Well, as you might imagine, in a time of national lockdowns, countrywide state of emergencies, 'indefinite' international travel bans, and social distancing, writing an upbeat holiday and tourism column might seem a challenge!
Yet just as we are inspired by stories of individuals who find inner strength and courage when facing what might seem insurmountable challenges, so too we can feel uplifted by how our families, communities and also businesses have come together in this time of crisis. This is also true of the travel sector, where sudden and dramatic changes, although damaging to this important part of the world economy, have become a catalyst for innovation.
So this month I speak with travel entrepreneurs about their businesses here in Southern Spain, discovering how they are dealing with the present crisis, and their insights into how they anticipate travel will look in the near future.
Hope and optimism
I am lifted by the optimism I feel within the sector, despite the obvious hardships that many small travel business owners are experiencing, with a sudden decline in revenue and in many cases, a tsunami of cancellations.
Manni Coe, founder of boutique tour operator, Toma & Coe, is feeling bullish: "Looking at current recovery trends in China, as travel bans begin to lift, I am encouraged to be optimistic. I believe we will begin to see a return of visitors by the end of the summer. Obviously, it will take a while for travel confidence to bounce back but Andalucía is a reference in worldwide tourism and will therefore recover more quickly. Am I being unrealistic? I hope not..."
Sam Lister, founder of Tailormade Andalucia, agrees, "the travel industry will regain its strength faster than we expect". But he sees changes: "Initially there may be a trend for holiday durations to be shorter, for the overall balance of a holiday to be more rural, with less time in densely populated cities; and people will book their trips closer to travel dates."
Eduardo Blanco, a high-end travel designer based in Seville, is cautiously hopeful too. "Travel will take off slowly but will recover faster than expected. People will search for more local experiences far from crowds and favour domestic travel. Regarding luxury travel, I believe the trend will be shorter trips, off-the-beaten-path."
Lynsey Drake, the founder of La Rosilla, provider of rural Malaga food and culture day trips and experiences, has been maintaining a positive attitude during the lockdown "by sharing recipes, food videos and menu plans with online followers and past guests".
She continues, "In the near future, should we not be able to travel far, there are always new places to explore locally and with the myriad traditions and flavours in Andalucía it will be an exciting and uplifting time for us all. For the future we plan to extend our services to included hiking tours in the Malaga mountains with delicious picnics; and go back to our roots with our famous 'Supper-club on the Terrace' where La Rosilla all began."
As residents in Andalucía we are more fortunate than most, since we have one of Europe's most compelling and diverse holiday destinations right on our doorstep. Earlier this month Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said in a televised address that from May, "we will begin taking the first steps towards a new normality".
Although government ministers have been tight-lipped about confirming any timescales for the return of non-essential travel, I truly hope it will be possible to travel domestically by the summer. Once couples and families have the freedom to travel together in a car, Andalucía will be waiting for us - and the trend will surely be towards rural pursuits away from the crowds.
Manni Coe continues, "We already have a focus on rural Andalucía, our first love, but after the lockdown, we will concentrate a lot more on all our rural activities; walking, wine tasting, bird watching, nature reserves, and white villages. Of course, we love the cities, but we feel our strength is in the mountain villages and rural experiences, focusing on areas that have not been affected by coronavirus."
Independent travel will increase, and this can only be good news for these business owners I spoke to. Víctor Garrido, owner and Malaga guide at We Love Malaga confirms, "We will see a growth in independent travellers, where they arrange their own transportation, accommodation and tours."
In the new age of social distancing, the types of trips and holidays these independent travellers will seek will be different from before.
For our first tentative adventures, we might skip the opportunity to board an aircraft for a long-haul flight or stay at mega resort. Instead short-haul and intimate will be preferred.
Family and friends
Nicky Morris Goodman, who has fallen in love with the "timeless, ravishing beauty of Seville" is the creative energy behind the renovation of some characterful properties in the city, which she offers for private holiday rentals.
She says of near future travel, "I think that we will have an appetite to spend time and share experiences with those that we love and care for, with a renewed vigour for life. We will have a fresh appreciation of our liberty and the joy of freedom of movement. Private vacation rentals offer a sense of comfort and intimacy that allow us time and space to relax and reconnect - the perfect antidote to the difficult days."
I am tempted to agree. The intimacy and security of a family trip, staying in a single property and sharing travel experiences looks set to be the 'new normal'.
Annie, of Annie B's Kitchen, also anticipates changes in booking habits for her food, wine and culture experiences.
"I see my tours and classes becoming 100% private, for families, couples or friends travelling together rather than being open to people joining together," she explains.
Lindsay Gregory, creator of The Luxury Villa Collection believes, "there will be a tendency away from massive hotel resorts and cruises, towards more private home rentals and single-family residences as a 'safer' option, at least until the nerves die down".
