These past few months have been difficult for everyone, and the travel industry has been hit particularly hard. What will the future of travel be? How will it line up with the “new normal”? I find myself thinking about the “old normal” as I consider common travel perceptions and misconceptions.
PACK ‘EM IN
The Washington Post has a travel column that interviews movers and shakers of the industry. (And here I must mention that while I understand that the collective transportation, housing and feeding of people has to be called something, the word “industry” gives me pause. Car industry and clothing industry, okay, but this activity is about human beings, each of whom is, on the one hand, viewed as precious “cargo” such as with regard to the recent health concerns, but on the other, moved about like cattle not worthy of an afternoon snack.)
In the WP article, Rick Steves, the well-known American travel authority, weighed in on how the pandemic will change travel. His beliefs are based on the concept that travel should be accessible for everyone, and for that to be the case, it needs to be affordable. According to Steves, “the only way somebody can have a quality experience is to pack the house. You’ve got to pack the theater. You’ve got to pack the bus. You’ve got a pack the airplane. You got to pack the hotel because then you can generate enough revenue to provide a service that’s top notch.”
I’ve observed that to assure a packed tour group, large operators focus on popular places. In Italy, that would include Rome, Florence, Venice and the Amalfi Coast. A handful of the “best vacation spots” are pushed to clinch maximum profits. Have you ever wondered why these big tour operators haven’t embraced, say, Calabria or Molise amongst their destinations?
TRAVEL PERCEPTIONS: CRYING POOR
The poor airlines – how ever will they manage to weather this storm? And it’s a serious issue, mind you, but I ask myself, did they care about their passengers when times were good? Exorbitant baggage and seat charges, ever more restrictive rules, elimination of meals on domestic flights, packing in the seats tighter, welcoming comfort ferrets without a thought for sharing associated fees with the passengers who must sit next to or share oxygen with said animal.
What were airlines doing with all that money earned in high times? According to Business Insider, they had been using 96% of their cash flow on buybacks to push stock prices higher. What weren’t they doing? Saving for a rainy day and improving or even maintaining a modicum of customer service.
BACK IN BUSINESS?
My inbox is full of messages from airlines, seemingly articulating all they are doing to combat the virus. Disinfecting the airplanes? Really? My tray table won’t be full of last week’s crumbs and beverage stains anymore? No surprises in the seatback pocket? I’m so glad we’re #inthistogether.
EasyJet, a British low-cost airline, had a bit of a kerfuffle this past week, as they geared up their website for flights into Italy. How did they plan on enticing customers to sign up for a lesser-known travel destination? By repeating old stereotypes and describing the location’s hidden secrets as “non-Instagrammable” as compared with better-known places. That’s right. Fly to Sant’Eufemia airport (SUF) in Lamezia Terme, even though Calabria doesn’t have the beauty of Rome or Venice as confirmed by Instagram users.
How can such blunders occur? EasyJet probably gave the job to a young intern, who just googled the location and scribbled a few lines of copy that reflected “industry standard.” As it really is an industry, and that’s the standard. Of course, EasyJet quickly changed the description and has been apologizing ever since.
TRAVEL PERCEPTIONS: FUTURE TRAVEL
Now that we’ve established that the “old normal” isn’t something we’d wish on the chickens whose free-range eggs we clamor for, what will the “new normal” bring? Must the bus be packed and the airplane toilet remain soiled for the duration of an overseas’ flight?
When I founded Karen’s Travel LLC to show the curious minded the beauties of Calabria, I looked closely at the itineraries and pricing of numerous larger tour operators and I was rather surprised at how much profit was built into the programs, especially considering that for many, a small group consisted of up to 25 people. And here, I must once again remind myself that it’s an industry, not an art.
For my first Calabria Cultural Tour, I had a very nice group of ten congenial travelers. The land program was affordable, yet we were not packed in by any means and the service was top notch, with participants enthusiastically praising their intimate travel experience. This past spring, I was, of course, hugely disappointed with the cancellation of my Calabria tours and hope 2021 will see people traveling the world again. There are so many beautiful places to visit, new people to meet, scrumptious food to eat and interesting cultures to learn about.
I cannot predict the future or what the airlines will do. I would like to imagine a flight without someone’s seatback in my lap and a hairline of clearance between my knees and the seat in front of me. I hope that we can get “back to normal” very soon and that the “new normal” will have learned from the “old.”
The cover photo for Travel Perceptions and Misconceptions was taken on a flight as it passed over Switzerland.
All about the beautiful region in the toe of the Italian boot in Calabria: The Other Italy, my award-winning book about daily life, history, culture, art, food and society in this fascinating area of South Italy. Available in paperback and electronic versions. And when it’s safe to travel and you would like to visit Italy with elbowroom, join me on one of my Calabria tours.
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