In recent years, I’ve had the privilege of drinking sake in an ancient brewery in Kyoto, Japan, watch the sunset from the Greek island of Santorini, eat fresh lobster in Cape Breton and walk the white-sand beaches of Bora Bora in French Polynesia.
Like many others, I love to travel and, typically, as soon as I get back from one trip, set my sights on the next destination on my list and start counting down the days.
As travel editor at the Vancouver Courier newspaper, a board member of the B.C. branch of the Travel Media Association of Canada, and a member of the Society of American Travel Writers, travel is a big part of my life, just as it is with friends and family -- and the many other travel writers I’ve come to know over the years.
But, with the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve found ourselves in an unprecedented situation in which travel as we all know it has been grounded -- with no set date as to when we might once again begin packing too many clothes for that weekend away or trip to warmer climes.
In an effort to catch a glimpse of future travel trends and garner information about just when some destinations might once again be open for business, I reached out to travel experts and tourism bureaus across Canada and the globe for answers to five similar questions.
And while none can predict the future, all are hopeful travel will soon resume. But, how exactly that will look is anyone’s guess.
If you are part of a destination management organization or represent a property and want to share your thoughts, please drop me a line at email@example.com.
First stop: Ottawa with Jantine Van Kregten, director of communications with Ottawa Tourism
How do you measure tourism numbers for your destination?
Ottawa Tourism uses a variety of measures, from Statistics Canada reports, to airport arrivals, to occupied hotel room nights, to attraction and festival visitation, and more.
Some measures (overall visitation) take a year to gather and longer to process, while others (occupied hotel room nights) are more immediate.
How has COVID-19 impacted tourism in your region?
Tourism has pretty much been stopped in its tracks in Ottawa. Roughly half of our hotels are closed, there are very few flights at the airport, all museums and attractions are closed, and public gatherings have been cancelled until at least June 30.
The iconic Canadian Tulip Festival will be virtual-only this year, with free daily programming each day between May 8 and 18, accessible via their website at tulipfestival.ca and a new YouTube channel that will launch soon.
Do you believe the virus has changed the way people are looking at travel?
I think people will be reluctant to immediately return to the “old” way of travelling: packed long-haul flights will not have the appeal for many that they used to have.
Much of what I’m reading online suggests that local or regional travel will rebound first… destinations within an easy drive.
I think cleanliness routines at hotels and attractions will be of interest to visitors and will be shared clearly.
Cancellation policies will be studied like never before. I think Canadians will be encouraged to travel in their own country when this is over, and I think that message will resonate.
What does the future hold for your destination and when do you think it will be welcoming visitors once again?
I wish I had a crystal ball! I still think it’s too soon to know when exactly visitors will return to Ottawa — no one wants to see a second wave of infections if the relaunch is started too soon or too haphazardly.
We’ve seen many of our tourism businesses in Ottawa innovate already — from restaurants upping their takeout and delivery games, to virtual tours, to online performances. A summary of these initiatives can be found here. And I think we will see additional innovations to keep everyone feeling safe.
What travel trends do you predict for later this year and 2021?
If the restart is in summer, I think restaurants with patios might be more popular off the bat, or perhaps there will be restrictions on capacities or distances between tables.
Perhaps small group activities like cycling tours, haunted walks, culinary tours, escape rooms, etc. might see business before activities that are more crowded.
Like restaurants, maybe theatres/cinemas/festivals might have restrictions on crowding, though I’m having trouble picturing exactly how that might work.
Will drive-ins become more popular? In general, I think outdoor activities will be popular — paddling, hiking, cycling, golf, etc.
On the business travel front, I think some conferences and meetings will adapt to a hybrid of in-person and virtual, now that so many more people are familiar with technologies such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, Teams, and others.
Overall, the trend towards appreciating what’s in your own backyard seems like an obvious one and I think it will continue into 2021 and beyond.
As Canada’s capital, I also think Ottawa has a unique role where — through our national museums and institutions — we can share other stories of resilience (from past challenges, such as World Wars) and innovation (battles against diseases, space exploration, etc.) and help place this latest challenge in a proper context.