April 8, 2020

Welcome to the quarantine era where immaculate images of white-speckled beaches, glittering blue oceans, dramatic sunsets that resemble a Monet painting, are now being replaced by screenshots of Zoom calls, and TikTok videos of people doing the “Pew Pew Pewchallenge and making dalgona coffee. Sheltering in place may soon transform us into domestic homebodies, instead of intrepid globetrotters.

The coronavirus pandemic has wrecked the entire travel landscape, as countries try to curb the spread with border shutdowns and travel restrictions. Apart from flights being cancelled, the colossal impact on the lives of millions of people and businesses is unprecedented: companies are laying off workers, furloughing, or cutting wages. Of all the industries, travel is hit the hardest—and has taken on a new meaning; instead of another country, it’s a trip to the supermarket.

The World Travel and Tourism Council has projected a global loss of 70 million jobs (approximately 35 million in Asia, 7 million in Europe, 5 million in the Americas and 23 million in other continents) and US$2.1 trillion in revenue this year. In the US alone, major cruise companies have suffered a loss of US$750 million in revenue since January, and in March, there were 3.283 million jobless claims, partly resulting from the rampant closure of hotels and casinos.

That’s not all. The International Air Transport Association is forecasting that most global airlines will go bankrupt by June and global air transport industry revenues could fall US$252 billion, 44 percent below last year’s numbers. Chinese airline passengers, who account for one of the biggest tourist numbers in the world, have dropped by 84.5 per cent last month. In a bid to cut costs, Singapore’s Changi Airport Terminal 2 will cease operations for 18 months from May 1.

British regional airline Flybe, which was already deeply mired in major debt, finally pulled the plug on all its operations in the first week of March. Both Trans States Airlines and Compass Airlines are folding in April due to factors such as low passenger load. Meanwhile, Singapore Airlines has stopped 96 per cent of their flights, grounding 138 planes, and rolled out other cost-cutting measures: CEO Goh Choon Pong’s salary has been cut by 30 per cent and cabin crew have been asked to go on voluntary no-pay leave. Elsewhere, Australian carrier Qantas has reported that it could lose US$99 million in net profit in their 2020 earnings.

Even if the Covid-19 outbreak were to end, world leaders have predicted that it could take up to 10 months for the entire travel industry to resuscitate. On the bright side, China is showing glimpses of recovery, with 28 inter-province travel bans being lifted. After 77 long days, the city of Wuhan is no longer on lockdown and residents are permitted to leave as long as they are given a clean bill of health. According to Bloomberg, hotel bookings in China have increased by 40 per cent during the first week of March, while daily domestic flights have risen 230 per cent since last month.

Coronavirus-related anxieties may have halted travel, but people all over the globe are not losing hope yet. Visit Portugal’s Can’t Skip Hope YouTube video is an uplifting campaign that aims to put some positivity back into people’s lives in these dark times. The two-minute video, which showcases the idyllic scenery and majestic megaliths of Portugal, not only addresses the issue of global travel bans by telling people to stop wallowing in misery, but also hopes visitors will visit once the virus blows over.

All is not lost as governments around the world are working hard to offer aid in all forms. President Donald Trump has already signed a US$2 trillion rescue bill, ensuring that at least US$50 billion will go towards airlines and their employees to ride out the crisis. In Singapore, the Covid-19 government support package will allocate S$350 million to keep the aviation industry afloat. This scheme will help SIA, Jetstar Asia and airline catering companies to retain employees, so business can resume without additional disruptions. As the global fight against the pandemic intensifies, every country needs to get behind the travel industry (which has served them well in good times), if not, the carnage may continue till not many players are left standing.