Well, this has all gotten pretty weird, wouldn’t you say? Global infections, mass germaphobia, daily fatality counts, universal lockdowns, acceptable paranoia (not just for lunatics and the high anymore!) and daily scoldings from our respective leaders. Remember when people were up in arms when it was announced they were postponing Major League Baseball by 2 weeks? Those were the days. With things developing so quickly, many people are already wondering exactly how the coronavirus will change the future of travel. Just as we completed our 10-day Rota Vicentina trek, the world seemed to fall apart and all our plans suddenly changed.
Of course, highly trained experts can barely tell us what to expect next week, let alone someone who, despite years of trying, has never completely understood when to use the word “esoteric”. As usual, however, that isn’t going to stop me from trying. Now, to be clear, don’t think I’m going to tell you the infectious peak date, or when a vaccine will be rolled out, or even why Trump invented pandemics in the first place. But based on what we’ve already seen in our recent travels I think it is possible to have an idea what travel may look like this summer, next winter, then in 2021 and beyond. Besides going everywhere by jetpack, I mean.
Big picture, our main goals should be to have a vaccine completed by next year, and to handle the inevitable mutated second wave quickly and effectively, rather than with the deadly incompetence displayed by some governments the first time around. Even if there is a vaccine, though, it probably won’t be available to everyone yet, and even if we do a better job on the second wave that doesn’t mean the new strain isn’t still a concern. Plus, there is always the threat of an entirely new virus, something people are now more aware of than ever before. So, with all this in mind, what should you expect?
How the Coronavirus Will Change the Future of Travel
1) Overall, Travel Will Be Down
People just aren’t going to be travelling as much. Barely at all this summer, maybe a little this fall, hopefully getting closer to normal next year, but it ‘s going to take some time. For anyone who got stuck abroad and weren’t sure if they were ever going to get home, or suffered through mandatory quarantine, or tried to contact an actual person at an airline, it is going to be awhile before the trauma wears off. Not to mention the number of destinations that will remain contagious or have become less desirable due to COVID-19 fallout, both medically and economically. It’s been decades since international travel as a whole was considered “risky”, but I think it’s safe to say those days are back.
2) Global Tourism
This crisis is going to be a crushing blow for many businesses in tourism. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, tourism contributed 319 million jobs in 2018 and I think a huge number of those jobs are going to disappear. Many small businesses and those that run narrow margins will be the first to go, while bigger companies may be able to survive by streamlining and laying off employees. We follow a lot of other travel bloggers and most are already discussing how much this situation is hurting traffic and decreasing their income. Nomadic Matt is one of the biggest travel blogs around and he has also written a good article on what he thinks about the future of travel. Many others are branching out into new topics to diversify their blog and avoid losing followers. It’s hard to say just how extensively the travel sector will contract but if there is ever a silver lining to recessions it’s that the companies that make it through are bound to be stronger and more efficient than they were before.
The only other positive I can think of for the tourism industry is that the travel agencies that manage to stay afloat will probably get a larger percentage of the travel business post-coronavirus. A lot of the travellers who have drifted away from using travel agents have just experienced a major logistical debacle and been reminded firsthand of why it is good to have a professional on your side when things go sideways. We haven’t had too many problems, personally, but that probably has more to do with our lack of an urgent timeline than anything we did well. But we certainly know of a lot of people who got stuck, stranded and ignored when flights and hotels started cancelling and companies were overwhelmed by change and refund requests. I think that when travel does start up again we’re going to see a lot of people going back to using travel agents. Let’s just hope the agencies can wait that long. If you’re looking, we know a pair of excellent ones: Jamie Angus Milton (email@example.com) at Uniglobe Carefree Travel and Tamara Graae (tamara@ixtapatravel) at Ixtapa Travel.
3) Coronavirus Travel Subsidies
These won’t be restricted to just the travel industry (somebody has to look out for all those poor, struggling professional sports owners). But it will be interesting to see just how much governments are willing or able to provide to get tourism businesses through this disaster. And will they actively encourage people to travel or continue to post cautionary travel advisories for basically everywhere? The decisions each country makes in this regard will go a long way toward shaping the future of travel in their region.
