The Camino Goes On
When will we travel again?
When will we travel again? What will travel look like in the near future? These are two of the most repeated questions among travel enthusiasts. Both questions lead us to a great number of different scenarios. Let’s explore these in relation to Camino holidays.
The lockdown of the past few weeks has led to a higher number of people walking and exercising on the streets in urban areas or country roads in rural communities. Within a specified distance limit, or time limit in some countries, people who used to exercise regularly in gyms, sport centres or swimming pool facilities are out in the fields more than ever before. Some have discovered walking as it is one of the few exercises available during Covid19 restrictions other than work outs at home or zoom yoga sessions. Even those who didn’t walk regularly before the restrictions are doing so now to ‘get out of the house’.
This is positive for the future of walking holidays and sustainable tourism in particular. This could translate into an increase in the number of walking holidays in relation to the traditional beach holiday once the initial fear of travelling is behind us. In addition, walking enthusiasts and nature lovers had to cancelled or postponed their April-June walking holiday plans until a future date, with September and October 2020 still a possibility for some travellers with greater flexibility to re-arrange travel plans. Other travellers are looking for domestic travel options for 2020 and waiting for 2021 to resume their holiday plans overseas.
It is important to note that in both cases people still want to travel and reconnect face to face with family and friends as they have been robbed by the virus of these precious moments that until March 2020 we all took for granted. However, for travel to re-start again, there will be a series of ingredients necessary and the most important of them all is ‘trust’. As Noirin Hegarty from Lonely Planet says, “Nobody will risk travelling unless there is a reasonable certainty of safety”. We generally feel safer the closer we are from home as we tend to trust the measures in place in our own country above the measures of other countries. This will lead to a surge in domestic tourism, probably by the end of the summer season in August-September 2020. In the case of Ireland, accommodation providers may be able to re-open again by the 20th of July if the phases implemented by the Irish Government move in the right direction in the coming weeks. This opens the door for Irish people to travel throughout the country and enjoy the greenways on offer such as the Kerry Way from Killarney or the Kerry Camino from Tralee.
For the re-start of international travel, we will look at countries closer to home which we are more familiar with and therefore trust more. People who live in the UK or those in the U.S with Irish links may initially favour Ireland for walking holidays. As Irish Independent travel expert Pól Ó Conghaile says, “Ireland has a reputation as a safe destination. It is English-speaking, an island with open spaces, wild coastline and few security threats”. This could place Ireland as a quasi-domestic destination for people in English speaking countries that want to travel abroad without feeling too much out of their comfort zone.
If Covid19 creates a small shift in holiday selection from traditional beach holidays to walking and experiential holidays, the northern regions of Spain and Portugal could be winners for this type of sustainable and slow tourism. Some of the crowds that regularly visit the popular beach resorts of the Costa del Sol in Spain or the Algarve in Portugal could be tempted to head north. These regions already have a well established Camino network ideal for walking holidays and the Spanish and Portuguese slow pace of life, culture and warm weather conditions make them a tempting proposition.
The Reopening of Spain and the Camino
Spain has implemented a 4 phase system out of lockdown to return to the ‘new normality’ starting the 27th of April until the 24th of June. Under this system, each of the 55 provinces (similar to a county in Ireland or England) will be progressing to the next phase when set parameters have been met. Travelling between provinces will not be allowed unless both provinces are on the same phase level to avoid transmission between provinces where the risk of virus contagion is still higher to those with a low level risk.
The main Camino routes in northern Spain extend across 13 provinces. Potentially one Camino section i.e Sarria – Santiago could open earlier than another section i.e Pamplona – Logroño where some provinces may lag behind in the implemented system to normality. Spanish accommodation providers in some provinces will be able to re-open on the 11th May 2020. However, their first guests during May and June will be Spanish residents only. Once international flights resume to a specific province or region later in the summer we will start to see a small influx of foreign pilgrims.
What will Camino Holidays look like in the near future?
Initially pilgrims will favour quieter routes over busy trails. The idea of less people around us will make us feel safer and it will also mean that it is easier to maintain social distancing. Although this will not be an issue while on the Camino itself, it will play a role when choosing our coffee stops and restaurants for the tasty ‘menu del dia’ or pilgrim’s menu. Large towns along popular Camino routes usually attract high numbers of pilgrims for rest breaks. It could mean hikers choose to stop outside of the traditional lunch stops, or in cafes and restaurants that have better social distancing measures in place. We don’t believe pilgrims will require face masks while en route but they may become necessary when entering food and drink premises along the way.
We anticipate an increase in self-guided trips as opposed to guided group trips as pilgrims will feel safer walking in small numbers with their family or close friends rather than a large group of 20 people. People are also keen to reconnect and embark on reunion breaks with relatives where they can finally spend quality time together instead of talking through computer screens.
We also expect pilgrims to favour private guided trips over open guided trips as private trips are designed for a group of friends or members from a hiking club from the same area that already know each other and meet regularly as opposed to a single traveller joining an open trip where they will be part of a larger group of strangers travelling from different Countries.
Once borders reopen and restrictions ease, we will see significant changes on flights. Airlines will likely start distributing face masks, gels and sanitising wipes. We can expect meals on board to be either scrapped or reduced to pre-ordered meals to minimise flight attendants walking down the aisles. Inflight magazines and duty free shopping will not be available in order to reduce touch points that could increase the risk of passing the virus. Initial travellers will benefit from very cheap flights as the priority for airlines is to get pilots and cabin crews flying again. There is talk of €10 or even €1 flights within Europe. This is more likely to happen during the end of the summer months of 2020 than for those flying in 2021.
We expect a shift towards private room accommodation with ensuite bathrooms (Hotels, rural houses and pensiones) over albergues which provide bunkbeds in dorms and shared bathroom facilities.
Businesses on the Camino will have to adapt to the new reality after Covid19, at least until a vaccine becomes available. Public and private albergues will have to implement strict distancing measures and operate at a low level capacity which will push prices up in order to be economically viable. Hotels, rural houses and pensiones will also have to incorporate social distancing measures in their common areas such as reception, breakfast rooms and restaurants.
Food and Drink
Along the way, the indoors sections of small cafes and restaurants will remain closed in the early stages after the restrictions are lifted as social distancing measures are harder to implement in small properties. However outdoor terraces and courtyards, an important part of the Spanish culture and lifestyle, will remain open. These outdoor areas will need to adhere to new social distancing rules and we expect to see smaller crowds in them.
Who knows, take away coffee on the Camino may become an option in bigger towns even though it goes against the idea of slowing down and taking time to enjoy your drink and views with fellow walkers. Like in many other areas of life right now, we are experiencing unprecedented behavioural change and we will have to get used to some new ways of doing things. It will take a long time until we can shake hands or hug a fellow pilgrim on the Camino but a new way of expressing the special camaraderie will surely emerge such as singing or elbow bumping!
What it will not change in the future is the excitement and happiness the Camino experience brings to us and that unique way of greeting fellow travellers along the way with those two magic words that keep us going: “Buen Camino”.
Written by Victor Delgado