May 24, 2024

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18 powerful images show how 2020 changed travel as we knew it

18 powerful images show how 2020 changed travel as we knew it




a person standing in front of a mirror posing for the camera: A stewardess and traveller wear face masks on a flight from Istanbul to Ankara, Turkey on June 1, 2020.


A stewardess and traveller wear face masks on a flight from Istanbul to Ankara, Turkey on June 1, 2020.

  • The coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally changed the travel industry.
  • The number of people who travel in 2020 dropped to 1990s levels, according to a report by the World Tourism Organizaton.
  • From decommissioned cruise ships to socially distant theme park rides, these 18 photos capture a year travellers will never forget.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Table of Contents

On February 3, the streets of Wuhan, China were devoid of car and foot traffic after the city ordered its 11 million residents to stay inside to prevent the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. Wuhan’s lockdown went into effect January 23.



a view of a city street: A man crosses an empty highway on February 3, 2020 in Wuhan, China.


A man crosses an empty highway on February 3, 2020 in Wuhan, China.

Source: Business Insider

In mid-February, the Diamond Princess docked in Japan to let off passengers. The cruise ship imposed a two-week quarantine on February 4 after 10 passengers tested positive for the coronavirus, which led to more than 700 cases spread by asymptomatic carriers.



a group of people standing in front of a building: A bus arrives near the cruise ship Diamond Princess at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, Japan, on February 16, 2020.


A bus arrives near the cruise ship Diamond Princess at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, Japan, on February 16, 2020.

Source: Business Insider

By early March, the coronavirus reached Europe. Italy became the first European country to impose a nationwide lockdown on March 8, emptying popular tourist destinations like St. Mark’s Square in Venice.



a group of people sitting at a table in front of a building: A waiter stands by empty tables outside a restaurant in St Mark's Square, Venice on March 9, 2020.


A waiter stands by empty tables outside a restaurant in St Mark’s Square, Venice on March 9, 2020.

Source: Business Insider

Other countries soon followed suit, closing down non-essential public spaces like restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues. Italy and France’s lockdown measures were among the strictest, with residents facing fines and prison time for breaking rules.



a person standing in front of a store: A woman walks past a closed restaurant in Paris, France, on May 1, 2020.


A woman walks past a closed restaurant in Paris, France, on May 1, 2020.

Source: DW

On March 13, two days after the World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus a pandemic, Disneyland closed its doors to the public. The California theme park was the world’s second-most-visited theme park in 2018, receiving 18.7 million visitors.



a man standing in front of a building: A man takes a photo outside the gates of Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California, on March 14, 2020.


A man takes a photo outside the gates of Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California, on March 14, 2020.

Source: Business Insider

By April 17, 96% of worldwide destinations had imposed travel restrictions, according to a report by the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO). Around 90 destinations fully or partially closed their borders to tourists, leaving flights grounded.



a group of fighter jets fly through the air: Delta Air Lines passenger planes parked at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in Birmingham, Alabama, on March 25, 2020.


Delta Air Lines passenger planes parked at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in Birmingham, Alabama, on March 25, 2020.

Source: UNWTO

Major international travel hubs like New York’s John F. Kennedy airport, which serviced 34,611 flights to and from 74 countries in January 2020, stood empty as passengers stayed home.



a group of people walking in the airport: John F. Kennedy Airport stands mostly empty on April 16, 2020 in New York City.


John F. Kennedy Airport stands mostly empty on April 16, 2020 in New York City.

Source: JFK Airport

Hotels suffered record-low occupancy rates. Beginning in late March, chains around the world began illuminating empty hotel rooms in the shape of hearts in a show of solidarity and hope.



a view of a city at night: The Hyatt Regency in Seattle, Washington lit up empty rooms in the shape of a heart on April 2, 2020.


The Hyatt Regency in Seattle, Washington lit up empty rooms in the shape of a heart on April 2, 2020.

Source: Business Insider

Lockdown restrictions began to lift toward the end of spring in Europe and the US, and summer 2020 became the one of domestic travel. In the US, many states imposed restriction on out-of-state travellers such as mandatory quarantines.



an orange sign that is sitting in the grass: A sign outside of BWI airport in Baltimore, Maryland, alerts travellers to state restrictions on March 31, 2020.


