The novel coronavirus, also referred to as COVID-19, which started in Wuhan, China, sometime in late 2019 has been a global challenge to the whole world for a couple of months, and might continue to do so, in some more months to come. Due to the pandemic, most countries globally have closed their borders except for returning citizens and the movement of goods. Currently, close to nine in ten people are under lockdowns amid this pandemic. With no vaccine and constrained medical capacity to effectively treat the virus, the future of cross-border travel remains uncertain even in the world post the pandemic. This is because, there is much guesswork regarding how best to deal with the pandemic, mostly based on the non-pharmaceutical interventions that have been primarily followed based on the advice of the World Health Organisation since the outbreak.
Due to the unprecedented global travel restrictions and lockdowns as the interventions imposed by most countries in order to deal with the internal transmission of the virus, most of the sectors of the economy were severely disrupted, including cross border travel. As a result, meaningful cross-border travel ceased by Mid-March 2020. According to the Pew Research Centre Analysis of Border Announcements, at least 3 billion people are living in countries that have shut down the borders to noncitizens and nonresidents. Though the restrictions vary among countries, they are all coming at a time where airlines have grounded, and cross-border tourism has plummeted to unprecedented levels. The tourism industry has been touted as a much resilient sector in the face of trying conditions, including political volatility and terrorism. The question is, how much more resilient will the sector be the day after the pandemic, given the hectic nature that is likely to be associated with cross-border travel?
At the moment, cross-border travel has been hard hit, and the projections based on the United Nations World Tourism Organisation show that international arrivals are likely to plummet by 20 to 30% compared to 2019. How much cross-border travel will change largely depends on when and if the vaccine to the virus is developed. The sooner the vaccine, the earlier the sector could be saved, and its resilience will be witnessed again. Assuming that the vaccine is found and developed, cross-border travel is likely to be a hectic process than it was before the pandemic. In the world after the pandemic, several pre-boarding protocols will emerge. We are likely to see the following aspects occurring before boarding a flight. The first and most crucial protocol is likely to be the use of the immunity passport as a critical requirement for making a booking, and this will be more important ahead of the general passport. On top of this, it is likely to be compulsory for cross-border travellers to make a declaration of their wellness, be in a position to buy masks, and gloves on top of the traditional travel insurance. These are to be done before getting to the airport, I presume.
At the airport, further protocols are likely to be pursued, and in my view, temperatures are likely to be checked as part of the new check-in procedures, and those with higher temperatures, likely to be offloaded before check-in. Should one pass this stage, they will get their boarding pass, and before they proceed to the immigration and security checks, airports are likely to be re-configured to accommodate a disinfectant tunnel that will potentially house CT scan machines and touchless screens to guide the cross-border travellers. Trays during the security checks will be sanitised every 20 seconds, and I doubt if the airport security cameras will be able to identify the faces of these cross-border travellers – a possible grey area for promoting terrorism, which has been a vice that troubles tourism in major destinations. The notion of social distancing will see non-travellers not allowed inside the airport, and the same could equally apply for people who could access the departure lounges.
I foresee the creation of a Transport Health Authority, and the ministry of health is likely to play a more critical oversight. During boarding, on top of the boarding pass, many other documents could be required, and these include, health passport or declaration, gloves, face mask on, and lungs CT scan results. Airline check-in personnel, are likely to be in a cubicle that looks like those found in pharmacies, or the least behind a screen. The departure gate is likely to be re-configured too, as there will be much verification of health results, including scans, and those with positive results will be denied boarding. There will be many disinfectant tunnels at the new airport the day after the pandemic. During the flight, the use of gloves and masks is likely to be compulsory until the duration of the journey. Seats are likely to be wiped every few minutes during the duration of the flight. The videos that will be played will be focusing more on security and sanitisation. The inflight experience will be greatly re-configured, and there won’t be any seat change that will be allowed during the flight. On top of this, all payments will go digital, and the same applies to menus. High contact areas, including the handles of the toilet, will be sanitised perhaps every 5 to 10 minutes, and toilets will be cleaned thoroughly, maybe 20 minutes. Passengers are likely to enjoy a free hand sanitizer service, who knows, every 10 minutes perhaps.
A few minutes before landing, everyone will be sanitised and checked for temperature. Upon landing, bags are likely to be sanitised before they are placed on disinfected belts at the destination airport. The use of scanners at the receiving airport will be massive and thorough. Only visitors who satisfy the health protocols will be allowed to proceed to immigration, where border officials will be behind a screen that will be sanitised after serving every single visitor, and they will be clad in their face masks and gloves. The future is hectic, and in anticipating all this, the tourism industry will show some resilience again. Let us all be optimistic. For now, let us stay safe and practice all we can to avoid the further spread of the pandemic.
Elisha Woyo writes in his capacity and can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org