Six sectors likely to change following global health crisis

Shaimaa Raafat
28 Min Read

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has caused unimaginable changes in all walks of life, from how we work, to how we shop, even to how we socialise.

Humans have had to live vastly different lives since the pandemic first tightened its grip on the world, and it has caused innumerable changes to how the world works. Aside from grappling with the economic and health fall-outs of the coronavirus, we have had to undertake many changes in our day-to-day activities.

Altering how we watch films

Film theatres were among those most affected by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, suffering from a year of dismal ticket sales and closures.

Roughly two-thirds of theatres remain shut in the world’s largest film markets of the US and Canada. Box office receipts in 2020 plunged 80% from a year earlier, with the timing of any rebound still uncertain. The debut dates of several blockbuster films could still change, with many already having had to change these dates several times.  

According to experts, films’ fans have an emotional and sentimental attachment to the cinema that started in childhood, and it is this segment that is predicted to flood back to cinemas as soon as it is deemed safe to do so.

CJ Bangah, a Principle at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), was quoted as saying that “cinema has taken a big hit this year, and we’re not forecasting revenues to recover to pre-pandemic levels until post-2024″.

According to the experts the COVID-19 pandemic has simply accelerated changes that were already happening in the entertainment industry, as cinema chains were competing for consumer attention.

The rising popularity of Netflix and other online streaming sites, and their resistance to observing the “theatrical window”, the period during which films are exclusively available in bricks-and-mortar cinemas, was already pressuring the sector.

International studios had become more risk-averse about the kinds of films made, relying more heavily on blockbusters and franchises and the teenage audience that attends them in droves.

Egyptian director Ehab Moustafa told Daily News Egypt that the film industry was badly affected during the coronavirus pandemic, while the TV series were not quite as affected.

He said that the nature of the advertisements has also changed during the pandemic. Due to the obvious pandemic-related health concerns, advertisements have lately been focused on health issues and psychological awareness.

Speaking about the upcoming Ramadan season, Moustafa confirmed that despite the small number of series that will compete this year, “we will witness series with higher productivity, budget and quality”.

He added that, during the pandemic, many people changed their lifestyles, and accordingly TV series ideas will also change to reflect this.

On the other hand, the pandemic has positively increased the rates of online streaming. Even before the pandemic, smaller, independent films were increasingly being financed and shown on streaming services, and that trend is expected to continue.

Moustafa pointed out that the only beneficiary from the pandemic were online platforms. The subscriptions on video streaming providers increased greatly, which resulted in a change in the productivity of the series.

“We started to witness new series consisting of only six episodes, which in my opinion will be the future of the television series,” Moustafa said, “The concept of a 30 episode series will definitely change.”

After cinema trips had previously been a great social outing for many youngsters, in the post-coronavirus period going to the cinemas has now become a leisure activity accompanied by great caution, he added.

Moustafa also expects that by the end of the coronavirus crisis, people will return to the cinemas, but in lesser numbers. He explained that the rate of ticket sales in 2022 may decrease to half of what it was in 2018.

He also confirmed that the COVID-19 crisis has played a great role in the prosperity of electronic streaming platforms, which allowed them to be able to upload new items in a short time. This could result in films being screened for four months in cinemas, before being uploaded online.

Some experts note that entertainment providers have to continually figure out ways to delight consumers, meaning they are willing to pay for the delivery of content and services. In turn, and to attract audiences, cinemas will have to reduce tickets prices and hold seminars with actors and actresses in films shown at cinemas, in addition to holding competitions, Moustafa said.

Meanwhile, others expect that the basic business will remain the same post-pandemic. These experts pointed out that auteurs will show their films at festivals, where they may or may not find theatres willing to exhibit them.

In their opinion, the studios will continue to make big events for films, and the remaining medium-budget films, the rom-coms, dramas, and family fare, will quite naturally gravitate to the streamers.

Culture affects commitment to precautionary measures

The US-based National Center for Biotechnology Information recently published a study examining the role of the cultural dimension in practising social distancing across the world.

With the COVID-19 pandemic threatening millions of lives, changing our behaviours and including social distancing to prevent the spread of the disease is a crucial and timely action.

The recent studies emphasised that the only thing that humans can do to stop the pandemic is by changing their behaviours. Therefore, people around the world will need to adhere to lockdowns and social distancing measures. With this in mind, however, cultural factors affect people’s commitment to the preventive measures against the coronavirus.

