A slew of measures put in place around the world to contain the current coronavirus outbreak has placed a large portion of the world’s population under what is effectively house arrest. These lockdowns have given us enough time to contemplate all the various possible futures that lie ahead of us after the pandemic. It is almost certain that large numbers of people will be released from quarantine only to be greeted by unemployment as businesses continue to collapse quietly in the background of this crisis.
Employees are not the only ones who are concerned about the future. Current and prospective business owners would like to know what the world we are heading towards will look like. The good thing is that we can never run out of people who believe that they can predict the future—some people have built entire careers on this claim. This article is dedicated to just a few of these educated guessers who are currently informing us on how the business (and economic) landscapes of the world will look like after we have managed to stamp out COVID-19.
Increased adoption of e-commerce
While internet shopping has traditionally been fuelled by the need for convenience with it seeing greater adoption in developed countries while in developing countries, the interest is underwhelming even when the low internet penetration rates are accounted for. However, in the past few months, online shopping has been transformed from a mere convenience to a necessity. Some like Bernard Marr, a Forbes contributor, even believe that the increased usage of online shopping will outlive not only the current lockdown measures but the pandemic itself.
Embracement of contactless payments
Mr Marr continues to opine that since the virus is also spread on surfaces, people will become more reluctant to touch surfaces that have been touched by many other people. These include the card payment and ATM terminals which require the physical entry of information such as PINs. One of the ways that people can use to avoid touching these unsanitary input devices is through the adoption of mobile phones for payments. While in other countries such systems will require increased adoption of services that have not seen much wider use in the past, Zimbabweans have already embraced mobile payment services due to the government’s reluctance to print sufficient physical money due to the fear of toppling an already precarious economy.
Increased use of teleconferencing technology
Remote conferencing technologies which have seen slow adoption, even in the developed world, have been practically force-fed to us in these last few months. People are being forced to use video conferencing services, some for the first time in their lives. These applications range from simple online lessons, through business meetings to online conferences attended by hundreds if not thousands of participants. Right now religious sermons are being streamed live to congregants across the internet. Many predict that the hotels usually used by travelling executives will not only be the biggest losers during this epidemic but will continue to see lower numbers of visitors after as many will have discovered during this difficult period that they do not need to travel halfway across the world to attend meetings in person. Joining hotels and other hospitality providers in their loss of business will be airlines.
Marshall Auerbach of Counterpunch sees a bleak future for international cooperation especially concerning refugees and national borders. He predicts that countries will strengthen their borders and become unwelcoming to foreigners even those from within the same economic or trade blocs. This means that even countries which earn significant portions of their GDP from tourism will continue to be cautious and less welcoming to tourists until the virus is under control.
The tourism, hospitality and transport industries will be some of the hardest hit. Even as we speak Bulawayo’s first recorded COVID-19 death’s infection was traced back to what is largely a tourist facility in Hwange.
A boom in business for the likes of Airbnb?
As hotels haemorrhage guest numbers, Kelly Robb writing for the Revinate website (a guest data platform for hotels) predicts an increase in the use of services such as Airbnb. She suggests that travellers will be looking to reduce the amount of contact they have with other people. Of course, this assumes a near future where the coronavirus’ spread has been stifled but the risk of contracting it is still high. Given such a future I would then add my similar prediction that in Zimbabwe, people will also prefer lodges to hotels (for the same reason).
A surge in global growth
In one of the boldest and most optimistic predictions outside of religious sessions, Rich Karlsgaard of Forbes promises among other things higher global economic growth. He attributes this predicted growth to a release in pent-up demand after new vaccines power a global recovery. He also suggests that global travel would have fully recovered as people go back to travelling and convening.
Amidst all these predictions of a “Skype” culture, he suggests that the world will not change much when it comes to how we interact. He argues that the need to travel and convene with others is part of human nature. According to him once we are free to do so, we will be back to attending those meetings, events and conferences in large numbers as ever.
Companies will fall in love with remote workers
After some tech companies were forced to use remote workers during the outbreak, Debbie Levitt writing for CMS Wire predicts that most of them will be able to appreciate the lower costs and increased productivity associated with these types of workers. This may encourage some of these companies to go on to use more remote workers than they did before the pandemic.
In most of these predictions, each of the authors is working under his or her assumption of how long the outbreak will last. The duration of the pandemic may have dire consequences for how entire industries operate. While the likes of Bill Gates are predicting that the earliest possible time that a vaccine will be available is late next year, we are still observing and assessing the effectiveness of the lockdowns that several countries are currently under. Who knows, we may manage this virus using just these.