This past year has brought a lot of changes to our lives, from lockdown life to trawling for toilet paper, things have very much been like a group-experienced episode of the Twilight Zone. As the first anniversary of the pandemic looms over our heads, we thought we’d take a look at some things that truly disappeared due to COVID-19, and discuss which ones may or may not be back in the future.
The number one payment method when it comes to helping small businesses is cash and the worst method when it comes to trying to buy a new e-book for your kindle. Although many of us have been operating on a contact-free system since the start of March 2020, it may not surprise you to learn that both notes and coins have been sliding in popularity for a number of years. The use of physical money in the UK decreased by more than 15% between 2010 and 2019 alone, and with the next generation focussed on cryptocurrencies over coins, it may feel like physical money is on its last legs in society as a whole. In fact, according to UKFinance.org over half of all payments in the UK were made using debit or credit cards in 2019, even before the pandemic shuttered the high street and made Amazon the company more famous than the Amazon rainforest.
As we rise further into 2021, it may seem like physical money could soon be a thing of the past but if you take a closer look at the long-lived relationship we have developed with notes and coins you may find that it’s a bit premature to predict we will be a purely digital nation in a few years time.
Cash is fast, reliable and convenient
There is a reason that humans have relied on currency for thousands of years. It’s quick, efficient and anonymous. You don’t need to tell your bank you’re buying that burger, and you don’t need to remember a pin or a password to request extra pickles with your purchase.
Even if you’re paying in cash to avoid a strongly worded conversation about “diets” when your significant other checks your joint statements online, paying with cash does give a sense of privacy that no other payment method does. And although the argument of cryptocurrencies could be waved as another anonymous way to pay, the young payment system is in a constant state of flux and not always offered as a choice of payment at retailers.
Cash is yours and yours alone
Kids nowadays may not have piggy banks, but many adults do, even if they aren’t swine shaped. People store up cash for emergencies, something only they know about in case of a rainy day, or a rainy month. People also just tend to trust cash more. Banks have been known to take out fees and charges, which can label them as untrustworthy, but your sock drawer isn’t going to demand a 2% ownership fee for keeping your money safe.
Cash is also easier spent than a debit card. The phrase “burning a hole in your pocket” wasn’t invented for nothing after all. When you know you have £20 in your pocket, and that burger is £4.50, £4.80 if you add extra pickles, then suddenly all you can think about is breaking that £20 and getting that burger. Plastic, on the other hand, feels meaningless and you feel yourself bargaining your potential purchase before you even get to the cash register. How much money do I actually have on that card? Should I really be buying that burger? Shouldn’t I really be continuing my jog and running home to shower and finish my protein shake?
When it comes to cash, there just aren’t equal alternatives
Lest we forget after a long year without travel, the world is vast and not everything needs to be bought online. For every purchase that someone makes with a Sainsbury click and collect, there is a greengrocer or a market stall selling fresh fruits and vegetables “for a pound” with an emphasis on the “ow” sound.
If you frequent local markets or visit farmers for fresh eggs, you know that they would probably take coins over cards any day of the week. They may even give you a slight “tsk” or a deep sigh if they see you reach for that piece of plastic or your phone to make an “app payment.” This brings the point, instead of cheerleading or hand wringing about the phrase “cashless society,” people should be examining the trends that are causing cash to be used less.
It is most likely that in the future, more of us will turn to credit cards over cash for the big expenditures in life, but we’ll also probably still have coins rattling around in our gloveboxes for a stick of gum, or the odd tenner to spend at the local pub. And you can be certain as you hover that card over the machine for a contactless payment, someone around the world is pulling out their jangling change purse for some sort of purchase.
Live music events have been sadly missed around the world this past year after countless concerts, sold-out arenas and summer festivals were cancelled in the wake of the pandemic.
As the vaccine rollout continues to drive down cases both in the UK and many parts of Europe a lot of people are starting to hope that music options will soon be available beyond overplayed Spotify playlists and wistfully looking at severely outdated touring posters hanging off bus stops.
