After an extremely challenging year for the travel industry (and those of us with a penchant for foreign holidays) TIM MAGEE predicts some future travel trends …
I blame 2016 and a world that’s been back-pedalling with its eyes closed ever since. My research – as good as most now that everyone is a scientist – makes it clear that back in late 2016 a bat, blind-drunk from the shock of Brexit, President Xi’s new powers and Trump, couldn’t take listening to the news any longer and woke up with a pangolin. Let’s call the pangolin Mr Wo, surname Betide. Mr Wo, fleeing being the most trafficked of animals, figured any mammal in a storm. The bat and Wo (I’m not sure why the bat doesn’t have a name) got it together and zap! Transmogrification and the birth of a new cell that they named Spike. Then some asshole illegal animal trafficker netted Wo and stopped our world spinning. At a time when the world needed its mammy – mammies called Angela, Jacinda, Elizabeth and Sanna – instead it got a pair of ridiculous men, one blonde, one dyed blonde, and a demonic Bond villain from China for added drama.
So what happens next? First, beware what you wish for. For twelve years this page has been whining about travelling too much, about playing musical beds with a third of my year abroad, in hotels here and at home. Eating in restaurants most of the time, the more crowded the better, across a personal intercontinental map that made many foreign cities feel like home. With 2020 hindsight, living the dream. Being grounded was bearable. Being limited as to when or if you’ll see your nearest and dearest is not. There were almost unforgivable mistakes by our governments – around nursing homes, faffing about masks and not getting money to where it is needed. Or, remembering this is a travel column, pretending we have a travel policy while being boxed into an open border with 67 million potential vectors led by a gom called Dom. The government maintaining the most restrictive travel advisory of any EU state is cool if it makes sense, but I could fly into Dublin at any stage, give my parents’ address in the North or drive up to Aldergrove and fly to bright red list destinations and no one would be any the wiser.
Safe zones aside, fast forward through our upcoming Game of Thrones winter to next summer. Can more airlines not close the middle seats or allow us to buy a plus one for the space beside you? Could flights run at 60 or 70 per cent full if they let us pay a premium? There will be honest kickback from airlines about load factors equalling value; I’m happy to help crowdfund Aer Lingus and to fly short-haul today on a newish plane with T’s & C’s, but this is all about being sandwiched with strangers. On that plane can we have misters in the loos after each use and to get proper face mask and screen combos when boarding – too many flights look like a bus to a Bon Jovi gig or a student accommodation clothesline. Flying will be cheaper first, then more expensive. There will be far less business travel what with the world getting schooled in Zoom gurning. The pandemic’s power to supercharge sustainable travel – a true green list – will move into every aspect of it, with flying less and smarter being just one part.
I want to go to sleep for a few weeks out of 52 and know for sure it will be sunny when I wake.
Now half the country seems to be self-catering; we will get more hotel stock converted to be more self-sufficient, more niche versions of Airbnb. Camping is coming back. No longer just you and midges up the Wicklow mountains, post-war Europe is dotted with campsites built in the 1950s and 1960s. Many need some love, but their bones are from the sharpest design time ever. We are outdoorsy again apparently and used to pricey camping at festivals so add adult-only areas, jacks and showers, with keys, topped off with some communal barbecue and pizza ovens, and we will see you there.
How we pay for things is changing. Rigid deposits for the places where we eat (too right) and contortionist cancellation policies for the places we stay, and the airlines and ferry companies that get us there.
Small will be beautiful. The art of avoiding bottlenecks will be travel-writing gold. I’m lucky to be able to live wherever, within reason. I choose Ireland every time because it’s class and we are mostly sound. I spent this summer chasing my favourite perfume around the country, a rare scent that comes from cut grass where fields run to the seaweed with a warm enough day to activate both. I’ve been eating in restaurants all over the island from the first day I was allowed to, staying in hotels and self-catering and actually I Iiked the novelty of having so much space to myself. I’ll always do Ireland first, but I still want to get away. Far-away fields are never greener but far-away skies are certainly bluer. My summer was not blue. Not even bruised Paul Henry skies, but mostly relentless shades of grey.
I want to go to sleep for a few weeks out of 52 and know for sure it will be sunny when I wake. Then go to a bakery or bar counter for holiday coffee, not really understanding what people around me are saying. In my head it’s a makey-uppy village near the sea in France or Spain, Italy or Greece, or maybe Mexico – the opposite of home. Where the sun gets into your bones the same way the wet cold can here. Where it’s about being a guest in someone’s vineyard, having them talk you through a dish you’ve never heard of while you eat their olives and drink their wines before heading back, sunburnt on the inside and outside, to sleep it off to strange birdsong, rackety cicadas or electric tree-frog choruses. Feeling foreign feels good to me. I’d like to get back to it.
Next year won’t be post-Covid but it should be post the panic part of the pandemic. Two-part vaccines might be on the way. More likely supertests and different therapeutics to stop this thing killing or wounding us will be here and that is something to look forward to. Science will save the day and hopefully the virus will mutate and attach itself to the populist gene with a 100 per cent mortality rate. There will be a nice old empathetic man in the White House mending what came before. Brexit, a self-destruct button for the muppets who pushed it, should come home to roost on their heads. Imagine going somewhere on holidays once all that baggage is packed away?
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