How has lockdown affected the travel industry?


The travel industry was one of the most hard-hit industries during the Coronavirus pandemic; we all remember the outrage when holidays (abroad or not) got cancelled, and instead we all got cooped up in our homes. Initially it seemed that we could handle a three week lockdown, but eventually we all had to accept that ‘Brits abroad’ was cancelled for this summer. That is, unless you’re willing to quarantine when you get home. 

However, if we’re looking for a silver lining, the lockdown reaped massive benefits for the environment. Tourist destinations badly damaged by overtourism, like the island of Boracay in the Philippines, and the Great Barrier Reef, have been given a break from crowds of visitors, so governments now have time to sustainably manage the swathes of visitors they get every year. 

Of course it’s not just far flung places that have benefitted from a reduction in pollution. According to climate scientists at the University of East Anglia, global CO2 emissions fell by over eight percent between January and April 2020. Predictably, the aviation industry emissions decreased by 21%, and the daily global emissions of CO2 from roads and electricity use were decreasing at a rate of ten megatonnes per day in early April. Since May however, the rate has been slowly creeping back up to a normal level, as lockdown starts to ease worldwide. 

Today, as summer begins to look more normal for the majority, the idea of holidaying abroad looks more realistic. Flight companies can now begin to regain their feet by introducing cheaper flights and more routine bookings; Ryanair and Easyjet have been encouraging travellers to re-book their cancelled flights using refunds in the form of travel vouchers, rather than processing cash refunds. Similar things have been happening with package holiday companies like TUI, in an effort to keep cash flowing across their resorts. Despite this effort, the return of the two-week quarantine for holidaymakers returning from Spain, Luxembourg, Belgium, The Bahamas and Andorra, may have put people off booking these trips; not many people can afford to take an extra two weeks off work after a holiday. 

So, while international holiday companies are struggling, the appeal of the great British staycation is growing and resorts across the country are filling up. This opens up an opportunity to give the British economy the boost it needs, but the question still remains; how will us Brits choose to travel to these destinations, and will sustainability play a part in our decision making?

When travelling across the UK we have three main options. The first is driving our own car,  the second being public transport like trains and buses, or thirdly flying longer distances. It’s clear that trains are the more sustainable option here, but at a time where money is tight, it’ll be interesting to see what people’s main concern is – sustainability, their pockets, or their protection from Covid.

Obviously cars are the most private, and therefore the Covid safe option. For those who are shielding, or those who prefer to keep to themselves, it makes sense that people would choose this option. Fuel prices are also lower than usual, and the government have been encouraging travellers and commuters to drive to work, avoiding car sharing, rather than risk using public transport. While this may slow the spread of the coronavirus, it is counterintuitive to the sustainable travel movement; the average car produces 158 grams of CO2 per messenger mile, according to the European Environment Agency.

The more public options, flying and trains, carry more coronavirus risk but differ vastly in price and emission levels. To illustrate this, a one-way rush hour train ticket from London to Edinburgh costs £74 and produces 14 grams of CO2 per messenger mile. Alternatively, a one-way plane ticket leaving at the same time and day only costs £39 and produces a whopping 285 grams of CO2 ppm. 

So, while we can all agree that sustainability is a positive and important thing, money is undoubtedly an issue in the current climate. This is especially true for students and anyone who’s been made redundant. Pressure from the government to be sustainable has slackened off since the pandemic began, and it seems that sustainable travel is more attainable for the wealthy, despite the universal effort needed to reduce CO2 emissions.

As with all things in life, Coronavirus was much easier for those who could afford gardens and weekly home deliveries, and sustainable holidaying is no different. Money will always be an issue in relation to sustainable travel – in order to encourage sustainability, the onus needs to be on rail companies and the government to reduce train ticket prices to a level which is affordable for everyone, or is at the very least comparable to flight prices. Otherwise, it’s hard to believe that the lower emissions resulting from the pandemic are likely to stay. 

Image: Marc-Olivier Jodoin via Unsplash

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