Tourists stand in front of the Taj Mahal in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India.

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, no sector in the economy has been hit harder than the travel industry. Following rolling global lockdowns through last spring, and resulting border closures and travel bans, both tourism and business travel was at a virtual standstill, with an estimated 98% drop in the number of international tourists when compared with the previous year, according to the World Tourism Organization.


Still, the summer was seen as a crucial indicator of both short and long-term prospects for the travel industry. Throughout the world, many made sure not to miss their summer holiday, but there are signs that people are traveling differently, with many preferring to wait until the last minute to book their tickets, choosing reimbursable options, or foregoing international travel altogether to avoid any possible closures or quarantines.

While it's unclear whether these travel trends will last longer than the pandemic itself, here are some examples of sectors inside the global travel industry that are witnessing big changes:


Language Learning In France — In France, foreign language study abroad programs have been struggling to adapt to the pandemic, with an estimated loss of 70-80% in turnover since March, according to Le Monde. "At the beginning of March, almost overnight, everything stopped," recalled Gérald Soubeyran, director of Effective Linguistics.

• Many French students tend to travel abroad to English-speaking countries like Britain, Ireland or the United States, to improve their language skills. However, with border closures, quarantines, slowed air traffic and closed language schools, not to mention those struck by the coronavirus itself, business has virtually ground to a halt.

• Director of the organization Route des Langues, Laurent Pasquet notes that "Even when it was possible to leave for certain destinations, there was a strong psychological effect. Faced with so many uncertainties, families did not want to send their children abroad."

• Anglais In France, which connects French students with native English speakers currently living in France, has seen interest grow since the onset of the virus. According to program manager Jennifer Laur, this is because of the program's ability to teach students away from home in a way that is "reassuring" for their parents.

glamping_uk_inside

A couple takes advantage of an oportunity to "glamp" in a nature reserve in the UK Elmley Nature Reserve


Glamping In UK — While the virus has frozen travel to many cities and metropolitan areas that were once sought-out travel destinations, the countryside made a comeback in the UK this summer.

In a country that can never seem to make its mind up on whether or not to quarantine, making travel plans abroad is a gamble for British nationals. Because domestic travel is the best way to avoid a two-week quarantine or being stranded on the wrong side of a border closure, many new and unusual rural opportunities are opening up across the UK:

• From "glamping," a play on the words "glamourous' and "camping," with a hot tub and alpaca, to a vast selection of yurts and teepees on the beach, or a small cabin in a National Nature Reserve.

• The trend has even opened up opportunities for farmers and rural landowners who were anticipating a hard year due to the removal of EU agricultural subsidies and an expected economic downturn to open up their land for camping, glamping and more.

• As Simon Foster, director of tourism, told The Guardian, "People are looking for somewhere safe, secure, secluded, where they can hunker down for a week, rather than staying in a big resort or a big caravan park or hotel."


Monumental Reopenings In India — How can you shut down one of the seven wonders of the world? Well that's what happened when the Taj Mahal was closed indefinitely to the public in mid-March amid the nationwide lockdowns in India to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus. The Taj Mahal and neighboring monuments are now set to re-open mid-September, but that doesn't mean tourism in the region will return as normal.

• All visitors will be screened and sanitized before entering monuments, tickets will be online purchase only, visitors will be required to wear masks and the visitor limit will be set at 2,000 people per day, The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) stated.

• According to the Indian daily Hindustan Times, the hospitality industry is also anticipating the return of tourism. Beyond exchanging handshakes for namastes, guests will also have to sign a declaration that they are not infected with the COVID.

• New innovations to the industry include thermal temperature guns, UV sanitizer boxes available for each guest to sanitize their belongings, special floor mats to clean and disinfect shoes, full protective gear for housekeepers and even security gates with ionizers to kill the virus on the hair of guests.

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Society

Oui-Haw! American Country Music Has Global Appeal

Some might ask: Why is there such a thing as International Country Music Day? Turns out the American musical genre has pockets of popularity around the world, from twanging sounds in Japan to South Africa to line dancing in France.

Japanese cover of a Dolly Parton album

PARIS — To the rest of the world, there may be nothing more American than singers with acoustic guitars crooning about beer, trucks and Southern living. But the longstanding genre has had surprising relevance faraway countries. Academic papers have even been penned on why these cultural symbols — so specific to the Yankee experience — have such global appeal.