But the issue of returning to music halls may be more complex than at a first glance. Currently, France and Spain are trialling “mini-concerts” with limited capacity and social distancing in place. Two concerts of 1,000 healthy volunteers will be held at the 8,500-capacity Dôme de Marseille, in March and April, while Barcelona’s top music venue “Palau Sant Jordi” will hold a concert for 5,000 people later this month after no COVID-19 cases were reported at a “pilot-test” indoor concert of 500 in December without social distancing.
Some artists are feeling optimistic, Dua Lipa, Amy Shark and Bring Me The Horizon have all announced full capacity arena shows scheduled for autumn 2021. But while some US festivals have scheduled dates or announced lineups, few artists have dared announce US tours. Taylor Swift even had to tell her fans that her 2020 postponed “Lover Fest” tour would not be rescheduled as hoped due to the ongoing onslaught of the pandemic.
Some artists have been getting creative with “At Home” style concerts. NPR Music enlisted artists to record their own virtual performances under the famed “Tiny Desk (Home) Concerts” during the pandemic. Other musicians took matters into their own hands. Lady Gaga’s “One World: Together at Home” concert raised over $127M for coronavirus relief in April 2020. The eight-hour online show was featured on multiple networks, 59 countries around the world and on 12 different digital platforms. The concert included numerous performances by artists such as Adam Lambert, The Killers, Common, John Legend, Michael Bublé, Paul McCartney, Billie Eilish and Taylor Swift.
Let’s face it, buffets were a bad idea before anyone had even heard of COVID-19. To take a starving person to a place where they could eat literally anything often spells disaster when thirty minutes later they realise that perhaps piling high on bacon, broccoli, spare ribs, sushi and ice cream topped waffles weren’t the best combination of foods to choose from.
Add that to sharing tongs to grab whatever food happens to be in arms reach, close seating and cramped queuing as people try and push to the front of the line to grab one of a fresh batch of rotisserie chicken. Plus the piles of less popular food sitting around for hours under heat lamps, just waiting for an unsuspecting person with a lack of judgement to maybe try anything resembling shellfish.
If we’re completely honest the buffet is the physical embodiment of why we can’t have nice things. You have the opportunity to try endless styles of cuisine, sample small portions of foods you’ve never tried before and share food with friends and family at the table. It may even be a smart idea to select one person to get all the food for the table, just to see what kinds of tastes they have, or think we may have. But in reality, we go to a buffet for three reasons: possible starvation due to missing out on lunch, having that one friend who has the diet of a ten-year-old or wanting to eat somewhere with small children in tow that isn’t a McDonalds. And we always leave the same way; bloated, ashamed and desperately wishing we’d thought to bring a pack of Rennies.
Grubby handed toddlers and a lack of all-encompassing sneeze guards are two things standing in our way of achieving that year-long nostalgic open view smorgasbord. But restaurants haven’t been the only hard-hit section of the food buffet industry. The breakfast buffet has been an integral part of most hotel food operations for many a year. But now, with hotel rooms at shockingly low capacity and business travel on hiatus, that all-inclusive continental display is unusually barren of sharp tied businessmen sipping at tiny orange juice cups and nibbling at croissants over their morning (digital) copies of the financial times.
At the time of writing, there are four vaccinations that have been approved worldwide and we are starting to see some measure of light at the end of the tunnel. The problem is we’re still too far away to know if the light is coming from the sun, or from a headlight of a steadily increasing train with the words “New strains incoming” painted on the side. In the meantime, until science finds a way to create an automatic taser system for anyone that picks up a bread roll, sniffs it and puts it back down again, buffets are officially off the menu.
When we think of life getting back to normal, one thing that comes to mind is being able to be around a large group of people without suffering from virus-induced PTSD. One industry that’s more than keen to put 2020 behind them and move forward is the Casino business.
