There’s a growing sentiment that the economic blowback from this pandemic will reach or surpass great depression levels. But what about the cultural ramifications?
Around the world, fear has gripped the hearts of the many and is beginning to govern peoples’ actions. For example, in America, there’s a growing resentment toward people of Asian descent, and in China, they have begun removing black people from their homes and confiscating their passports.
We’ve been bombarded with news about each country’s response, or lack thereof, to the ongoing pandemic. Rather than examine that, I wanted to see how the situation is unfolding from a traveler’s perspective.
Travel will not return to normal for at least a couple of years, if ever.
Every time there’s a global event like this, things change, but they never revert to their previous form. The travel industry has already taken a major hit with numerous companies laying off employees or close their doors entirely.
Even before the quarantine, Thomas Cook’s sudden collapse in September 2019 left thousands of passengers stranded around the world. It shook consumer confidence and caused a ripple effect that would be felt throughout the tourism marketplace.
Less than a year later, the tourism industry has been hit again, but this time, it’s more like a baseball bat to the head instead of the gut-punch that was the Thomas Cook collapse.
What’s Happening Within the Travel Industry
Travel agencies are doing their best to stay afloat during this crisis. But with travel bans bringing the industry to a complete halt, it’s nearly impossible to generate any consistent income. At first, there was a run on flights because prices were dropping and people weren’t taking the quarantine as seriously as they should. Many saw the freefalling prices as a bargain. They kept on purchasing flights, but all of that is over with now.
Flights have been grounded, people have been told to stay indoors, and travel is likely the last thing on anyone’s mind at this point.
Consumers have also felt the crunch of this crisis within the travel industry. They’ve discovered that their travel insurance is essentially worthless right now. Travel insurance doesn’t cover pandemics, so when travelers started trying to cancel vacations and reschedule trips, they couldn’t secure refunds in many cases. Some airlines and travel agencies have been working with their customers, but there are plenty of horror stories and lost trips out there.
As airlines struggle for survival and consumers take a hit in the wallet, the oft-forgotten little guys who have inadvertently come to depend on travel agencies are in more dire straits.
All of those nice spots that you scour the travel blogosphere to discover have seen their businesses completely shut down. Some might be able to survive, but there’s no doubt that plenty will go out of business. It’s a real shame because the little mom and pop shops that you stumble upon during your travels give a place its charm. Those off-the-beaten-path experiences play a vital role in how tourists view and remember a country.
Why Should We Care What Happens to The Travel Industry?
Travel is so important because it allows us to share our experiences with the rest of the world. We share stories and information that would otherwise go untold and unknown if not for travel bloggers and people who simply like to share via social media.
Last year saw a surge in travel to previously undermarketed locations like Africa. Dubbed “The Year of The Return,” Africa, and Ghana, in particular, saw a huge influx of African diasporans visit its borders. Through travel, the misinformation surrounding Africa, and other places like it, has been gradually getting erased or corrected.
If you watch the news, you get the impression that Africa is full of war-torn countries ruled by corrupt power-hungry governments with nothing to offer. In actuality, there are parts of the continent that are flourishing. We need to know this. This is why travel is important!
There’s no denying that travel serves a multitude of purposes. It breaks down cultural borders, helps us face our fears, and allows us to better understand each other.
For the time being, there’s no more travel, so now what?
What Can We Do?
We need to do everything within our power to maintain the cultural growth, understanding, and open-mindedness that we’ve fostered over the last decade or so. It wasn’t perfect, but we were making progress before the pandemic. There’s no reason that it should go to waste now.
Here are a few things that you can do to help keep those cultural bridges open.
Virtual Field Trips
You can still experience other cultures through the power of the internet. Virtual field trips have been a favorite of classroom teachers for years. I’ve used them myself on a few occasions to take my students around the world. They allow you to explore the wonders of the world from the safety and comfort of your home. Granted, it’s not as exciting as the real thing, but it’s better than nothing.
You have to think of virtual field trips as fire starters. Be they for you, your children, or your students, virtual field trips provide opportunities to those who cannot travel — which in this case is all of us. They help generate cultural interest, and hopefully, that interest will blossom into a desire to explore and learn more.
Every week, my fiancé hosts a language exchange over the internet. Before the quarantine, it was a local event that she hosted once a month, but for obvious reasons, the exchange has migrated to the internet and is now weekly.
Her language exchange connects people from countries all around the world who speak various languages. They get together to share stories, news, ask questions, play games, and practice speaking and listening in their target languages.
I highly recommend finding one if you can. It’s another great resource for those of you who are itching for some human interaction.
Watch Foreign News
It’s good to see things from an outsider’s perspective. What often happens is we pick our favorite news outlet, and we watch it religiously. Whether you’re a fan of Fox News, MSNBC, or CNN, you likely don’t veer away from your go-to source for news.
The problem with that is you tend to get the same message regurgitated repeatedly. You never hear things from another point of view. That’s why I like to listen to news reports from different countries. For example, I’ll listen to a news report from Spain, America, and Africa on the same topic. The story is always told in three different ways, and it gives you somewhat of a view into the mindset of the people.
What better way to understand someone than to listen to their side of a story?
Watch A Foreign Series
Netflix has to be living its best life right now. It has a captive audience and a never-ending library of content. Instead of going for your favorite shows the next time you access Netflix, try delving into the foreign section.
I’m currently watching Netflix series from Portugal, Spain, Norway, and America. I’ll probably add to that before the end of the month. You likely won’t learn anything profound from watching a TV series, but it’s another way to help yourself stay open-minded. Worst-case scenario, you’ll learn a bit of a new language.
The current situation is not ideal, but it doesn’t mean that we have to lose all of the progress that we’ve made up to this point. With a little creativity, we can keep the cultural exchange flowing and continue learning about each other.