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13 Ways COVID Will Change How Families Travel

ANGELA SAURINE reveals the top post-pandemic travel trends

a family looking for koalas at cape otway lightstation in victoria during a road trip.
A family looking for koalas at Cape Otway Lightstation in Victoria during a road trip. Image: Visit Victoria

The emergence of COVID-19 has had a huge impact on our lives, especially when it comes to travel. As we adapt to a new way of life, we will also find new ways to holiday. And some of them will actually be pretty good. Here are some of the big trends and changes you can expect to see over coming months.  

1. Road trips

With flights still few and far between, and cruising on hiatus, the humble road trip is experiencing a major comeback. Now is the ideal time to pack up the car and explore your home state. Simone Scoppa from Stayz, which recently launched the #RoadTripPledge campaign to support regional Australia, says car journeys are going to be the main way to holiday for many Aussie families for the foreseeable future. “Road trips allow for family units to remain in their own little bubble and travel to one of the many great regional destinations our country is blessed with, book a holiday house all to themselves and then go out and spend within these regional areas while observing social distancing protocols,” she says. CamperMate CEO Nick Baker says there has been a big increase in downloads of the road travel experience app in recent months. “The triple digit growth rate in users of the app demonstrates there are genuine green shoots in the road back for tourism,” he says.

2. Holiday parks

play mini golf at big4 adventure whitsunday resort
Play mini golf at BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort

Going hand in hand with road trips, holiday parks are becoming even more popular than usual. With concerns over the economy, they are a more affordable option than, say, a five-star resort, and kids absolutely love them. BIG4 Holiday Parks spokeswoman Katie Cage says its properties are easily accessible across the country, and have everything from camping under the stars to resort-style cabins and glamping accommodation. “Our parks offer wide open spaces, loads of facilities, and unique experiences that can be enjoyed both in-park and in the surrounding region,” she says.

3. Custom tours

More and more travellers are requesting custom trips, in which they can choose their own departure date and travel in a private group, World Expeditions CEO Sue Badyari says. “There has been a surge in bookings for custom itineraries, with families. Self-guided trips are ideal for the current times because they offer complete flexibility, allowing people to travel independently without a group and under their own steam, but with all our supports working in the background.”

4. Nature experiences

a family hiking in cradle mountain national park. image tourism tasmania
A family hiking in Cradle Mountain National Park. Image: Tourism Tasmania

After being cooped up inside during lockdown, fresh air and space to roam will be high on the agenda for many, with increased demand for outdoor adventures. “Travellers are looking for uncrowded and remote experiences that give them the chance to reconnect with nature and the natural world, at least partly in response to isolation and having been contained for so long,” Ms Badyari says. “Active holidays are intrinsically safe because walkers or cyclists spend almost every waking moment outside, where it’s natural to practise physical distancing.” World Expeditions offers guided family walks in places such as Tasmania, including a three-day Cradle Mountain Family Adventure. In2thewild Tiny Holidays CEO Nic Chin says tiny houses also offer the perfect antidote. “Being restricted to our homes made people realise just how much they miss being in nature, and its power to relax and rejuvenate you,” he says. “We’ve seen a significant increase in interest in tiny house stays since the restrictions have lifted. Each tiny house has self-check in and gives guests the opportunity to take a breath of fresh air, let the kids run wild, and stare up at the sky. It’s exactly what we need after being cooped up inside.” StayWell Holdings global director of revenue generation Fiona Godfrey says there has also been a spike in demand for country retreats and places that are more isolated and considered ‘safer’. “Families are seeking out open spaces, lesser populated areas, and places they can travel by car that still offer great experiences for their children,” she says. “The likes of the Hunter Valley and the Blue Mountains [in NSW] are great examples of destinations that have a lot to offer, but feel less crowded than a city escape, even during peak periods.” 50 Degrees North and Nord Journeys CEO and founder Tietse Stelma agrees, noting travellers are veering towards stays in remote locations and private cabins, which allow a greater degree of privacy and separation from others if needed.