That has been no more prevalent than in Las Vegas where thousands of Nevada residents have taken to the strip in recent weeks after capacity restrictions were eased by the governor. Viral clips and photos online showcased punters standing shoulder to shoulder and milling around without masks inside the famed gambling halls, despite the endless regulatory signage about virus prevention plastered on walls behind them.
The issue of public safety over sports betting has been a bone of contention up and down the United States, as gamblers have grown tired of sitting at home and long to buck the odds with their couch cushion pandemic savings. In New York alone, public opinion shows 70% of residents want Casino expansion in the city and one NY mayoral candidate has even proposed opening a casino on an island in the Big Apple that is currently only accessible by ferry.
Photo: something like this Photo by Thomas Vimare on Unsplash Photo by Joseph Barrientos on Unsplash Photo by Andie Taran on Unsplash Photo by Robert on Unsplash
Caption: Or I suppose you could just swim?
Although public support is strong for the return of casinos, however, in some cases the rallying cry may be too little too late. Across Nevada, 13 casinos have remained closed one year after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, and in the heart of the Gambling Capital of the World, Las Vegas, at least two casinos have vowed to stay closed until the pandemic is largely over, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Even Europe is hearing angry murmurings from patrons and workers alike. In February Italian casino workers marched for casinos to reopen amid lost income. Italian unions have outlined that the prolonged closure of the gambling venues has impacted more than 150,000 people in the industry in that country alone, with more than 400,000 people in total affected by the closures. The protests united over 170 businesses impacted by COVID-19 restrictions, including betting shops, bingo halls, arcades, bars, and casino lounges.
Over in the UK, the mantra of testing, tracing and vaxxing has been the response to any requests to reopen. The UK vaccines minister has stated that any business wanting to reopen in the entertainment industry must have a rapid test system in place prior to being open to the public. Most venues have been unable to open since March 2020. However, industry bosses have queried whether using rapid tests would be practical, as the 30-minute wait time to confirm results would cause chaos and confusion to those that just wanted to have a flutter at their local bingo hall.
In response to comments made by the minister regarding rapid tracing, Sacha Lord, co-founder of Manchester’s Parklife Festival, said the events sector had been calling for on-site rapid testing for more than five months, and any further delay to implementing such initiatives would do “irreversible” damage to the UK’s cultural sector.
“My fear is that they take another five months to get moving, which the industry simply doesn’t have,” he said.
Business travel is as old as the concept of an economy. For as long as we have had the ability to trade, people have walked, carted, rode, ferried and driven various goods from town to town and beyond.
A much newer trend in society is sending salesmen around the globe to promote those goods. The process of moving products on planes, ships and trains relies on an army of marketers flying around the planet to endorse said products. But the way companies sell their products may be on the brink of change.
Will business travel ever really be needed again?
Business class tickets are a recent phenomenon. Airlines pitched it between first and economy class only in the late 1970s. If business class were a person, they would not even be close to retirement age just yet.
Business travel has grown a lot in the past 25 years due to the world becoming cheaper to traverse and more accessible to the work environment. Businessfolk go to conferences all over the world to see the latest trends in the marketplace or to pitch their own ideas. Or, at least they did until the first quarter of 2020.
The question is, with everything being conducted via Zoom, Slack, Trello and whatever other buzzword sounding app that no one had heard of in 2019, will business travel ever really be needed again?
That question is slightly more tricky to answer than at first glance. When the pandemic is reined under control again in a year to 18 months time there will definitely be less business travel. The technology of talking with international coworkers over the internet has greatly improved over the past few years and will probably continue to get better, even without the as-current necessity of it. But talking online only really scratches the surface of internal relations from branch to branch.
Likewise, it is much easier to get a client to buy your product if you are talking to them face to face. In-person relations can smooth over tensions that people may have, but don’t want to bring up online.
Business travel may become more elite over the coming years, sending only its highest-paid employees to business conventions and meeting with clients. But it will never truly go away. As we try and become more environmentally focused trips may take longer, or become more eco friendly, but ultimately while the economy still ticks, it needs its riders to fly out into the night to peddle its wares.