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The 20 Industries That Will Never Be the Same After the Coronavirus

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There are occasions when a crisis sparks a wholesale change in the way that America does business. One of those epoch-shifting moments when people are forced to take note of a process they might not have questioned before, only to realize it has to change. Likewise, sometimes it’s a matter of an industry just needing that push to take steps toward the future that might otherwise have dragged on for years. Regardless, a major crisis can often spark major changes in the economy, and thus far, it appears the coronavirus pandemic won’t be any different.

Across the country, many businesses are in the process of learning a lot about their supply chains, their products, their workforce and perhaps most of all, just how crucial it can be to have infrastructure in place for remote work. As the coronavirus has essentially redefined the 2020 business year across the U.S., it’s also pushing forward changes — bad and good — for industries everywhere.

Last updated: April 16, 2020

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Agribusiness

Few businesses can be as labor-intensive as farming, particularly with regards to harvesting. Without a large group of workers willing to do very hard, manual labor for very low wages, America’s food supply would — at the very least — be much more expensive. As such, the need to limit travel and practice social distancing has led the State Department to announce that it would no longer be processing visas at any of its offices in Mexico, essentially closing off American fields from migrant workers who constitute as much as a tenth of the legal workforce.

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Why It Will Never Be the Same

The timing of the coronavirus pandemic means farmers are going into this planting season aware that they might not be able to access the necessary labor come harvest time, potentially changing what they opt to grow to something that won’t rely so heavily on pickers. Visa programs remaining suspended could also force farmers to seek out other ways to fill their major labor shortage.

At the very least, if Americans take note of major differences in prices and availability of certain foods come summer and fall, it might make the average consumer better understand the role that these low-wage workers play in agriculture.

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Air Travel

Airlines operate on very small margins, so they tend to be especially exposed to the shocks of any major crisis. However, even with that in mind, the sudden loss of almost all of their business for an indefinite period of time is the sort of hit that seems impossible to survive.

To add insult to injury, airlines can’t even take advantage of the rock-bottom oil prices at the moment.

Industry trade group Airlines for America estimates that major carriers will run out of cash by the second half of the year without a major infusion.

Related: The Effects of Coronavirus Panic-Buying

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Why It Will Never Be the Same

Airlines use long-term loans and leases to finance their incredibly expensive aircraft, meaning their typical cash burn is very high. With new revenues essentially nonexistent, many observers feel confident that the industry’s smaller players will eventually go out of business as the bills keep mounting.

That means there could be a wave of mergers and acquisitions in 2020 as the larger carriers with the resources to survive consolidate the industry. There might even be a reassessment of the 75-year-old Chicago Convention that essentially bars foreign ownership of airlines.

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Amusement Parks

There’s really no way to keep amusement parks open in the time of social distancing, so locations across the country are feeling the hurt right now. Currently, most amusement parks are shuttered until further notice, and even those that might be able to reopen sooner rather than later are likely going to need a variety of measures in place to limit social contact as much as possible.

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Why It Will Never Be the Same

In a similar story to many other industries, the smaller parks are likely to take the hardest hit. While companies like Disney or Six Flags might have the financial wherewithal to outlast COVID-19, many other parks without that sort of national footprint are unlikely to be able to stay in business while experiencing a total loss of revenue for months at a time.

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Bowling

Bowling is a part of the fabric of American life, with alleys in virtually every corner of the country. However, it’s also among those businesses that can’t be expected to stay open while it’s so dangerous to be gathering in small or large groups. According to data from Yelp, good ole tenpin was down 43% in its share of seasonally adjusted daily U.S. consumer actions from March 1 to March 18.

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Why It Will Never Be the Same

Lingering social anxieties about shared spaces and equipment aren’t going to make it easy for bowling to recover, even after the country reopens. And with months of lost business, it’s safe to say that a slow start is likely the last thing alley owners need. Independent owners are likely already struggling not to close permanently.

