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Covid-19: why travel will never be the same | The Economist

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This is what the skies looked like in MarchAnd this was one month laterWhen passenger numbers were a staggering. . . . . . 94% lower than the previous year. . . . . . thanks to the covid-19 pandemicBusiness is now starting to pick upBut travel is becoming increasingly localised and complicatedThis world of quite easy travel and relatively free movement. . . . . . has evaporated almost overnightThis will have consequences far beyond cancelled holiday bookingsIt could exacerbate existing inequalities. . . . . . create economic hardship. . . . . . and disrupt the workings of the globalised worldThe tourism industry is enormousEvery year, international holiday-makers spend $1. 6trnThat’s more than Spain’s GDPOr at least they did, before the coronavirus pandemicThe CDC just told everyone. . . . . . do not travelPostpone or cancel all non-essential travelIn April 2020 planes carried just 31m passengers around the worldThe sort of passenger levels last seen in the late 1970sIn April this year, 200,000 passengers. . . . . . went through Heathrow Airport in London. . . . . . which is fewer than would go through on any single day in a normal monthIATA, the airline trade body. . . . . . has said flights will not return to pre-pandemic levels for several yearsIn China, flights are now just 21% below normal levels. . . . . . while in America, air traffic began to pick up in May. . . . . . but remains 57% below normalAnd in much of Europe, flight numbers are still around 75% lower. . . . . . than the same time last yearAnd while passenger numbers are creeping up. . . . . . some areas, like business travel, may never recoverAfter the last financial crisis the number of overseas business trips. . . . . . taken per person in the UK fell by a third and never picked upWhereas leisure travel did, eventually, climb back to pre-crisis levelsWere the same thing to happen again. . . . . . it could have a significant impact on airline profitsBusiness travellers actually subsidise leisure travellersYour £250 transatlantic fare in the back of the plane. . . . . . is possible because somebody at the front of the plane. . . . . . is paying £800 or £1,500Airlines are already strugglingVirgin Atlantic has annouced plans to cut more than 3,000 jobs in the UKAir Canada lost more than $1bn in the first quarterIn March IATA warned that without government aid. . . . . . just 30 of the world’s 700 or so airlines would make it through the pandemicThe airlines that survive. . . . . . will determine the competition and prices on certain routesSome airlines are in pretty good financial shapeWithin Europe there remains a lot of competitionTransatlantic flights, there is still plenty of competitionBut on routes where there is much thinner competition, prices will go upThere’s no doubt about thatFor the well-off, the price increases may be an annoyanceBut they could also have a significant impact on global mobilityAs lower-income travellers may find themselves priced out of the skiesWhat happens with airfares and with the prices of flights. . . . . . affects not just summer holidaysMigrants have parents or spouses in one country and work in anotherAnd for all of these people, it is quite important that. . . . . . they continue to be able to go homeIn June, 189 countries had imposed some form of travel restrictionRanging from measures like quarantine, to border closuresAnd governments are desperate to open up travel as quickly as possibleThe government is to make it easier for British holiday-makers. . . . . . to travel to much of Europe this summerThough these arrangements may help tourists. . . . . . they could also create an increasingly inequitable systemThe British government is working to allow Brits to go off on holiday. . . . . . to, say, Spain or France and come back without the need for quarantineBut that doesn’t take into account the fact that. . . . . . someone may have a partner in America. . . . . . parents in Nigeria or siblings in PakistanAnd they won’t be able to go see people who are very, very important to themThe risk is that we end up with a very uneven and possibly unfair systemThe relatively free movement enjoyed by many tourists. . . . . . is a modern phenomenon. . . . . . that has played an increasingly important role in globalisation. . . . . . and domestic economiesTake ChinaFor around 30 years until the end of the 1970s. . . . . . travel to and from China was heavily restrictedBut today China sends more tourists abroad than any other countryAnd they spend more moneyIn 2018 Chinese tourists spent over $270bn overseasAlmost double that spent by Americans And the limitations on travel caused by the pandemic. . . . . . could have a knock-on effect on global co-operation and economic growthThe worry is that these restrictions persist in the long-term. . . . . . and then become entangled in all sorts of other things. . . . . . such as reciprocity, trade negotiations. . . . . . any sort of geopolitical dispute between countriesAnd so we return to a sort of mid-20th century world. . . . . . of closed borders, lots of restrictions and paperwork. . . . . . and just less interchange between countriesFaced with an ever-changing array of travel restrictions. . . . . . many travellers are looking closer to home for their holidaysIn May, 80% of total reservations on Airbnb were made domesticallyAnd between January and April. . . . . . foreign searches for summer holiday accommodation in Spain. . . . . . fell by as much as 94%The rise in localised travel could be good news. . . . . . for the environmentIn 2018 carbon-dioxide emissions from commercial flights. . . . . . accounted for 2. 4% of global fossil-fuel emissionsThe answer to this quandary is not to stop people from flyingRather, it’s to make planes more efficient and. . . . . . to focus on innovation in the industryThe pandemic has accelerated the shift towards efficiencySo, some older planes are being taken out of the skyThe covid-19 pandemic will dramatically affect. . . . . . the way in which people move around the worldBut rather than driving economic growth. . . . . . as the travel industry has in the past. . . . . . new restrictions could affect globalisation. . . . . . sowing division and increasing inequalityMy name is Leo MiraniI’m a correspondent on the Britain desk at The EconomistAnd if you’d like to read more about the impact that covid-19. . . . . . is having on international travel, click the link opposite

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