The examples abound of the traveling power of this popular music genre that blends folk, blues slavery-era spirituals and Southern gospel. One famous story recounts that during his time as a political prisoner, South Africa's Nelson Mandela was allowed to play one song over the loudspeakers. What tune did he pick? The Dolly Parton classic "Jolene," in which the Tennessee icon pleads with another woman not to take her man.

Tokyo Sexwale, a fellow freedom fighter in the cell next to Mandela, told the podcast "Dolly Parton's America" that the choice was somehow perfectly natural: "We are all human beings. The jailed and the jailer. But we all come from one country, but we all don't want to lose. Whether it's a man or your country, nobody wants to be hurt. Don't hurt me."

With this theme of art's ability to transcend geographic boundaries in mind (and to mark International Country Music Day, here's a swinging tour of country music's worldwide influence.

Africa: Classic Country Imports And Kenya's Own Elvis

Nigerian country music singer-songwriter Ogak Jay Oke — Photo: Mgbo
  • Back in 2007, NPR reported about the popularity of country music in Nairobi, Kenya — particularly Dolly Parton and Texan singer-songwriter Kenny Rogers, who received extensive television and radio play. Reporter Gwen Thompkins highlighted how, despite cultural differences, Kenyans found strength and a common ground in songs about agriculture-based economies facing societal and political challenges. As Henry Makhoka, the head of programming at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, told Thompkins: "Most of the country music we play talks about country life, talks about the farm life and so on. That kind of environment was abundantly available where I was born."
  • In fact, country music has been popular in Africa since the 1950s, with local artists across the continent interpreting the genre's musical and thematic elements (see Ivory Coast duo Jess Sah Bi & Peter One and Nigerian country-disco pioneer Emma Ogosi). Many harken back to country music's roots; the banjo was in fact an instrument brought to the Americas by African slaves.
  • Currently, one of the biggest country stars is Elvis Othieno (a.k.a. Sir Elvis), who grew up in a country music-loving household and was inspired by Garth Brooks and Hank Williams. Originally from Kenya, Sir Levis has performed around the world — he started his first country band while living in Norway — and is part of a generation of African country stars that also includes newcomers Esther Konkara and Ogak Jay Oke, who hails from Nigeria.

Asia: A John Denver Classic Hits Home

John Denver in 1975 — Photo: Wikimedia Commons
  • Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli is known for its rich depictions of Japanese culture and mythology, so it's somewhat surprising that the 1995 animated film Whisper of the Heart centers around a country song: John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads." Denver's ode to West Virginia is a unique fit in the coming of age story about the stress of urban life in Tokyo, but Studio Ghibli is far from the first to adapt "Country Roads" to a foreign audience.
  • The song has been covered by over 150 artists (from Olivia Newton-John to Hiwain singer Israel Kamakawiwo'ole) in at least 19 different languages, from Hindi to Greek to Hebrew, often changing the lyrics to be about the singer's homeland. Researchers in 2009 found that it was the most popular American song among college students in China. (Denver was in fact one of the first American artists to tour modern China in 1985 and his music was played widely on Armed Forces Radio in countries like Philippines, Korea and Vietnam where the U.S. had an important military presence.)
  • This ode to the Appalachian Mountains also has a special meaning for many who came to the U.S. searching for the American Dream. As Jason Jeong wrote in the Atlantic, many Asian-American immigrants see the song as both "an ode to an uncomplicated vision of the United States" and "a melancholic reminder of leaving a place they called home, and everything lost to the promise of a better life."

France: Translating Country Sounds — And Dance Moves

Linedancing in France — Photo: Country-France Facebook page
  • France, a country proud of both its language and cultural output, has a long history of rock stars pillaging country standards, often completely changing the songs' meanings: from American-French singer Joe Dassin changing "City of New Orleans" into "Salut les amoureux" ("Hello Lovers") to "Five Hundred Miles Away From Home" by Bobby Bare somehow becaming Richard Anthony's "J'entends siffler le train" ("I Hear the Train Whistle").
  • Whether it's creative liberty or cross-cultural miscommunication, this trend has been popular since the days of big '60s household names like Johnny Hallyday to Eddy Mitchell to Hugues Aufray. The result usually infuses the French ennui of the "everyday man" into these American classics.
  • Line dancing has also become somewhat of a phenomenon in France, with clubs around the country (especially in more rural areas) featuring dancers who dress the part in cowboy hats and boots. According to weekly news magazine L'Express, some 4 million people — nearly 9% of the French population over 18 — have tried country-style dances.



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