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Breweries

While beer sold for home consumption isn’t at risk, it’s important to note that a large portion of breweries across the country are the sort of brewpubs where the ambiance is important and in-person sales matter a lot. Yelp revealed that breweries were down 71% in share of seasonally adjusted daily U.S. consumer actions for the month of March.

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Why It Will Never Be the Same

Selling to customers interested in picking up a growler or a six-pack to drink at home is one thing, but without the additional food sales and casual customers looking for a drink or two with friends, it’s not hard to see how many of the 8,000 independent brewers in America will be in dire straits. A prolonged closure could force many to close down — or sell to major beer conglomerates.

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Casinos

Running a casino is essentially a license to print money — it’s part of why they tend to be steeped in excess and attached to enormous hotels. However, all that investment depends on people coming through their doors and dropping money on games they’re mathematically rigged to lose. Without customers coming in to gamble, casinos are looking at an enormous infrastructure without a purpose at the moment.

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Why It Will Never Be the Same

Even after they reopen, casinos could be forced to take a variety of additional steps to ensure customer safety. Such measures may continue to depress revenues — not to mention, people’s fear might lead them to avoid their favorite gambling palaces for some time after the country reopens.

What’s more, online gambling has always provided competition to casinos, but now it will have an important chance to snap up a host of new customers — not all of whom might return to gambling in person after this has passed.

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Clerical Work

In an example of how not all change has to be bad, the nature of clerical work might be in the process of changing forever. Simply put, the only clerical work going on in many parts of the country is that which can be done remotely at home. As of early April, the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index found that around 42% of the workforce reported being told to work from home last week.

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Why It Will Never Be the Same

Telecommuting has been on the rise for a variety of reasons — from its potential for reducing the gender wage gap to its ability to reduce traffic and ease the burdens on infrastructure.

Now, the economic reasons for building a business that your employees can keep running even when they’re unable to leave their house are on very clear display.

Clerical workers might see more and more of their jobs shifted out of the office and toward telecommuting even after going in becomes an option again.

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Cruises

Cruises have been hit especially hard by this crisis. The two hardest-hit stocks on the S&P 500 on April 1 — when a dreary prediction about how difficult the coming weeks would be from President Trump sent the market slumping — were Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Cruises. With major gatherings off the table until the virus’ spread has been substantially reduced, the cruise industry is currently adrift.

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Why It Will Never Be the Same

Cruise ships were already dealing with negative PR about some very public norovirus outbreaks. However, with horrifying news reports of entire ships being placed under quarantine and people being stuck in their small quarters for extended periods of time, the perception that going on a cruise is like climbing into a petri dish is going to be even harder to shake.

It’s possible that many consumers will simply never see the cruise industry as being totally safe again. It remains to be seen, but it’s not hard to imagine business remaining down for cruise line operators everywhere even after they can start booking passengers again.

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Events

For most Americans, they might visit one or two conventions in a year — if any. That has a tendency to make most people overlook just how big the industry is when taken as a whole. The number of people employed in various capacities to put on major events — from balloon twisters to sound technicians — is very large, and essentially all of them aren’t working right now. Whether it’s small birthday parties or massive auto shows, most of the country has essentially pressed the pause button on any and all events, leaving these people scrambling to make ends meet.

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Why It Will Never Be the Same

Many operations related to event planning could be forced to close permanently during the extended break. Catering companies, event spaces, even display designers will have to figure out how to make things work with a massive hole in their income statements that covers much of the year — not something that any business is built to withstand. Once again, expect the bigger companies with more resources to have a shot at lasting while the smaller players could go under while waiting for the country to reopen.

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Film/TV Production

People currently consuming vastly more film and TV content than they ever have might be overlooking the fact that the pipeline is currently closed. Making new shows and movies has taken a backseat to protect people’s health, but that’s left thousands of people unemployed — from star actors to production assistants.

