Life after Covid-19 for Sharing Economy Travel

covid-19 travel
Airplanes grounded due to coronavirus

Most people have cancelled their spring travel plans in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Even those taking a wait-and-see approach to summer travel aren’t optimistic. In the United States the airlines are already anticipating a multi-billion dollar bailout. But smaller travel companies will get no government assistance. I fear that many peer-to-peer travel businesses will not survive this year.

Where we’re at with Covid-19

The reality is grim. The coronavirus pandemic is with us for 2020. It’s not going to disappear with warmer weather. We’re not going to find a miracle vaccine in less than 12 months. And aggressive social distancing measures can’t end after a few weeks on lockdown. We might be able to loosen up the controls a bit over time. But health care systems world-wide can’t handle the flood of cases that will come without these measures.

I’m not just stating my opinion here, I’m repeating what public health and medical professionals have learned from careful study. If you want to read the evidence behind these statements, here’s my list of Coronavirus resources.

Don’t travel

First, I want to say, the travel industry should not be the first thing we’re thinking about right now. Lives will be lost because of the selfish decisions of individuals and world leaders. People like the President of Brazil, who still maintains Covid-19 is a media trick. And the spring break partiers in Florida who, just a week ago, refused to let their plans be disrupted. (Florida has now shut down those beaches).

Everyone should be staying home, avoiding contact with others as much as possible, whether or not your government has issued a formal order requiring this. This means no travel. Even driving to a nearby town for a home swap puts you in contact with gas stations, stores, and someone else’s home. These points of contact are unnecessary, and expand the potential spread of the virus.

What does this mean for the travel industry?

Unfortunately for travel-related businesses, this is devastating. And most sharing economy travel businesses are small and without much money. Many aren’t even making a profit in good times. Their revenue is drying up and at the same time financing is going to disappear as the global economy heads into a serious recession. I fear that by 2021 many peer-to-peer travel services will be forced out of business.

I think home exchange networks are probably in a better position than most peer-to-peer travel services. They generally enjoy a loyal membership and operating costs for the small and mid-sized ones are low. I expect some of the smallest networks will shut down this year. But every year a few home swap networks shut down or get bought by bigger ones. I don’t expect the number in 2020 to be so much higher than in a typical year. That’s because these networks tend to be passion projects, funded out of individual’s pockets. The decision to carry on is more about their inspiration for the work than a need for revenue.

The world is going to be changed by the Covid-19 pandemic. The travel industry is actually not that important in the context of lives lost and human suffering. But when this is behind us, hopefully we will learn some important lessons for the future.