and AMOLED can't replace the real thing, the touch-feel-smell-taste experience that comes from "being there" at vacation destinations.
China and some other countries in the region such as South Korea and Thailand, where the contagion is receding, have partly resumed their domestic travel activities. Enthusiasm seen in the markets that are reopening is expected to encourage other geographies that are still in lockdown and battling the novel coronavirus.
In Beijing, where the municipal government lifted the travel restrictions and the 14-day quarantine measures on April 29, online searches for flight tickets surged 15 times within half-hour of the announcement.
The Labor Day holiday break in the first week of May signaled that domestic travel by cars, trains, and flights is likely to return. The month of May could well prove the turning point for post-pandemic travel in China.
Across the border, South Korea started its six-day Labor Day holiday on April 30, which was also the first public holiday after the country announced on April 19 that it's lifting pandemic-related restrictions.
Like in China, South Korea's travel industry quickly rejuvenated. Now, there are 22 daily flights connecting Seoul and Jeju, double the number in April, according to VariFlight.
Unlike other industries, travel's reboot requires a psychological recovery among travelers. The sector still needs a long time to return to the pre-epidemic level. With most people having formed new habits like wearing face masks, travel could be different in the post-virus economy.
Health and sanitation are becoming increasingly important factors. How to ensure passengers fly at ease? It's an issue that airlines need to ponder. For instance, some airlines are considering not selling tickets for the middle seats, to minimize physical contact between passengers.
An Italian cabin seat design company has designed two possible solutions. One is to install protective covers on both sides of a seat and set a barrier between passengers. Another solution is to turn the middle seat over completely, and minimize the contact between passengers.
According to an industry survey in China, when the virus was active, air passengers were willing to pay extra for additional services like priority seating, flight cancellation insurance, delayed insurance, and direct home delivery of checked-in baggage. Carriers can consider offering more such services that help in disease prevention, to attract more passengers and increase their shrinking revenue.
Some temporary changes brought about by the epidemic may become permanent. Recently-introduced services could become the new normal. But, ultimately, the travel business will get through this challenging time as nothing can keep Chinese travelers at home for long, industry analysts said.