Like many in the sector, she remains optimistic that the travel will bounce back once restrictions are lifted. She continues, "Everyone has been so understanding and yet deeply disappointed at having to put on hold their much-needed family time away (as well as weddings, family birthdays, and corporate events...) so we have high hopes that the industry will spring back as soon as it is safe to travel again: after all, the world will need desperately to top up its vitamin D levels!"
My Local Concierge is a Marbella-based luxury lifestyle and property management company. Director Fay Wallis sees that the virus has divided travellers into those who will "have a fear of travelling; and then others for whom it will be the first thing that they want to do once restrictions are lifted. Nonetheless, I do think the trend for leisure will be towards shorter distance travel rather than long-haul for a time. That's why we're redoubling our effort in our property management services and the My Local Concierge App for owners here in Southern Spain," she says.
Meaningful and authentic
Ian Rutter and Andrew Watson, owners of the boutique Bed & Breakfast Casa Higueras in the Granada village of Moclin have created the MyTravelPledge.com campaign offering free short-stays to nominated, and selected healthcare workers, once the health crisis subsides. Ian explains, "Our Bed & Breakfast, high in the hills above Granada, is a perfect place to forget about coronavirus, and we have offered a number of free stays to NHS hospital staff as a gesture of thanks."
Going forward he sees the trend in travel to be, "culturally based and experience-focused travel. For Spain, this might be a good time to concentrate actively on attracting high value experience travellers to come and discover the stunning treasures of inland Spain. For our holiday creative courses, the core philosophy is to provide an immersive cultural and creative experience."
If staying in a uniquely stylish private home, luxe villa or charming B&B doesn't appeal, then maybe hitting the road in a motorhome does. Even before Covid-19 spread and changed our lives, campervan holidays were experiencing a huge surge in popularity as travellers sought the freedom of this most independent way of travel.
Gonzalo Ros, who runs the family firm Flamenco Campers, based near Malaga, says, "Slow tourism is going to grow, travelling independently away from the crowds, discovering wonderful natural, rural places. The focus will be on more responsible and sustainable tourism."
Hotels, guest houses, holiday rentals and campervans will all need to revaluate their approach to cleaning and disinfecting. For example, Gonzalo continues, "For the safety and confidence of our travellers, we have implemented new cleaning and disinfection procedures in the vehicles of our fleet, using disinfectant and antimicrobial cleaning products that are certified by the Ministry of Health, as well as offering comprehensive interior disinfection using portable Ozone/UV light machines."
Travel professionalism will be the guarantee that travellers look for. Eduardo Blanco, says, "I believe travellers will be increasingly cautious. They will value more than ever the role of a travel advisor, to offer expertise and security. They will also use comprehensive travel insurances too."
Making a difference
Authenticity and mindfulness are certainly recurring notions in these conversations with the travel entrepreneurs. The crisis will mean that the way we travel, and our expectations may never be the same.
Ignacio Soto, the talent behind Nature Tarifa, truly believes we will all be looking to the "experiential side of travel; travel that helps us understand and appreciate the essence of life, and our role in today's world."
Iván Ricoy, travel planner and owner of Genuine Andalusia agrees, "I personally feel that more people will search for meaningful journeys," he says. "I also believe that travellers will want to make a positive impact on communities, families and businesses that have suffered because of the coronavirus. That will influence clients' travel style," he adds.
"People will want to see that they are helping others through their travels. At Genuine Andalusia, we design and conduct tours that generate interaction with the local community. This has allowed me to appreciate the very positive impact that my guests' travel has in southern Spain. We will see much more of this in the future."
The temporary 'freezing' of travel has also given small businesses time to revaluate their way of working. The travel sector has in the past shown itself to be amazingly resilient when faced with challenges such as economic downturns, natural disasters, and even terrorism. There is an inherent strength in the human spirit, that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. For small businesses owners, it has provided the time to take a fresh perspective to prepare for the future.
Sam Lister explains, "We're using this time to become a more 'modern' company, incorporating new apps and products that will enrich our travellers' experiences whilst never losing our personal touch. We are always looking at ways of introducing our travellers to real people, artisans, locals and interesting individuals whilst they are here in Andalucía. Many monuments are must-sees, but it is the people that make a trip unforgettable."
Despite the temptation to feel anxiety about the future, I am positive. Confinement will end and we will be able to celebrate our freedom by heading to the mountains, walking on the beach, seeing families and loved ones, and of course going on a trip.
Ignacio Soto, of Nature Tarifa, will head out onto the water once the lockdown is relaxed. He tells me, "I'll sail and navigate the waters of the Strait, to breathe in the fresh air, and feel and listen to the sea again!"
Here's to future travel, and that wonderful feeling of freedom!