Even in this global pandemic, each country has its response. For example, Asian countries, including Vietnam and Japan, chose to lock down the national economy as well as apply strict quarantine at the beginning of the outbreak. In contrast, the US has long been criticised, both inside and outside the country, for overlooking the pandemic’s severity.

The study used the cultural dimension to examine the differences in human behaviours across the world, finding that only one factor matters most which is the Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI).

The Uncertainty Avoidance dimension expresses the degree to which the members of a society feel uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. The study explained that the higher avoidance in uncertainty, the lower gathering in public.

Moreover, the study asserted that the rational information process, not emotional responses, despite the evidence, mainly drives human behaviours.

However, it explained that the actions taken by different governments to apply social distancing are quite different, which implies that there might be cultural differences in their decision-making across countries.

The study explained that human behaviours are mainly based on what they perceive others in the community are doing or disapprove of, confirming that the roles of culture as well as social norms heterogeneously drive human behaviours.

For instance, while the Asian countries have applied strict and punishable rules on social distancing as the tight cultures, European countries are likely to lose culture in recommending people to stay at home.

Those examples indicate that tight culture is associated with natural disasters, invasions, population density, and pathogen outbreaks. Therefore, these countries will form the group to coordinate as well as collaborate to keep people together during a crisis. In contrast, the loose culture will prioritize the privacy as well as freedom of individualism.

Furthermore, the study pointed out that human decision-making during a pandemic involves uncertainty because people tend to avoid the uncertainties if they perceive higher risk. In addition, those who are risk-averse might commit to social distancing.

The study also found that people around the world tend to reduce their gathering in the transit stations such as the airport and the retail area.

The workplace is the place where people are less likely to reduce their working gathering, although many governments are calling for working from home. Parks and grocery places have similar patterns in mitigating human interactions.

Will distance learning replace school?

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in worldwide school closures, leaving more than 1.2 billion children in 186 countries affected. To overcome these problems many countries have adopted distance education systems.

Even before COVID-19, there was already high growth and adoption in education technology, with global edtech investments reaching $18.66bn in 2019. The overall market for online education is projected to reach $350bn by 2025.

Whether it is language apps, virtual tutoring, video conferencing tools, or online learning software, there has been a significant surge in usage since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some, however, believe that the unplanned and rapid move to online learning, with no training, insufficient bandwidth, and little preparation, will result in a poor user experience that is unconducive to sustained growth.

Others believe that a new hybrid model of education will emerge, with significant benefits, explaining that the integration of information technology in education will be further accelerated. Online education will eventually become an integral component of school education.

There are, however, challenges to overcome. Some students without reliable internet access or technology struggle to participate in digital learning, this gap is seen across countries and between income brackets within countries.

The experts also explained that the effectiveness of online learning varies amongst age groups. It confirms that the general consensus regarding particularly younger children, is that they require a structured environment, because children are more easily distracted.

In order to get the full benefit of online learning, they asserted the need to provide a structured environment and go beyond replicating physical classes through video capabilities. Instead, there needs to be a range of collaboration tools and engagement methods that promote inclusion, personalisation, and intelligence.

Secondary school teacher Mostafa Abdallah told Daily News Egypt that unfortunately, most of the students are accustomed to actual communication with the teacher, so they face difficulties in the distance learning system.

“There are some students, however, who have the ability to search, investigate, and deduce information on their own, and it is this segment of students that achieve the most benefit from distance learning,” he explained.

Abdallah asserted that in both cases, only students in secondary schools and colleges can adapt to the distance learning system, while students in early stages of education will not be able to focus during the session held using virtual technologies.

He has also emphasised that, in the future, in order to achieve the maximum benefit from learning, a hybrid education programme must be adapted. This will ensure that actual learning and distance learning are merged together, so that students have to be in the school for at least two or three days per week to practice the lessons they took online.

Abdallah also confirmed that the distance learning system had succeeded in making students depend on their ability to search for information themselves. This would cancel out the idea that students must memorise their curricula to pass the exams.

Meanwhile, the majority of people anticipate that schools will return to normal spacing and density by the end of 2021, while others have predicted that the COVID-19 crisis will impact the design of schools and colleges.

This means that there will be less focus on the cosmetic appearance of the exterior, and more focus on the functionality of the internal spaces.

