RVs replacing cruise ships? What vacations might look like post-COVID-19

Published June 1, 2020 6:37 p.m. ET

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TORONTO -- As Canadians head into summer vacation season, travel experts envision several changes to their itineraries for the foreseeable future.

With border restrictions between Canada and the U.S. still in place and several interprovincial restrictions in effect, Feroz Ali, president of Canadian Tourism College, believes Canadians will be vacationing within their home province for the time being.

“The impact on the tourism, travel and hospitality sector is huge in my view, and I find that it will be awhile before things return back to normal,” he saidin a phone interview with CTVNews.ca.

Others are banking on local travellers to keep the tourism industry afloat. In Nova Scotia, Destination Cape Breton hopes local vacationers help them out. 

"We think people are going to be happy to get out and explore around the island and the province," Destination Cape Breton CEO Terry Smith recently told CTV News Atlantic. "They can explore things they haven't done in years, or maybe haven't done ever."

Smith notes that local tourists already account for 38 per cent of the tourism industry in Nova Scotia, representing about one billion dollars in annual revenue.

In a report released in April, Destination Canada estimated that traveller spending could drop by 58 per cent this year as a worst-case scenario, which would amount to a loss of $47.4 billion.

Gloria Loree, the chief marketing officer of Destination Canada, told CTVNews.ca that while updated projections don’t appear that bleak, it is still too early to tell how bad it will be.

“The challenge for tourism … is we are such a seasonal sector in terms of the businesses making so much of their revenues over the summer,” she said. “So we don’t yet know the full answer to that question.”

CTVNews.ca spoke to several travel experts about how Canadians might vacation this summer and beyond, with an emphasis on what trends might stick post-COVID-19.

RV OR CAMPING TRIPS COULD BE POPULAR

Due to Canadians remaining largely confined to their province, Ali expects more people to go camping this summer or take an RV trip. This way, he said, they can still have a vacation, but also keep to themselves.

“Families or people are resilient and they still want to experience the nature of Canada, but… they will still need food, supplies, fuel in order to get to places,” he said.

On Monday, some national parks and heritage sites reopened for the summer, but camping at these parks is prohibited until June 21.

Mike McNaught, founder of RVezy.com, an RV rental company similar to Airbnb, said he has already seen a significant jump in bookings for the upcoming season as provinces ease restrictions, which he called a “slingshot effect.”

“When you're staying in an RV, you are 100 per cent in complete control of your environment,” he said in a recent phone interview. “They're self-contained. They have their own bathrooms, their own fridges, their own cooking facilities.”

McNaught said an added benefit with renting an RV is that while a hotel room might have dozens of guests in the summer, an RV is likely to only see a handful.

Chris Mahony, president of Go RVing Canada, said it’s too early for him to determine how the RV industry is going to shakeout this season, but said interest in their products remains high.

“It’s particularly appealing now because taking an RV vacation allows you to safely adhere to social distancing guidelines, which will likely stay in place in some form, for the foreseeable future,” he wrote in an email on May 19.

Mahony said RVing is an attractive option particularly in the short term because it is an affordable way to vacation.

Go RVing has implemented additional cleaning measures to their rental RVs and has implemented a three-day “resting” period between rentals to mitigate the possibility of COVID-19 exposure. There’s also an optional discount for users who choose to bring their own bedding.

Mahony believes high interest in RVing will be sustained in the years to come as many Canadians will be remain wary of international travel and might want to support Canadian industries instead.

“In the aftermath of COVID-19, it’s important to support both our national and provincial tourism industries, and we feel that this sentiment is shared with many other Canadians,” he said.

AIR TRAVEL WILL RETURN; CRUISE SHIPS COULD STRUGGLE

Ali believes air travel will one day return to becoming a fixture in Canadian vacations, though it’s not clear when exactly that will be.

“By nature, we are creatures of travel and we like exploring and being adventurous,” he said.

In early May, Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu estimated it would be at least three years before flight and revenues returned to what they were in 2019. The airline’s first quarter financials showed losses topping $1 billion.

Ali believes cruise ships, where several COVID-19 outbreaks were able to easily spread through passengers, could face long-term challenges with their traditional demographic.

“The mature people, they will be hesitant in going into cruise ships, where there’s 2,000 or 3,000 people in a cruise ship,” he said. “However, the young people that are traditionally not into the cruise industry, perhaps they're more not more susceptible to this virus, they may look at different things.”

Loree said the cruise ship industry will have to change “many aspects of their health and safety protocols” but isn’t convinced the industry is in as much long-term trouble as its perceived.  

“Just last week, search for cruise offerings surged 160 per cent,” she said. “Surprisingly, there is a lot of difficult stories and they continue about the cruise industry, but there still seems to be a lot of demand.”

TRAVEL INSURANCE WILL BECOME THE NEW NORM

Pre-COVID-19, travel insurance was often seen as something not entirely needed, especially if someone was looking to travel on a budget. Now, Ali says, travel insurance could become the new norm.

“I'm one of the guilty ones that probably thinks: ‘No, no, everything should be OK,’” he said. “I think there will be a much more intense focus on making sure that even if you do travel, this is not a risk people will take.

“Imagine being stuck in a foreign country and trying to repatriate yourself back to Canada.”

In a recent survey published by Travelweek, 48 per cent of respondents purchased travel insurance before COVID-19, but 72 per cent said they will purchase it in the future.

Loree believes the freedom to alter the plans of a trip is a trend that will stay post-pandemic and is a reason more people might look closer to home for a vacation. 

“People are looking for a lot of flexibility if they do book anything,” she said. “They want… (to) know they can cancel.”

TRAVEL AGENTS COULD SEE A BOOST IN BUSINESS

In the same Travelweek survey, 57 per cent of respondents said they would seek out the advice from a travel agent when booking any future vacations.

The survey indicates part of the reason behind the potential boost is from frustrated travellers who had to deal with online booking companies to cancel or alter their plans during the pandemic and the frustrations many of them had with arranging some sort of flight back to Canada.

NEW ACTIVITIES WHILE ON VACATION

Loree believes that the COVID-19 quarantine has given Canadians the time to take up a new skill or pastime and she argues these new hobbies will be reflected in future vacations as tourism operators begin to offer new and unique activities to their clientele.

“I see a lot of innovative operators are matching summative trends to what they are offering,” she said. “With so many people really kicking up their cooking skills or baking bread, we're seeing some operators, this summer thinking about including how-to lessons in their inns, in their kitchens.”

Loree added that some tour companies have decided to add yoga classes to what they offer as more Canadians take up the practise while staying home.