Robert La Bua chats candidly with Christina Morrison about what's really going on in the travel sector
Luxury travel writer Robert La Bua has spent a lifetime exploring the world and writing about his experiences. Like all of us, he is currently staying home to avoid exposure to the worldwide pandemic. We asked Robert for his thoughts on travel and the travel industry now and in the future.
Christina Morrison: "Notwithstanding the current Covid-19 temporary halt of international VIP-style glamour-travel as we know it, which are your Top 4 places on your Wish-List for the future (WHEN―hopefully not IF!) the travel bans are lifted?"
Robert La Bua: "Firstly, Maldives, because the excellent resorts there are glamorous travel fantasies come to life. After this sad episode in human history, a tropical escape may be just the thing to feel good again. More practically, since Maldives resorts are relatively small and each occupies its own island, there are never crowds and guests are spread out over the island. For those travellers feeling some
trepidation about going overseas again, Maldives may be a good 'starter trip' where privacy is prized and guests for the most part keep to themselves anyway."
(below: Social distancing perfected in Maldives)
(below: Lots of open space in Kenya - a welcome change from isolation and confinement).
"Secondly, Kenya, because a good safari will remind us that we, human beings, are only residents on this planet, not its masters, and we share it with myriad other creatures. Witnessing the quiet majesty of wildlife on the Masai Mara is an experience that stays with you for the rest of your life. As in Maldives, Kenya's tourism infrastructure is not based on enormous hotels housing thousands of guests; high-end safari accommodations are almost always individual bungalows or glamorous tents, and the nature of the safari experience keeps numbers low in any one location."
(below: PONANT's Dumont d'Urville goes where few other visitors go.)
"Thirdly, given the worldwide media coverage of cruises and their passengers during this shocking time, a cruise ship seems the last place one would want to be in the future. There is a reason, though, why cruising has become hugely popular in recent years; a deluxe cruise can be a thoroughly rewarding travel experience. As seasoned cruisers already know, small is preferable over big, which is why a National Geographic Expeditions cruise with PONANT offers an ideal balance of excitement and safety. Ponant's nine ships had not a single case of coronavirus among its passengers or crew. PONANT's small vessels carry fewer than 200 passengers maximum, a fraction of the enormous floating cities with thousands of passengers, which means fewer possibilities for health incidents. Also, the small ships visit small ports, some unique to PONANT itineraries, which means these places are themselves less exposed to visitors. For example, National Geographic Expeditions and PONANT offer a cruise to the islands of Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau, the latter being one of the least visited countries in the world but one that nevertheless offers exhilarating experiences. PONANT is the only cruise company to call on ports in the country of Guinea-Bissau, which means the locals only ever encounter visitors coming from PONANT ships. au.ponant.com
(below: Visit local landmarks and get to know your own city and country.)
"Next, (once the travel restrictions are gradually eased, over time) why not consider discovering more places within your own country, whatever it may be? I have a feeling international travel will be more complicated than in the past. Will travellers need a health passport of some kind? Not logical, since any travel after the date of issue would render it meaningless, but still possible since governments will be grasping at ways to look tough. In every country, foreigners are always an easy target since they have no role in domestic government (read: elections). The result will be encouragement to travel within one's own country, thereby avoiding international borders and whatever rules may be applied in crossing them. Wealthy people tend to like streamlined efficiency in every aspect of their lives, and if international travel becomes more complicated, domestic travel may become more appealing, especially for short leisure trips."
CM: "The travel industry has been rocked by the virus. What would you suggest travel professionals do while waiting for this too, to pass? For example, should they polish up their resumes, catch up with long term clients via email, do some long term planning for the imminent boom which will surely occur once the virus diminishes...?"
