Predicting post-lockdown travel

RoxStars

For a while there, I think we all had this blasé idea that, when the lockdown lifted and Covid-19 walked on by, everything would return to travel normal. Now we all know better.

What we don’t know is exactly what post-lockdown travel will look like.

James Stewart touched on this in his newsletter on Friday, asserting that travel editors were keen to hear about ‘deep discounting’ and quoting a prediction from Lisa Minot of staycation travel being a winner for reasons of readers’ reduced travel budgets and ongoing border closures.

Personally, I think you can add ‘fearfulness’ to that list of motives: I suspect travellers will emerge from all this cowed and cautious. And staycations seem reassuringly safe. Already I’ve heard from some travel editors that they plan to run plenty of UK coverage once the lockdown softens.

Short-haul seems set to also be reasonably popular, with long-haul travel and cruising being the last sectors to return to normal operation. Relevant to that are other likely factors: the proximity of quality healthcare, and the potential of being stranded should conditions ramp up again. Similarly, some countries are much earlier into their battles with Covid-19, and will be off the agenda for some time.

The travel itself will be relevant. Though easyJet has announced plans not to book middle seats in the name of social distancing, flying is likely to feel unsafe for a while. Expect other adaptation measures as planes and trains try to lure nervous customers back.

Just as travel won’t immediately resume normality, nor are travel sections likely to do so. Those shrunk by a loss of advertising will probably remain shrunken for a while, as many advertisers themselves will be broke. I also expect that overall newspaper editors will be cautious about expanding their travel pagination until they see public confidence increase.

Trustworthy surveys will be of help here: exactly what are customers planning to book when travel returns to the table?

In your shoes, I’d be inclined to plan to pitch UK and Europe (ideally rail-based) feature angles with a view to summer/autumn 2020 coverage, but long-haul angles only for publication in 2021. I stress plan to – until we know exactly when our own lockdown is ending, it’s very difficult for a travel editor to commission much at all.