On the weekend, Spain redefined the meaning of stay-cation by letting its people leave their homes – but go no further than a kilometre from them.
Such is the nature of travel these days. But that will all change once we have the all-clear, and a vaccine, and rigorous testing at choke-points like airports. Hong Kong International has already installed a machine that will sanitize you, head to toe, in 40 seconds.
But will travel bounce back? What will happen to the world’s largest industry?
I have a vested interest in the answer because I’m a bit of a gentleman farmer in the travel business myself. Each year Jean and I take groups of friends to iconic places in Canada like the Fogo Island Inn in Newfoundland and Bugaboo Lodge in the Rockie. These trips are as much about the people we go with and the people who work there as the places we explore. We’ve cancelled our trip next weekend to Fogo and our heli-hiking trip in July, but we’re still on board for Fogo in October. For now. Everything is up in the air, except airplanes of course.
These are Bucket-List trips, although at four days they’re more like Bucket Weekends. But their future gives us a view of where real Bucket-List travel is headed.
I got a first-hand view of that on Friday when I dialled into the quarterly earnings call of Lindblad Expeditions, which you can read here, or hear here. Lindblad takes people by ship to remote places like Antarctica and the Russian Arctic. They’re in the cruise ship industry which has already been pronounced Dead-On-Departure. But they’re very much alive. They didn’t have a single case of COVID-19 on their 15 ships which are all small, holding between 42 and 148 passengers.
But what gives them a future is what their CEO, Sven Lindblad, noted on that call:
“If you think about a cruise ship, for example, that goes from port to port, they have to book the ports. They have to coordinate with other ships, so there aren’t too many in any particular time. You have all kinds of buses and god knows what they have to be organized for land excursions. And it’s a massive logistical exercise.”
“ For us, we get to a place, we drop the anchor, we drop the zodiacs, we take people ashore with our naturalists. They take a hike. They jump into a kayak or whatever. So we control the logistics. And so starting up again and reactivating requires a small, tiny fraction of what the cruise industry needs in order to reactivate.”
Nature is not a big fan of “controlling the logistics”, unless it’s doing the controlling, and especially as it melts the ice at the Earth’s poles, opening up vast new waters to be explored and creating risks that were simply never thought of before.
Gone too may be the other great charms of Bucket-List travel, from encountering people far different from yourself, and especially by chance, to taking the kids and grandkids on a trip that will be a touchstone for everyone in your family.
What I do know is that Bucket-List travellers will be bursting out of their homes once it’s safe. That burst may be followed by a lull. Many will take the view that “We’d better go to the ends-of-the-earth now because who knows when we’ll be back in lockdown again?” Others will be more cautious.
One thing is for sure. The plague of ‘over-tourism’ which has threatened to drown Venice and Amsterdam will be lifted.
Jack Nicholson tells Morgan Freeman in the 2007 movie that spawned the idea of creating a list of places you had to see before you die: “As something of an expert in diseases, I believe more people die from visitors than diseases.”
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Get your tickets to the May 14th RamsayTalks Online with Jared Diamond, “one of the deepest thinkers of our time.”