And for some particularly unlucky folks, content that’s already in the can and finished can’t be released while movie theaters are shuttered, meaning they’re out the money for production with no time frame on when they might be able to see actual profits.

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Why It Will Never Be the Same

The various ways in which this production halt will ripple across film and television are hard to comprehensively detail. Creatives will have their careers altered as projects are canceled or delayed for extended periods, crew members will have to go months without work and studios that have already invested large sums in production and marketing will be in tough financial straits.

Even after things begin to ramp back up, studios might be looking for ways to cut corners on cost and favor less expensive projects or scale back plans for massive marketing campaigns.

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Fitness

While getting exercise remains important as people are stuck at home, going to the gym isn’t possible. Few places are likely to make it as easy to transmit the coronavirus as a locker room, so fitness centers across the country have closed their doors until further notice. Stocks have plunged for major gym operators and their debt has also lost value on the bond market.

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Why It Will Never Be the Same

The trend toward at-home fitness was already well underway with the rising popularity of all-in-one home equipment and online classes. Businesses like Peloton have been pioneering a new business model that would make the local gym largely obsolete for many people, and the current crisis could help kick the transition into overdrive as many people look into home fitness devices and subscriptions.

So, while those gym stocks are plunging, Peloton has been on the rise even as the rest of the market falters.

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Grocery

Grocery stores remain open and even had a huge boost in business in the first quarter as panic-buying in mid-March has driven sales higher. However, with that is coming a reassessment of some basic industry practices. Grocery delivery services were already rising in popularity, but the coronavirus pandemic has rapidly accelerated the practice. Downloads of Instacart, Walmart’s grocery app and Shipt were up 218%, 160% and 124% respectively, year over year.

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Why It Will Never Be the Same

Grocery stores were already inefficient in many ways, built to provide shoppers a chance to browse rather than getting goods to customers with maximum efficiency. New business models built around professional shoppers and delivery services could accelerate this change and help transition the industry into one that serves a growing portion of the population without needing them to ever visit an actual location. The “dark stores” some retailers have turned to — locations closed to customers so they can focus on delivery services — could be a sign of what’s to come.

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Hospitality

Hotels are in basically the same boat as casinos, cruise lines and airlines — until it’s safe to travel again, there’s not much hope for business. And, like any business, they’re simply not designed to have slow periods like this one. Analytics firm Smith Travel Group found that occupancy rates for hotels were down 67.5% year over year for the last week of March.

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Why It Will Never Be the Same

The hotel industry employs a lot of people, and plenty of maids and clerks are likely going to be out of work for the foreseeable future as a result of the sudden downshift in business. In particular, many smaller, independent locations — like B&Bs — could lack the resources to go months with bookings that are either nonexistent or so vastly reduced.

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Malls

Shopping malls were already on life support prior to the coronavirus outbreak, and the nature of this crisis seems tailor-made to accelerate the process even more. The very same things that were causing the migration of retail away from centralized mall locations — like online retail — are only going to be further bolstered by this pandemic. In addition, residual fear of visiting public places might stretch tough times out well past when the economy reopens.

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Why It Will Never Be the Same

Polling in early March indicated that people were likely to avoid malls, among other places, out of concerns about the coronavirus. With the trend toward dead and dying malls already going strong prior to this crisis, it seems imminently possible that a new rash of closures is on the horizon.

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Restaurants

There’s an old saying that owning a restaurant is like owning an elephant. It’s very expensive, and sooner or later it dumps on your head. This is essentially a way of emphasizing the fact that success in the restaurant business is always fleeting at best. Few top performers stick around while most enterprises fail over time.

As such, a huge portion of the industry is entirely unready to sustain months without any in-person customers — and even those that can survive are likely only going to do so by laying off or furloughing waitstaff. Since the start of March, restaurants have lost 3 million jobs and $25 billion in sales with half of operators anticipating more layoffs in April.