A sign outside of BWI airport in Baltimore, Maryland, alerts travellers to state restrictions on March 31, 2020.

Source: Business Insider

With domestic travel on the rise, hotels and short-term rentals introduced cleaning measures to assuage traveller safety concerns.



a bedroom with a bed and a chair in a room: A hotel employee disinfects a Pera Palace Hotel guest room on July 4, 2020 in Istanbul, Turkey.


A hotel employee disinfects a Pera Palace Hotel guest room on July 4, 2020 in Istanbul, Turkey.

Source: Business Insider

Popular tourism destinations that had previously shut down, like the Las Vegas Strip, reopened with social distancing measures in place.



a person holding a teddy bear: Vlogger Chris Avila records with two showgirls at Flamingo Las Vegas on the Las Vegas Strip on June 4, 2020.


Vlogger Chris Avila records with two showgirls at Flamingo Las Vegas on the Las Vegas Strip on June 4, 2020.

Source: Business Insider

Disney resorts around the world reopened between May and July, starting with Shanghai. The resorts implemented safety measures such as park reservations and mandatory face masks.



a group of people standing in front of a building: Guests sit rows apart on the Splash Mountain ride in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida on July 11, 2020.


Guests sit rows apart on the Splash Mountain ride in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida on July 11, 2020.

Source: The Washington Post

Airlines and airports also began introducing new safety measures, such as blocking off every other seat on planes and in lounges.



Social distancing signs are placed on chairs inside John F. Kennedy International Airport on November 7, 2020 in New York City.


Social distancing signs are placed on chairs inside John F. Kennedy International Airport on November 7, 2020 in New York City.

Source: Business Insider

Australian airline Quantas introduced a 7-hour scenic “flight to nowhere” over the Outback and Great Barrief Reef in September and reinstated its 12-hour scenic flight over Antarctica. Both flights take off and land in Australia.



a man and a woman taking a selfie in a room: Passengers onboard a Qantas aerial tour fly over Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park on October 10, 2020 in Australia.


Passengers onboard a Qantas aerial tour fly over Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park on October 10, 2020 in Australia.

Source: Insider

Some cities, like Wuhan, have returned to pre-pandemic social gathering numbers. Wuhan hasn’t reported a case of COVID-19 since May 10.



a group of people on a stage in front of a crowd: A man crosses an empty highway on February 3, 2020 in Wuhan, China.


A man crosses an empty highway on February 3, 2020 in Wuhan, China.

Source: Insider

Other destinations have instituted second lockdowns due to a rise in cases. Britain is currently on lockdown until February, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced this week.



a group of people that are standing in the street: Police officers scuffle with revelers after pub closing time in Leeds, England, on November 4, 2020, on the eve of the country's second lockdown.


Police officers scuffle with revelers after pub closing time in Leeds, England, on November 4, 2020, on the eve of the country’s second lockdown.

Source: Business Insider

As of December 2020, 70% of worldwide destinations had eased travel restrictions according to UNWTO, but closures have taken a toll on the industry. With no-sail orders still in effect, many cruise lines have chosen to partially dismantle their fleet to save money.



A drone image shows decommissioned cruise ships being dismantled at Aliaga ship-breaking yard in the port city of Izmir, Turkey, on October 2, 2020.


A drone image shows decommissioned cruise ships being dismantled at Aliaga ship-breaking yard in the port city of Izmir, Turkey, on October 2, 2020.

Source: Insider

The UNWTO found that 900 million fewer people travelled in 2020 than in 2019. Though the emergence of COVID-19 vaccines has offered a glimmer of hope for the industry, UNWTO estimates that full recovery will take years.



A sign saying that 'the Eiffel Tower is closed until further notice' is displayed in front of the iconic Paris, France, attraction on January 8, 2021.


A sign saying that ‘the Eiffel Tower is closed until further notice’ is displayed in front of the iconic Paris, France, attraction on January 8, 2021.

Source: UNWTO


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