According to them, the interiors will also be designed with more flexibility in mind, using elements like folding walls to offer multi-purpose spaces, as well as moveable furniture and portable dividers that double up as book cases, for example.

As with many other building designs, touchless bathrooms and contactless access to all rooms would also be employed on a wider scale.

Increasing focus on clean spaces

British architecture and interior design studio, The Manser Practice, has issued a report explaining how hotels could be adapted to allow social distancing when they reopen. It also went in-depth into how future designs will be impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the report, the post-pandemic hotels will have no receptionists but will instead adopt touchless access, one-way systems, and larger rooms with inbuilt gyms.

The coronavirus could also lead to a rejection of Airbnb options, the death of hotel conferencing, the return to favour of the paternoster lift, as well as the construction of custom-built, self-contained isolation hotel rooms.

Just like most other industries, the hospitality industry will be at the forefront of having to ensure that they are adhering to the highest levels of cleanliness and taking sanitation seriously. This could lead people to move away from private rental services, like Airbnb, in favour of larger hotel chains.

Rental services have no guarantee that interiors have been properly cleaned since the last use, this gives an advantage to the hotel industry and particularly, one suspected, to the big international brands, said The Manser Practice CEO Jonathan Manser.

Technologies that can help hotels deal with the COVID and post-COVID world will be prioritised. He added that hotels will be adapted to minimise the interaction between staff and guests, with receptionists replaced by touchless check-in with temperature checks, while doors will be opened using a smartphone.

He asserted that the hotel may, in future, use an app that could instead give guests touchless access to their rooms, as well as access to delivery hatches and other hotel amenities.

“Using smart technologies to minimise the number of touchpoints between entry and the hotel room will put guests more at ease about potentially contaminated surfaces,” he added.

Mobile applications like Staymyway will help people to make a digital check-in. 

It allows the hotel guests to go directly to their rooms, skipping the line at the reception desk, access the hotel, spa, and other hotel services from their mobile device.

Manser foresees larger hotel rooms with space to exercise, as well as delivery hatches aimed at reducing the need to visit restaurants and for other staff to enter rooms.

On a longer time scale, Manser believes that the coronavirus will impact how space is allocated in hotels. Greater priority will be placed on spacious rooms and a reduction in facilities like conference rooms and gyms.

He explained that the hotels may provide bigger guest rooms to allow more space for in-room work rather than people risking using the shared spaces with other guests.

“Similarly, gyms full of sweaty fellow guests might now not seem as attractive as an in-room exercise space,” he continued, “Rooms could be extended with oriel windows containing bikes, yoga spaces, and the like, allowing exercise with panoramic views and ‘activating’ what are often bland hotel elevations.”

For restaurants, the experts predicted that coronavirus will lead to a rise in escapist restaurant interiors, while physical menus, cash payments and buffets will largely be abandoned, according to a trends report by Dubai-based studio Roar.

The experts say that the restaurants may tend in the future to embrace simple lines, strict geometries and modern materials, rejecting any ornamentation such as intricately carved wooden furniture that collect dangerous microbes.

The forecast suggests that people will see more open kitchens after the pandemic, as they promote “transparency”. Surfaces built or clad in anti-microbial materials will also “be a given”.

Artistic exhibitions forced online to avoid cancellation

The year 2020 has been a time of crisis, innovation, anxiety, and introspection for all businesses. Cultural and creative sectors are among the most affected by the current COVID-19 crisis, and museums were no exception.

At the beginning of the pandemic, artistic exhibitions were cancelled and museums around the world closed their doors. Large galleries in cities with reliable international tourism found travel bans nearly ruinous to their business models.

In the absence of visitors on-site, many museums have looked to engage people online. Nearly every museum around the world has upped its digital offerings with online exhibits, curator video chats, and virtual kids’ activities.

Some experts believe that the pandemic and lockdown have given the art world an opportunity to dive deeper into virtual content and reimagine curation. Others, however, think that electronic galleries cannot replace actual galleries, because actual galleries have the highest value.

Some experts had also predicted that although digital initiatives are keeping museums in the public eye and potentially connecting them to new audiences, the homogenising effect of social media means museums risk losing much of what vitally distinguishes the experience of a visiting a museum to that of other leisure activities, including going to a theme park or even cinema.