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Why It Will Never Be the Same

Those restaurants that were already serving food via delivery or were in a position to pivot quickly will have an easier time, but that still leaves a huge portion of the industry unable to keep things open during the crisis.

In addition, waitstaff will be the first to get laid off or furloughed but they are typically among the most vulnerable workers out there. A rash of permanent restaurant closures sparked by the coronavirus pandemic could well be coming in the near future — particularly among smaller restaurants that aren’t built for delivering to customers’ homes.

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Ridesharing

Already undergoing major changes as drivers fought for more rights, benefits and pay, ridesharing services like Lyft and Uber have suddenly had to adjust to a long period with vastly less business than they ever could have anticipated. Many companies have responded by offering two weeks of sick leave to anyone contracting the virus and paying for cleaning products to help keep a safe workspace, but some companies have struggled with placing mass orders for supplies.

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Why It Will Never Be the Same

The looming shift toward driverless cars already has the ridesharing industry in a very tenuous place, and that transition might be accelerated by this crisis. In places where ridesharing companies have been forced to offer workers expanded benefits and protections, they might find that the additional costs of maintaining their workforce will make an already trying time much more difficult for their balance sheet.

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Senior Housing/Assisted Living

Among the hardest hit REITs — or real estate investment trusts, essentially financial products that package real estate assets to make investing easier — are those representing senior care facilities, with shares getting cut in half through mid-March as markets crashed. That made them the third-worst hit areas behind hotels and shopping malls. And, with the risk to senior citizens so much higher, horror stories of outbreaks in these sorts of assisted living homes are shocking and tragic.

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Why It Will Never Be the Same

Not only are many nursing homes likely to revisit procedures that protect residents from infectious disease outbreaks, but it’s possible that residual fear over the safety of places like this will prevent or delay potential new move-ins in the future. Families might be more reticent about making this already difficult decision when serious fears about the health and safety of a loved one remain.

Sports

While demand for live sports has never been higher with so many people stranded at home and in need of entertainment, the supply has been cut off at the source. Not only are large crowds going to be entirely impossible for some time, but even playing in front of empty arenas remains too risky for most leagues.

Amateur sports bodies fought unsuccessfully to be included in the recent stimulus package as their losses expect to near $800 million with the cancelation or delay of so many events — including the 2020 Olympics.

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Why It Will Never Be the Same

While labor disputes and wars have led to the cancelation of games in the past, there has never been a simultaneous end to every league at the same time. That’s left the entire industry in a state of flux with no end in sight. Many amateur leagues that were already in relatively precarious financial shape might not survive the extended break they’ve been forced into.

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Street Vendors

The issues posed to restaurants pale in comparison to street vendors who simply cannot offer delivery. The L.A. City Council, for instance, voted to crack down on street vendors without health permits as part of its efforts to stem the spread of the disease, while the Wall Street Journal reported that street vendors in the Big Apple were seeing business cut by as much as 80% to 90%.

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Why It Will Never Be the Same

Few if any street vendors have anywhere near the necessary resources to sustain that sort of hit to their business. The running theme here has been that small, independent operators in virtually any business are going to find it next to impossible to stay open during this extended break — and small, independent operators make up most street vendors. For a population that typically operates on very tight budgets, this sort of sudden closure is devastating.

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Theaters

One might assume that movie theaters were struggling as more alternative options kept arising in the form of streaming options, but 2019 was actually an all-time record for the global box office. The industry was expecting 2020 to be a step back as a result, but clearly not to this extreme. The weekend of March 14-15 saw a 20-year low for ticket sales, down 60% from the same period last year.

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Why It Will Never Be the Same

Big theater chains like AMC Theatres and Regal Cinemas are already at risk of bankruptcy, but smaller operators are much less likely to have the financial cushion to outlast the pandemic. Independent operators — already squeezed by big-name competition and the rise of streaming — could be forced to simply close down before they get a chance to begin accepting the public again.

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