5. Multigenerational travel

families walking with donkeys beneath mont blanc in france. image utracks
Families walking with donkeys beneath Mont Blanc in France. Image: UTracks

It’s been a growing trend for a while, and taking holidays with grandparents will be more valued than ever as a result of the pandemic. “There is strong interest in multi-generational and family travel, especially after being separated for some months,” UTracks general manager Kate Baker says. “Families are wishing to spend quality time together.” Crown group chief operating officer Pierre Abrahamse says togetherness was emerging as the biggest trend for 2020 and beyond. “People want to reconnect with those they have been separated from for the past few months, and hotels are responding. Guests are calling to ask if they can book co-joining apartments so that they can enjoy a holiday with their kids and the grandparents in the one place, or so they can have friends who live in regional areas finally able to join them in the city for restaurant or gallery outings.”

6. Buy now, travel later

The economic downturn has led to concerns about finances for many people, but who wants to give up holidays? This has led to new payment options, such as Play Travel by Afterpay, which adopts a traditional layby model so customers are able to book a curated holiday package and pay for it in weekly instalments over a two-to 12-month period before they travel. The purpose-built website lets customers choose how much they want to contribute to their ‘holiday fund’ each week and build an itinerary based on their budget. “Play Travel is a direct response to customer feedback,” the company’s managing director Andrew Paykel says. “Play Travel’s interest free payments open the door for many Australians who want to start travelling again, but also want to be in control of their personal finances and avoid coming back from a trip with debt lag.”

7. Sustainable travel

hear adventurer jon muir tell stories alongside his wife suzy during a farmstay in victoria
Hear adventurer Jon Muir tell stories alongside his wife Suzy during a farmstay in Victoria with World Expeditions

It was already a hot topic before COVID-19 hit, but with the planet getting a chance to regenerate during the pandemic, many of us want to keep the momentum going by choosing more sustainable travel experiences. Australian Walking Holidays general manager Michael Buggy says experiences like off-grid farm stays, such as the Family Wild Farm Stay with adventurer Jon Muir and his wife Suzy in Victoria, will be popular in the new world. The experience provides the chance to learn about organic farming and sustainable living through hands-on workshops on recycling, aquaculture systems, organic food growing and energy harvesting techniques, as well as opportunities to hear some of Jon’s legendary stories about his adventures across the globe – from becoming the first man to walk unsupported across Australia, to his expeditions to Mt Everest and the North and South Poles.

8. Bucket list experiences

swim with whales in tonga. image majestic whale encounters
Swim with whales in Tonga. Image: Majestic Whale Encounters

With the human race forced to face the issue of mortality en masse, expect to see a boom in travellers wanting to tick off bucket list experiences. Trips like driving the Gibb River Rd in the Kimberley, Lapland and swimming with whales in Tonga will be high on the agenda. Majestic Whale Encounters managing director Carmen Ellis says bucket list travel can be a way for people to gain a sense of accomplishment. “The greater the challenge, the more sense of achievement we feel when we accomplish those goals. It is also a really great way to forge new friendships with like-minded adventure travellers.” Trips to Disney resorts will be more popular than ever, according to family travel specialist agent Rebecca Mason, from Mr Chocolate’s Travel. “I’ve started receiving enquiries for travel to Disney parks in Asia next year, so it seems Australian families are plotting a return to ‘the happiest place on earth’ around mid-2021,” she says. She says Disney parks will have enhanced safety measures, such as social distancing and temperature checks, limited capacity and increased sanitisation practices. Ms Mason predicts zoo and safari stays such as those offered at Jamala Wildlife Lodge in Canberra, Roar & Snore at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo and Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, and Slumber Safari at Werribee Open Range Zoo in Victoria will also be in demand.

9. Travel bubbles

new zealand may become part of a travel bubble. image destination rotorua
New Zealand may become part of a travel bubble. Image: Destination Rotorua

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many new terms, including the phrase ‘travel bubble’. It refers to an agreement in which countries that are successfully containing the outbreak can open their borders to each other to allow free movement between them. Also known as ‘travel corridors’, the concept was pioneered by three Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – and has gained traction worldwide. There’s been much talk of Australia forming a travel bubble with New Zealand, closely followed by other South Pacific neighbours such as Fiji, Vanuatu and the Cook Islands and possibly countries such as Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Japan. Fingers crossed!