Meanwhile, the artistic exhibitions was the most affected sector during the coronavirus crisis, as those exhibitions are likely to be cross-border events with a lot of people gathering together.

Many international exhibitions were forced to be halted while the other exhibitions were held using virtual technology.

Young Cartoonist Omer Mostafa told Daily News Egypt that during the coronavirus pandemic the international exhibitions were left with only two options – either to be held online or to be cancelled.

Mostafa said that virtual international exhibitions have asked their participants to send their art  works by emails, while competitions which used to require its participants to submit their original art works by mail, were the most affected due to the halting of air traffic.

He added that at the beginning of the pandemic, many exhibitions were forced to halt their events. As the world is currently trying to coexist with the pandemic, many exhibitions were held while applying the preventive measures against the coronavirus.

He added that at the beginning of the pandemic many plastic art exhibitions which used to be organized in closed halls were suspended. He asserted that sales for paintings have also dropped, as people were afraid of how the pandemic will affect their economic condition.

Furthermore, Mostafa confirmed that after a while, special exhibitions were held, but without opening ceremonies, in order to reduce gatherings. He pointed out that galleries tend to open exhibitions throughout the day rather than allocating specific times for opening.

“I think the world’s only choice is to coexist with pandemic and the artistic exhibitions will return as it was” expected he, asserting that there is a wide difference between watching artistic galleries on digital screens and watching in actual galleries.

Will VR be the only option for international travel?

Plans for international trips in 2020 were brought to an abrupt halt by the coronavirus pandemic. Around the world, once-crowded tourism sites lay dormant, with hotels empty, and not a tourist in sight.

In October 2020, a report by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said that international traffic had all but disappeared, with airlines working at only about 10% of normal levels. Trying to attract visitors, tourism boards, hotels, and destinations have turned to virtual reality (VR).  This measure which began as a temporary solution may now be a long-term tool.

Ralph Hollister, tourism analyst at Global Data, said, “The further this pandemic goes on for, the higher the chance that VR may become a valid form of alternative travel as consumers get more used to this technology.”

Some experts, including Miguel Flecha, a Madrid-based travel and hospitality expert for the multinational consulting firm Accenture, believe that the benefits of VR in travel might be felt much sooner.

He thinks that as the restrictions ease in the next few months, VR will be a vital tool in helping familiarise travellers with a new environment and help slowly rebuild consumer confidence.

“As we start to recover, there will be segments of the population that will be willing to travel like crazy,” Flecha says, “Younger people will be booking flights as soon as possible, but other segments of the population won’t be very comfortable.”

He explained that there are a number of limitations currently holding VR technology back, including large, unwieldy headsets and high costs.

Flecha confirmed that the most important limitation is that there has yet to be a trusted global brand to place its bets on VR, saying, “The industry needs to believe in the technology [for it to succeed].”

Meanwhile, Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky, asserted that the travel and tourism industries will be changed forever by the coronavirus pandemic, with less focus on major tourist destinations.

“Travel as we knew it is over,” Chesky told American news channel CNBC during an interview with Deirdre Bosa, “It doesn’t mean travel is over, just the travel we knew is over, and it’s never coming back.”

Chesky, who founded the online holiday rental service with Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk in 2008, explained how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted the business when he made several predictions about the future of travel.

He believes that after the pandemic subsides, people will travel less to major tourist cities and will instead choose to visit less well-known destinations.

“I do think that instead of the world population travelling to only a few cities and staying in big tourist districts, I think you’re going to see a redistribution of where people travel,” he said.

Although the company was impacted heavily by the pandemic and the subsequent travel bans and lockdowns imposed by many countries, Chesky believes that travel for tourism will return, albeit in a different form from before the pandemic.

“We spent 12 years building the Airbnb business and lost almost all of it in a matter of four to six weeks,” he said, “I think that travel is going to come back, it’s just going to take a lot longer than we would have thought, and it’s going to be different.”

Architects and designers have been trying to predict how the pandemic and the need for social distancing will impact different types of building. In the UK, The Manser Practice envisioned the post-pandemic hotel and also suggested that an increased focus on cleanliness may lead to the death of rental services like Airbnb.

Manser was quoted as saying that “people will want the assurance of properly maintained, clean space”.

He expects that the world could see the demise of the Airbnb model as consumers move towards assured cleanliness.

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