4) All-Inclusive Beach Holidays
One or two-week all-inclusive vacations to hot beach destinations in Mexico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic are wildly popular with Canadians. As strange as it sounds, jetting off to these foreign locales to gorge ourselves on food, booze and sun – judgement free! – is as much a part of our traditional winter culture as cross-country skiing or tricking kids into sticking their tongues to frozen poles. Obviously, this winter season has already been cut short and even under normal circumstances wouldn’t really get going again until November. So, how significantly the market for these essential mental health breaks is impacted next winter is anyone’s guess. What I am pretty sure about, though, is that there will need to be changes if they want to maintain guest confidence. How excited would people be about eating 3 (at a minimum) buffet meals per day right now? Shared facilities? Letting their kids roam wild 10 hours a day, with no idea where they are, what they are doing or who they are with? Ok, arguably, maybe that part’s not a great idea at the best of times. But you get my point. Along with vociferous assurances of impeccable cleanliness and constant disinfection, expect to see hand sanitizer everywhere, servers dishing up at every part of the buffet rather than people being allowed to touch those big, fun spoons, a special cleaning crew there to wipe down every door handle, lounger and railing, and they might even make it mandatory to have your own cup and install self-serve, touchless alcohol stations. That last part, at least, sounds like a lot of fun. Plus, I have a feeling there are going to be some seriously cheap deals to be had.
5) Snowbirds and the Coronavirus
Lots of variables here. First of all, most snowbirds fall directly into the high-risk category, which should automatically make them less inclined to travel. Secondly, health insurance, which is already a problem for many, might make spending time in the United States, in particular, unwise. Health costs in Mexico are less worrisome, although not everyone will be as comfortable with the idea of needing care there (although I’ve been assured there are many world-class Mexican hospitals, if it comes to that). Plus, a big part of the snowbird experience, as I understand it, is the social aspect. If people are unable to have fun in large groups they could be less interested in going at all. Finally, while those who fly south probably will face the same challenges as any other traveller, those in RVs might find themselves less welcome than usual thanks to the irresponsible behaviour of some of the snowbirds who’ve been making their way north recently. I’m sure these reckless incidents were limited to a select group of morons but, unfortunately, it doesn’t take many to have everyone painted with the same brush.
On the bright side, most snowbirds already have their own home (either waiting for them or on wheels under them) and once they arrive, usually don’t need to move around much. Which makes the situation far less risky – both for them and the community – than it is for those actually moving from place to place the whole time. Cross-border shopping trips to Mexico for tequila and off-brand Cialis might be trickier now, though.
6) Cruise Ships
Obviously, cruise ships have long had a pretty mixed reputation for cleanliness and safety, with a history of mini outbreaks. Something to do with very basic filtration systems and, of course, lots of people in an enclosed space eating at buffets and such. In light of that, and the more recent experiences of ships being unwelcome in ports and essentially stranded at sea for days or weeks and, well, the cruise industry is going to be hurt pretty bad by all this. Ironically, we had been tentatively considering our first real cruise (we don’t really count Antarctica or the Galapagos as normal cruises) this fall. We’ve been very intrigued by the idea of “transitional” or “repositioning” cruises that offer big discounts to attract passengers to cross the ocean at the beginning/end of a cruise season. I’m pretty sure that idea is postponed for now, but we’ll still be keeping an eye on things in case some unexpectedly positive progress is made. At the very least, I expect serious changes to the cruise industry with regard to onboard health and hygiene methods and standards, probably starting with better air filtration systems and then continuing with a lot of similar measures that will be taken by all-inclusive resorts.
7) Domestic Travel
All these travel restrictions and border lockdowns are probably going to remain in place to some extent for a long time. Sure, they’ll be loosened to allow necessary business and family travel but it is likely to be a long time before we have as many international options as we did a month ago. Plus, people are bound to be nervous about wandering too far from home after so many people just got stuck abroad.
Domestic travel, on the other hand, is lower risk and involves less hassle and fewer restrictions, so I think we’re going to see a lot more people travelling internally. This will be especially appealing in a big, varied country like Canada with so many intriguing options to choose from. I always love the Rockies and have also had the Yukon and the Maritimes on my list for way too long.
Of course, this might be taken a step further yet, with more people limiting their travel to just their own province. In a place like Saskatchewan that doesn’t get as many outside tourists as Alberta or B.C., we may actually see an increase in visitors to our provincial and national parks because so many of us usually leave the province on vacation. Mind you, they have to allow us back in the parks first, of course.