RLB: "Difficult though it may seem, try to stay positive, because travel will come back. Just as professional sports will not cease to exist because of this interruption, so too will travel remain high on the list of life's most enjoyable pastimes. Examine new ways to reassure previous clients and attract new ones; most upscale travellers are well educated, sophisticated people who won't need convincing to travel again but will likely require more guidance than in the past with regard to destinations and experiences. Perhaps, on the other side of the industry, it is also a good time to strengthen relationships with hotels, airlines, tourism offices, and other entities in the business―all suffering at the moment―as well as build new bonds."
CM: "What other industries/roles might suit someone with experience in the travel industry? For example, one of my friends' partners was laid off from Flight Centre, so I suggested she look at some other jobs (many of which can be conducted via online, from home) with transferable skills.
Her customer care and itinerary planning skills are second to none! What would you suggest she might investigate as parallel jobs for the time being at least?"
RLB: "I've never been very good at finding traditional jobs in the business or government spheres―that's why I became a travel writer! However, I am good at evaluating other people's skills and experience. Personal assistant to a corporate executive, telephone consultation, her own business...there are possibilities for people who may feel totally lost at the moment. A new career direction is often a lot harder than it seems; a lot depends on personal circumstances. People with a financial cushion behind them can more easily start a new business but not everyone has that luxury. Single people have more flexibility than working parents with families to feed. Anyone who worked in a travel agency has computer skills, which are already a boost to future employment. While office work in other fields such as accounting and law may not have the glamour of travel, it is reliable, consistent, and pays the bills."
CM: "Some of my friends in the USA are scooping up flight tickets and booking ahead for, say, September onward. They believe that for bookings made within this year, there will be no cancellation fees (if lodged before the end of December). Are they being hasty by making these low-cost flight ticket purchases or will they be the ones laughing all the way to the bank once the virus clears?"
RLB: "I wouldn't be making any travel purchases right now. It is impossible to know when flights will resume and if previously existing routes will be reinstated. Airlines need money and are selling tickets at low prices to keep some revenue flowing in, but it is impossible to know when the pandemic will end and what will remain of the travel industry at that time. Airlines, hotels, tour companies are all at risk at the moment. On top of that, it is possible countries will place restrictions on visitors coming from specific locations or continue to require visitors to be in isolation for a period of time after arrival. This is totally unpredictable at this point. Domestic travel, on the other hand, eliminates some of those possible obstacles. When flights do resume, there will be sales then, too, to stimulate demand."
CM: "Self-Isolation is clearly a huge issue for frequent flyers. What do you suggest is a good routine for someone observing the Australian 14-day quarantine stipulation?"
RLB: "Number one, relax. Two weeks is a relatively short time in the overall scheme of things.
Face the fact that changes have come to the travelling lifestyle, some of them will not be reversed when life as we knew it begins to resume. Most likely, travel will be different from what it has been in recent years. If anything positive may come from this situation, perhaps the overtourism that was affecting some of the world's most beloved destinations will be curtailed. To pass the time in isolation, read books written by great travellers of the past. The travels of people such as Freya Stark, Annemarie Schwarzenbach, and Wilfred Thesiger may not be as famous as Lawrence of Arabia's, but these fascinating people explored the world when global travel was unheard of, enduring hardships and thrills along the way. Their adventures in exotic places were extraordinary for their times. Or take the opposite path and take your mind off travel completely. Do something new. Be creative. As we are discovering all too clearly, we have only one life to live."
CM: "Do you think we will need to bolster ourselves for future pandemics or do you agree with the politicians whom say 'This is a 'once-in-100-years event?' "
RLB: "Global travel will undergo a radical change from how it was just a few months ago. The unsustainable numbers of travellers of recent years will be diminished, perhaps forcibly if countries choose to constrain the number and origin of visitors allowed in. Since the current virus pandemic is the fourth major outbreak in the past twenty years (2002 SARS, 2009 Swine Flu, 2012 MERS), it is to be expected that another one will occur after a period; it's just a matter of time."
You may also like:
Robert La Bua is a seasoned luxury traveller. Let's take a look at some of his best stories to date while we dream of our future travel adventures: