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International Travel After Lockdown: Trends & Thoughts

As old roads lead to new realities, how is luxury travel going to be affected in a post pandemic world?

By: Sonu Shivdasani, Founder and CEO, Soneva

Meditation luxury travel experiences

I have been fortunate enough to experience many crises during my lifetime. My choice of the word ‘fortunate’ is deliberate. The Chinese word for crisis is two characters: ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’. According to Lao Tzu, the Chinese writer and philosopher, ‘good fortune has its roots in disaster.’ Over the years, I have come to understand these words and have realised that these crises are opportunities to learn, grow and develop. I have realised that if we consider a crisis in a positive way, we can always find an opportunity to learn and develop and make our lives more enriching as a result.

The current crisis has allowed many people the opportunity to pause and rethink their values and importantly their priorities. I believe that only through introspection can we shape a better, new reality post-Covid-19. In a post-COVID-19 world, consumers will be more conscious of the impact that they will have on both nature and the communities which they visit. I have to specifically mention air travel, which, while it is a big part of an individual’s ecological footprint, is a very small contributor to greenhouse gases, and its contribution is less than the negative impact of the beef and dairy industry.

Firstly, I believe that corporate travel will be permanently affected by COVID-19. It takes 21 days to create a habit and I suppose the same to break it. People have just broken the old habit of going on business trips and reconsidered how actually necessary they are. That habit has been broken relatively quickly, and replaced by a new habit of working online and connecting through fantastic communication tools such as Zoom, Skype, etc., that we have today in the 21st century.

Air travel after pandemic

In regards to travels, personally, I will be reducing my travel going forward. I do not think I will need to visit countries so often for press and sales conferences and meetings as I used to in the past. My past routine, for example, was an annual trip to Russia, one of our biggest markets. I will now do it once every 2 or 3 years, just to get a feel of the Russian cities and interact with Russian clients in Russia.

There will be some trepidation or anxiety initially about boarding flights and travelling to other countries, since there are a lot of people that had to spend their lockdown period far from families and friends, but after a while, people will get used to flying again. I believe, that one of the first and the obvious candidates are the airlines of the Middle East, which are very progressive and have considerable capital to restart businesses. I suspect that these airlines will ultimately be beneficiaries as they have the money to change the infrastructure and experience on flights. We can see Europe starting to open borders and allowing travel within the European Union. The Maldivian Government has also just announced opening borders for international flights arrivals from July 15.

I believe that airlines will suffer from a sharp decline in corporate travel and also, most importantly, a decline in tourism, as with restrictions and quarantine rules in different countries, tourists will do fewer trips but would stay longer, which is an undoubtable benefit for hoteliers. Long haul carriers like Qatar Airways and Emirates will benefit from this trend as people will most probably take fewer holidays, knock out the short weekend breaks and instead go long haul for a longer period. But, regional airlines will suffer. I believe that customers will pay more for more space and security because they are taking fewer trips but travelling further.

Soneva Fushi Maldives aerial view

I suspect, that even though the second quarter of 2020 may be the period of the greatest economic decline in history, I think consumers will be prepared to spend that little bit extra for a unique experience as they will value the precious time with their families more now than ever. Travellers will also become more health-focused, more aware of nature and more sensitive to the challenges of the planet. It is true that there will certainly be much more supply of certain types of hotel than demand. We were already seeing that even before we went into this crisis. The crisis, and the recession that will follow, will only exacerbate the situation.

As we recover and journey out of this crisis, we will reach a fork in the road. I do hope that we will clearly know where we want to go. The current global pandemic has highlighted how interconnected we are, and how important it is that as humans on planet earth, we break through our national boundaries and collaborate together to preserve life on earth as we know it.

Soneva Fushi Maldives seaplane

If we do not change, and just go back to business as usual after this crisis, it will be a sad, lost opportunity. All the suffering that we have been through over these past months will have been for nothing. This pandemic will end, but the important question is whether the bond we have with the way we live and our daily reality has been sufficiently broken, and whether we can attach ourselves to a new reality and a new way of doing things.

Or if we will just go back to our old ways….

I hope not.

Sonu Shivdasani Founder SonevaSonu Shivdasani, born in England, is an alumnus of Eton College in England, and Le Rosey in Switzerland. He later graduated from Oxford University with an MA in English Literature. Sonu met Eva Malmström, his now wife, at the Monte Carlo Grand Prix during his time at Oxford. Also during his time at Oxford, Sonu and Eva travelled frequently to the Maldives. It was during those trips that Eva and Sonu developed a dream of one day living there. Soon Sonu and Eva built Soneva Fushi on the island of Kunfunadhoo in the Maldives in 1995. These beginnings led to the founding and growth of Evason and Six Senses Resorts and Spas. In 2012, they sold Six Senses and Evason to focus wholly on Soneva, as part of the ‘One Owner, One Operator, One Philosophy, One Brand’ strategy. In 2010 Eva and Sonu founded the Soneva Foundation, a UK-registered charity committed to supporting the development and operation of projects and campaigns that have a positive environmental, social and economic impact. For 25 years Sonu and his wife, Eva, have created the template for sustainable tourism, coining the concepts of “SLOW LIFE” and “Intelligent Luxury” which recognises the ability for luxury holiday making and care for the environment to co-exist in harmony. Whilst the role of CEO and Joint Creative Director of Soneva keeps him quite busy, Sonu still finds time to enjoy water sports, reading, art, architecture, wine, travelling, skiing and wellness.