8) Travel Safety
Until recently, safety hasn’t really been a determining factor when considering travel to, let’s say, two-thirds of the world. Sure, North Korea is out for most people, Afghanistan doesn’t quite seem worth the risk and going to Texas is always asking for trouble, but avid travellers aren’t deterred by many destinations these days. Well, “these days” just became “the old days” practically overnight, and for the foreseeable future the first questions people will ask when choosing a destination will be “How safe is it?” and “What’s the virus situation there?” in addition to the standard, “How many handguns can you expect to see when ordering a Big Mac combo?”
9) Back to Nature Travel
By the time we are allowed / encouraged / excited to travel again we’re all going to be extremely well-versed in physical distancing and social isolation. After months of fear and paranoia about human contact, people are going to be understandably reluctant to jump right back into crowded group activities and confined urban spaces. Hiking, biking, canoeing, camping – anything that provides a little extra space and breathing room is going to make people feel safer. Another reason Saskatchewan’s beautiful, mostly uncrowded parks are eventually going to be in for a big boost. It just might have to wait until the summer of 2021.
10) The World’s Best Tourist Sites Without the Crowds
There are going to be many travellers – especially ones who’ve been to a lot of places and are increasingly looking to avoid the crowds – who will see this as an opportunity to visit some of the world’s most iconic sites. Wildly popular places like Venice, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China and the World’s Largest Ball of Paint are normally overrun with tour groups, school classes and eager Instagram celebrities. Well, now might be your chance to see some of these without standing in line for an hour to get your “dangling the Taj from your fingers photo”, or a chance to rub that huge ball of paint and realize it feels “kind of rubbery, which makes sense, I guess”.
11) Travel Discounts
Whether or not this becomes a trend will depend on a lot of currently unknown factors and will be decided by people with a much greater understanding of business and marketing than me. But it is certainly possible that when we are finally allowed to travel again, airlines, hotels and tour companies (just to name a few) will offer steep discounts to encourage people to return to their wandering ways.
On the other hand, current projections are suggesting that discount airlines, in particular, may not make it out the other side of this. Which is not as big a deal in Canada since we don’t really have the same low-cost options you find in Europe or Asia. But one theory is that, with fewer airlines running fewer routes and then potentially limiting the number of passengers on those flights to provide better spacing, the average cost to fly will be going up considerably.
12) AirBnB Will Become Even More Popular
Yes, I know they are currently experiencing crushing losses thanks to worldwide cancellations and new bookings reaching an absolute standstill. However, I still see big things in store for AirBnB going forward, for two reasons:
1. Most AirBnB rentals are apartments with kitchens, and now more people are going to be interested in preparing their own food to avoid taking their chances in crowded restaurants. From what I’ve seen, that was already a trend before the coronavirus came along and locked us all in our rooms and forced restaurants to close. Renting an apartment is a great way to save money and avoid spending hours each day waiting in restaurants, and now you can add safety into the mix, as well. For some people, it is going take some time before they fully trust their food to the hands of strangers. And even if you’re ok with that part and don’t actually want to cook on vacation, there are always takeout and delivery options.
2. The full refund policy that AirBnB implemented through this crisis. All reservations between mid-March and late April were fully refunded regardless of the individual cancellation policies. Personally, that saved us hundreds of dollars on places we had booked in Spain and Morocco that normally had 50% refund policies. Booking.com, Travelocity and VRBO, on the other hand, left those decisions up to the individual hotels. Personally, I love Booking.com and we’ve used it successfully for several years now but, still, when people start making reservations again they are going to remember how AirBnB came through for them. Obviously, the flipside of this is that Booking.com hotels are much happier than their AirBnB host counterparts, but that is a discussion for the other side of the check-in desk.
13) Free Cancellation
Whether they are booking hotels and apartments or flights and trains, people are going to be pretty reluctant to reserve anything non-refundable for the next couple years. Hotel and apartment rentals will need to offer free cancellation just to compete. Airlines are sure to extend their current flexible change and cancellation policies, as well. After living through such a dramatic reminder of how unpredictable the world can be, no one is going to feel 100% certain their pending vacation will go off without a hitch.
14) Trip Cancellation Insurance
Taking that idea a step further, trip cancellation insurance – you know, that one your blowhard uncle always calls “a scam, just like blackjack insurance, undercoating and public library taxes” – is about to become a very big seller. Because if the world’s travel mantra this year is going to be “No thanks, I’m staying right where I am”, then in 2021 it will probably be “Yeah, that’s the plan, but we’ll see what happens…”
15) The Effects of the Coronavirus on Travel Insurance
In general, travel insurance is going to graduate from “highly recommended” to “mandatory, just like spare underwear and taking snacks on the plane”. Interestingly, while this pandemic seemed at first glance to be catastrophic for the travel insurance industry, in the end, most people made it home before experiencing any health issues. I’m not privy to ongoing claim statistics but I haven’t heard of many foreign nationals ending up in critical care in countries other than their own, which actually means there are a lot of people who paid for policies that are still in place while they sit on their couch at home, no risk at all to the company. On the other hand, nobody’s booking new trips or buying new policies, so that’s not ideal for them. But once travel does start up again their sales rate per traveller should increase, at least.
There were already a few travel insurance policies that specifically excluded pandemics, although most theoretically cover them (including ours). However, this past month some insurance companies started acting sketchier than normal, telling their policy holders that they needed to return to their country of origin by a certain date because they wouldn’t be covered after that. Which, to me, is nothing less than breach of contract. They agreed to cover you for a certain time period, did not specifically exclude this situation, and now are saying they won’t honour that? Things could get very litigious, very quickly (much like my time as a restaurant dishwasher). But by scaring the vast majority of policy holders into going home they have probably already accomplished their main goal.
Theoretically, the larger, more reputable companies like World Nomads should be able to weather the storm and even benefit from decreased competition down the road. You can definitely expect to see every future policy include an exclusion for “pandemics”, though, just in case you were toying with the idea of beating the crowds and taking your chances in Milan right now.
For anyone looking to get back on the road, I would recommend checking out this excellent guide to travel insurance in the new post-COVID-19 world. They also review and compare the current offers from a number of different travel insurance companies.
16) Virus Registration, Screening and Quarantine
At this point, governments are basically telling people to… just… stop… going… places. Sooner or later that will change, but even when it does it won’t suddenly be wide open. I expect to see strict traveller registrations put in place, likely including your detailed coronavirus history, recent travel destinations and, eventually, proof of vaccination. Airports are slowly getting the hang of screening people for the virus and by the time travel kicks up meaningfully again we will hopefully have access to instantaneous testing. If not, I wouldn’t be surprised if we had to provide test results before being allowed into other countries (although that would only be so effective depending on the time delay between the test and departure). In lieu of immediate test results, some countries may even continue to require visitors to isolate or even quarantine before being allowed to wander unhindered, although there would be a lot of complications and potential exceptions involved in that type of policy.
17) Long Term Travel
First off, considering all the added risks and complications, I just don’t see people being quite as willing to jet off for a long weekend of beer guzzling in Prague, or a full week of beer guzzling in Mexico, or even 10 days of beer guzzling at Carnival in Rio. It might just seem more prudent to become a stay-at-home alcoholic. Or, if they are going to take their chances internationally, at least make sure they have a month or more to make it worthwhile.
Secondly, I think people are also going to be more hesitant to move around a lot once they arrive at their destination. Buses, trains, new hotels, new restaurants, ticket booths, etc. all increase the risk of dabbing your pinky on a smudge of COVID-19 somewhere along the way. Once you’ve committed to an international destination there’s not much you can do about the airports and planes, but after you’ve arrived it is much safer to rent an apartment, settle in and thoroughly explore your immediate surroundings instead of shuffling off to somewhere new every day. Expect to see far fewer “8 European Cities in 10 Days” and a lot more “1 Month in a Tuscan Villa”. Ok, maybe not Tuscan. Spanish? Probably not. What do you suppose the rental apartment scene is like in Greenland these days?
18) Communal Living
Even now, dorms are mainly used by younger budget travellers and you can bet that now budgets are going to have to be a lot tighter to convince people to pile into a stuffy little room with 9 other broke tourists coughing and sneezing. As if the farting wasn’t already deterrent enough. Even private rooms with shared bathrooms are going to make people think twice. As much fun as it is knowing a perfect stranger was on that very toilet seat just moments ago, is it worth the risk of having their fingerprints all over the place?