10. Self-contained accommodation

apartments hotels such as adina apartment hotel brisbane will be popular in the new world
Apartments hotels such as Adina Apartment Hotel Brisbane will be popular in the new world

As well as self-contained accommodation such as holiday houses, apartment hotels will also be more attractive in a post-COVID world. TFE Hotels spokeswoman Jodi Clark says Adina Apartment Hotels’ offer all the facilities families need to remain safe within their bubble – plenty of room to spread out and play, a kitchen where they can cook and eat all their meals in rather than sitting in cafés with others, and laundry facilities to do their own washing as and when they need.

11. Heightened hotel hygiene

expect to see hand sanitiser in hotel lobbies. image shangri la group
Expect to see hand sanitiser in hotel lobbies. Image: Shangri-La Group

Hotels are upping the ante when it comes to hygiene in a bid to entice holidaymakers back through their doors. IHG Hotels & Resorts is among those using new, science-led protocols and service measures to give guests greater confidence, with hospital-grade disinfectants, reduced contact at check-in, touchless transactions, front-desk screens, sanitiser stations, sanitised key cards and paperless checkout. It will also reduce in-room furnishings and high-touch items and introduce new laundry protocols. The company is working closely with a team of medical experts from the Cleveland Clinic to develop guidelines and resources for staff to help keep guests safe. They may include such things as social distancing signs, guest amenity cleaning kits, and hand sanitiser and disinfecting wipes in rooms and at high-touch points in common areas. Shangri-La Group has also introduced the ‘Shangri-La Cares’ commitment to improve its already rigorous hygiene and safety protocols worldwide. It includes cleaning air-conditioners more often to ensure optimal air quality, and training staff to clean and sanitise more frequently. Crystalbrook Collection’s luxury hotels and resorts in Sydney, Cairns and Byron Bay have gone cashless, and they are offering contactless and paperless check-in and check-out and optional free face masks, along with a range of other deep cleaning measures.

12. The future of flying

Passing through airports and travelling on planes will be very different from now on, with strict new procedures to improve the safety of travellers. The Qantas Group has introduced a range of measures, such as contactless check-in via the internet or phone apps, self-serve bag drop and self-scanning of boarding passes. It will also enforce social distancing at boarding and disembarkation to minimise crowding. Expect to see hand sanitising stations throughout the terminal and at departure gates and in lounges. Masks will also be provided to passengers on board. While not mandatory from a safety point of view, the airline recommends they be worn by guests, for peace of mind. People can also bring their own mask if they prefer. Sanitising wipes will be given to all passengers to wipe down seat belts, trays and armrests themselves, if preferred. They will also be asked to limit movement around the cabin after they are seated. The company says the air-conditioning systems on board all Qantas and Jetstar aircraft are already fitted with hospital-grade HEPA filters, which remove 99.9 per cent of all particles, including viruses. The air inside the cabin is also refreshed every few minutes.

13. So, what about cruising?

explorer dream is cruising again
Explorer Dream is cruising again

While the cruise industry has been amongst the hardest hit by the coronavirus, many Australians have faith that cruise lines will make the necessary changes to ensure they can once again enjoy a holiday at sea. A recent survey by Your Travel & Cruise found that nine out of ten Australians would consider a cruise in the future, as long as there are stricter health and hygiene measures in place. “The consensus we’re getting from clients is that the cruise industry first needs to convince holidaymakers that they have made significant changes to ensure passenger safety, including increased hygiene measures and more medical staff, and then travel insurers need to come to the party to give Australians the confidence to book their next cruise holiday,” Your Travel & Cruise managing director Les Farrar says. “As with many aspects of a post-pandemic world, it will be baby steps for some, which means small ship cruising is set to be favoured over big ships and until the rest of the world can get their outbreaks under control, local and regional itineraries will be the preferred choice.” Popular pre-pandemic cruise destinations such as Europe and the USA aren’t expected to bounce back for some time, with 56 per cent of respondents to the Your Travel & Cruise survey saying they wouldn’t feel safe travelling to these destinations until there was a COVID-19 vaccine. Dream Cruises became the first line in the world to begin cruising again, with its ship Explorer Dream offering an island-hopping itinerary in Taiwan after receiving the Certification in Infection Prevention (CIP) for the Marine industry (CIP-M).


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