Will ‘Travel Bubbles’ Get Consumers Interested In International Travel Again?

The summer travel season is upon the Northern Hemisphere, and while many consumers would normally be setting their sights on visiting new lands, international travel seems to be by and large on hold for summer 2020. Too many people fear contracting coronavirus while traveling abroad. Are “travel bubbles” the answer?

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania started the idea of “travel bubbles,” allowing residents of the three nations to move between them but keeping out all other international travelers who could contaminate the “bubble.” Islands like Fiji and Bali, which rely heavily on tourism and boast low infection rates so far, have also been clamoring to create travel bubbles to attract tourists from Asian nations where infections are low thanks to tracking-and-tracing efforts.

Meanwhile, Denmark and Norway are opening to each other on June 15, but have excluded nearby Sweden because that nation’s loose lockdown rules have led to COVID-19’s wider proliferation.

Australia and New Zealand are likewise reportedly planning to create a two-nation travel bubble and receive incoming flights from each other without restriction. Fiji, Israel and Costa Rica have expressed interest in joining as well.

“We’ll all get back to moving again, but in a different way,” said Scott Tasker, general manager at New Zealand’s Auckland Airport, told The New York Times. “This is a global shock to the aviation and tourism industry the likes of which we’ve never seen.”

Such moves come as the travel industry and government officials struggle with how to not only keep tourists safe from COVID-19, but convince them to book trips on the first place. PYMNTS’ recent consumer surveys found that only 2.8 percent of Americans see international travel as a top priority that would get them out of their homes. And the question about how to reinstate global travel has been superseded in many locales by a debate about whether international visitors are desirable at all.

Some countries are allowing foreign visitors, but requiring long quarantine periods (typically 14 days). Australia and New Zealand are developing a proposal to let some international travelers skirt a 14-day quarantine now in place. They hope to have the system up and running by the time their austral-summer travel season starts in September.

Travel providers are also looking at requiring masks and temperature checks at every new point of contact, as well as using contact-tracing apps and even testing potential travelers with coronavirus throat swabs.

Whether any of this will appeal to would-be tourists remains to be seen. Many travel executives believe interest in going abroad will simply remain markedly depressed for some time, likely until a COVID-10 vaccine becomes widely available.

“It’s just not going to be as free-flowing and spontaneous as it once was,” said Margy Osmond, chief executive of Australia’s largest tourism association and co-chair of the group working on travel between Australia and New Zealand, told the Times. “I don’t know that it will be more expensive — the jury is still out on that — but it will mean the average traveler has to take more responsibility.”

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