Sadly, I think this means that after a decade of incredible growth in popularity, this will lead to a major change in the way people hike the Camino de Santiago. Don’t get me wrong, it will still be possible to hike these iconic pilgrimage routes (there are 16 in Spain alone), as most of them also have plenty of regular hotel options along the way. However, the traditionally social style of staying in communal “albergues” with dozens of other pilgrims (and sometimes as many as a hundred) is a big part of what makes the Caminos so unique and special for us but I suspect that not nearly as many people are going to choose that option now. Hopefully, some wise albergues will renovate to accommodate the new reality – fewer beds, more bathrooms, more space, more diligent cleaning – so maybe the concept can be salvaged. And there will always be some people willing to chance it – mostly people who have always slept best with a complete stranger snoring nearby.
Other popular treks such as the Tour du Mont Blanc, which involve dorm beds in mountain huts, have struggled to just keep up with demand in recent years. So, for them, maybe these new health concerns might not wipe them out so much as just make it possible to complete the trek without reserving a bed six months in advance.
19) Coronavirus Travel Hygiene
This one took all of, oh, 3 or 4 days to become a global obsession. Gloves, masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes all started flying off the shelves, both those in public stores and pharmacies, as well as those in hospitals intended for use by the very health care professionals risking their own safety to save other people. Hoarding, theft and discarded rubber gloves in the streets – it’s been an uncomfortable look into the ugly (and irrationally worried about toilet paper) side of human nature. However, a more cynical view of society aside, hygiene is going to be a major focal point from now on, both at home and while travelling.
India and airplane bathrooms convinced us long ago of the benefits of frequent hand washing. However, our process has now evolved to include pushing elevator buttons with our elbows, scrubbing down everything we bring back from the grocery store and, reluctantly, I’ve even agreed to stop licking bus windows. For now.
It has been a struggle to sort through all the contradicting information regarding masks. No, not all masks will catch all the particles. But they will all catch some. And they aren’t foolproof – if you’re constantly touching them, adjusting them, and not washing or disinfecting them, then you can still get COVID-19. And under no circumstances should the general public have access to masks until our health professionals have as many as they need. But no matter how you look at it, wearing a mask – or even a scarf or buff – is going to make it less likely that you will be infected. And if you are infected, or suspect you might be, or even if you just have a regular cold or flu, wearing a mask properly will make it less likely you will infect others.
Which is why, long-term, I see masks becoming a normal and acceptable part of everyday life in the West, the way they’ve been common in Asia ever since the SARS outbreak of 2002. I’m not saying everyone will wear them all the time, but enough people will that it won’t seem odd or overly cautious. Bottom line, as long as people follow all the other safety guidelines and don’t use their mask as an excuse to do stupid things, there is no downside to wearing them.
20) The Future of Transportation
With everyone currently so disgusted by the idea of taking the bus or flying – close proximity to strangers, shared toilets, the food situation, really, just everything about it – it is possible we will see some changes in the future. Fewer seats and more separation? Eliminate food service altogether? Lysol wipes and hand sanitizer in the seat-back pocket? More 6-page features on local chefs in the airline magazine? One can only hope.
21) Virtual Travel Boom
Thanks to the internet (speaking of trends, this internet thing seems like it might be on the verge of a big breakout as well), it is already possible to enjoy virtual tours of beautiful, historic and unique places all over the world. Sure, it’s never quite the same as actually being there but when you weigh “not quite the same” against waiting a year or two, spending $1,000 or more to fly to Spain, risking your health every step of the way, trying to find a hotel that hasn’t gone bankrupt, worrying about your health in that hotel, lining up in close proximity to hundreds of other tourists, worrying about your health some more, then finally getting into the Alhambra and fighting the crowds for a couple hours, once again worrying about contagions, then doing all that in reverse, well, maybe a virtual tour on the laptop perched on your belly while you lie on your couch and eat obscene amounts of very buttery popcorn doesn’t look so bad.
