At this point, it’s an understatement to say that COVID-19 has changed our lives and our perception of public and shared spaces: gyms, malls, planes, hotels – the list is endless. The greater, more long-lasting effect, however, will be the change it induces in the years after its passing. After all, a vaccine is expected by end of 2020 or in mid to late 2021, while some sectors like aviation forecast a full recovery by 2023.
So, let us look at the various sectors, businesses and services whose use of public space will change or be reconsidered, and how these businesses are trying to adapt moving forward.
Spectator Sports and Gyms
For spectator sports, the near future seems grim. Many matches of all kinds of sports are currently being carried out with no audiences, instead shifting viewership online to remain afloat – sometimes for free, sometimes pay-per-view, and sometimes on a subscription-basis.
This past Saturday, we saw the German football league Bundesliga resume its operations, the first European football league to do so, with a match played in front of cardboard cut-outs of real fans paid for by the fans themselves, the proceeds from which go to charity, while players were instructed to social distance off the pitch. Fans are also encouraged to purchase tickets even though they can’t attend, with proceeds often going to relief efforts.
How long this will continue is uncertain. Live matches are a major income source for the world’s various sports teams, and the crux of their entire business. With life returning to normal to some capacity in a few countries, we could see stadiums host spectators once more, likely at a limited capacity and with stringent measures in place.
As for gyms and fitness studios, their revenue streams have been similarly hit, as it’s highly advised against to be using machinery and equipment other people have recently been in contact with. Some have resorted to hosting training sessions online for membership-holders stuck at home.
In countries like China where life has mostly returned to normal, gyms have reopened with some new measures in place, indicative of what the gym scene could be like post-pandemic.
“Temperatures are checked at the door and names and contacts are noted,” Channel News Asia describes a gym in China. “Everyone must wear a mask unless they have difficulty breathing and maintain a distance of about 2m.”
The F & B sector has been in flux ever since the pandemic hit, where stricter gathering laws and lockdown guidance has hurt their revenues. Sure, many restaurants have had to resort to food delivery to maintain cash flow, but it is still nowhere near enough to sustain them, especially given the fees of aggregators like Deliveroo and Talabat. Even after being allowed to reopen at limited capacity (30% in the UAE), many restaurants are still at risk of bankruptcy.
Design-wise, many of these restaurants have had to reconsider their seating spaces and dining configurations. Reusable leather-bound or plastic menus will be replaced by disposable paper menus, condiment containers like ketchup bottles will be long gone from tables to reduce virus-carrying surfaces, and tables will be spaced out from one another, with less seats per table to put a curb on large gatherings. Employees will wear masks and gloves for the foreseeable future – potentially for quite a long time if infection paranoia outlives this pandemic.
In general, it’s going to be quite a fuss to go to a restaurant, but if you’re starved for an oven-hot meal – and some good company – this is the restaurant landscape you’ll have to contend with for the foreseeable future.
There is no doubt that the airline industry is among the sectors most impacted by this pandemic. After all, when your business model is based on carrying large groups of people in tightly-packet flying carriers, how are you meant to enforce social distancing? We’re already seeing extensive screening at airports that have remained operational. From thermal imaging to temperature checks and more, passengers are undergoing a heap of new screening procedures.
On the planes themselves, we are seeing many flights operated at reduced capacity, sometimes at 50% or less even. Airlines are often ensuring there is an empty seat separating passengers (goodbye, middle seat), and some are even clearing entire rows between passengers. It’s safe to say this isn’t conductive of a healthy quarter earnings sheet, but these are the lengths airlines have had to resort to remain even fractionally operational. Some airlines, like American airline Delta, are even resorting to backwards boarding, where rear plane passengers are seated first to ensure passengers don’t walk past each other.
Comparisons have been drawn in regards to the permanently elevated security screenings in a post 9/11 world, and that elevated health screenings will be the new norm in airports in a post-COVID-19 world. Given the trajectory many international airports are taking, and the seismic impact this viral outbreak has had on the world, we have to agree with the comparison, and concur that this could be the new norm for airports going forward.
As for airlines? It’s still up in the air – though it might become much more expensive to travel. It’s not sustainable for these companies to operate at the reduced capacities of the coronavirus era. That is why the International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts air fares will rise 43% to 54% in 2020, and that’s just to help the airlines break even, according to ABC 7 News. As for airline food, you might have say your goodbyes to that too.
Another front-line victim of the COVID-19 war, the hospitality sector has been left in tatters. While commercial airlines can still run to operate essential flights, such as for repatriation efforts, hotels are left at a loss. They have seen some medical-related use as of late, in some cases such as in Kuwait, where repatriated nationals were put in hotel rooms paid for by the state in order to self-quarantine. They are also well-suited to support first responders like doctors and nurses who need to social distance from family members.
Generally, though, the sector is left with no clear roadmap. Like airlines, hotels are very human-intensive businesses: both on the staff end and the customer end. Additionally, a majority of a hotel’s facilities could be viral infection points: everything from pools, to changing rooms and Saunas, to restaurants and spas, and even hotel rooms themselves. Sanitization efforts can only go so far, and you never know if that door handle or clothes hanger was grabbed by an infected patron or staff member less than 24 hours ago (the virus can sometimes survive for longer than that, based on the type of surface).
Post-pandemic, hotels might have to reconfigure their public spaces in a way to ensure patron safety, similar to how restaurants have had to go about it. Saunas, swimming pools and other similar health facilities will likely be opened in intervals with reservations becoming mandatory, ensuring a limited number of users per facility. Sanitization procedures will likely follow each batch of users to ensure the next group is safe from infected surfaces.
Additionally, while not exactly an anti-coronavirus measure, financially-able hotels should focus their efforts on improving their online presence and booking tools during this down-time, Gregor Amon, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of UAE travel tech startup Hotel Data Cloud, told AMEinfo, as he predicts a boom in patrons after the pandemic settles.