I originally had given this a number but then realized it doesn’t actually qualify as a way that the coronavirus will change travel. As Laynni pointed out after reading my first draft of this, despite everything that has happened and everything we now know to be afraid of, there are going to be some people – a lot of people, probably – who are simply going to treat it like business as usual as soon as things open back up. No worries, no precautions, sure as shit no washing their bags of bread or bunches of bananas. I mean, even right now, all over Canada people are still ignoring physical distancing rules, and in other places there have been reckless imbeciles having “coronavirus parties”, heading to the beach for spring break and saying smart things like, “If I get corona, I get corona. At the end of the day, I’m not going to let it stop me from partying.” It would be great if they were only risking themselves, then we could just sit back and let Darwinism do its thing. Unfortunately, this kind of selfishness affects everyone – longer lockdowns, more cases, more deaths. But, hey, YOLO, right, brah?
22) Changing Attitudes Toward Travellers
This is the part that worries me the most. Even before this latest coronavirus came along we had noticed some troublesome trends in tourism. In many of the most popular places, locals (and especially “locals” – people who first visited as tourists but liked it enough to stay and now are desperate to prove their permanency in order to distinguish themselves from unwanted newcomers) have become increasingly contemptuous of tourists in recent years. A few years ago in New Zealand, a small country with huge tourism numbers, it was already common to hear Kiwis disparaging tourists, and Chinese tourists in particular. Can’t imagine that’s going to improve now. Major European cities like Barcelona and Amsterdam had already started restricting hotel and AirBnB development, implementing tourist taxes and making public statements dissuading tourists in order to control numbers. Politically, there has also been a disturbing global increase in xenophobic, nationalist governments that promote insularity and suspicion toward foreigners. Throw in the idea that everyone getting off a plane could be about to infect your whole city and I think it is going to be awfully hard to get a smile in a foreign land for the next year or two, at the least. For us, a few weeks ago was one of the first times we ever started to think people might actually be unhappy to see us show up in their town. Concern over hiking from village to village as possible carriers – or at least being seen as possible carriers – was the main reason we shut down the Andalusia section of our trip. Of course, this noble decision would have been taken out of our hands by the Spanish government a few days later, anyway, when they basically shut down the country, but barricade stories like this one from Zahara de la Sierra, a town we had planned to hike through in late March, have definitely confirmed that now is not the time to be roving from place to place. Hopefully that will change once the coronavirus is under control, but it is something worth watching.
Of course, the other side of the coin is how rich these cities have become because of tourism. Barcelona alone was bringing in around $10 billion per year. Billion. Most estimates suggest that global tourism generates around 10% of GDP for the entire planet. With tourism providing such enormous economic benefits, many of those popular (and prosperous) travel hot spots that were “getting sick of all the tourists” are about to be reminded of just what they stand to lose. Can locals in tourist towns afford to be afraid or disdainful when their unemployment rate hits 25%? 50%? I honestly don’t know. Eventually, I expect the virus to be controlled enough to allow for a return to normal international travel, but how long will it take for people to once again be happy to see unfamiliar faces in their cities? We’re probably talking years.
23) New Appreciation for Travel
I have always said that one of the great things about travel is the way it makes us appreciate the best parts of home. All the stuff we’d normally take for granted is enjoyed on a new level every time we get back from a trip. Well, now this shifty little coronavirus has thrown our lives into disarray – which truly sucks, obviously – but one of the few bright sides is how much we are going to value everything we’ve lost or been kept from during this time. Family, friends, social interaction, freedom of movement, at least occasional breaks from worry and paranoia. And travel, of course.
This has all been pretty intense, I’ll admit. But we are going to start travelling again. It is too big a part of the world economy and, well, simply too awesome to just die out. And when it does return, when we’re finally given license to roam again, when the world has cautiously re-opened its borders and countries start shyly inviting strangers from strange lands back to their cities and monuments and mountains and beaches and questionable empanada stands, most of us are going to ecstatically jump at the chance. We are going to cherish travel in a way we never have in my lifetime, when it has always been so simple, so convenient and just so easily taken for granted. Even after all these years of travel I still experience this odd little sense of wonderment a few times per trip, usually when I start thinking about where I am right now versus where we were yesterday, and two days before that, and how it all seems just a little bit like magic. Laynni makes fun of me every time. But that’s nothing compared to how it’s going to feel to start travelling again if that is taken away from us for the next 6 months. Or a year? Two years? I’m really not sure, all I know is that when it does become possible again we’re going to appreciate it on a whole new level.
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