Several new COVID-19 vaccines are on the cusp of approval. Soon, countries around the world will start inoculating millions of people against the virus. And after months of partially closed international borders and various domestic lockdowns, we are all eager to travel.
But it will take a long time for travel to get back to normal. At a minimum, enough people need to be inoculated to make it safe for people to travel freely without infecting others or getting infected by them. In the meantime, international travellers will face ever-changing rules to cross borders. Still, 2021 will see more countries welcome more visitors — and with fewer restrictions — than they did in 2020. To get a sense of what travel will look like in 2021, here are our predictions:
5 Travel Trends for 2021
1. More Domestic Travel
With many borders all but closed and others putting up prohibitive requirements for entry, domestic travel will continue to make up the bulk of travel. In China, where COVID-19 cases have been few and far between for months, air travel returned to pre-pandemic levels in August. Domestic flights are also up in other countries with few COVID-19 cases. Countries where lockdowns have ended have also seen an uptick in domestic flights.
2. Longer International Trips
For those who do travel internationally, long trips will be the norm. Many countries will retain 14-day quarantines on incoming and returning travellers. This means that if you were to fly to Thailand, for example, you’d have to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival, and depending on your home country, quarantine for another two weeks upon return. This would make an international stay of even one day “out in the wild” take a whopping 29 days. Because of this, some countries, including Thailand, are planning to admit tourists only on the condition that they stay for more than 90 days. We expect other countries to do the same.
3. More Rural Travel
As COVID-19 cases soar in cities, many travellers are looking to rural destinations. In fact, since the beginning of the pandemic, 90 percent of internet searches for trips were for rural destinations. At the same time, searches for cabin rentals have made up for 33 percent of all accommodation searches. We expect this trend to continue into 2021.
The exception to rural travel is the world’s top travel destinations. They will see a return to pre-pandemic tourism levels as people who have been itching to travel again go straight to the top of their bucket lists.
4. Wealthy Travelers First
In most places, it will take years for international travel to return to its 2019 levels. And with the number of tourists down, countries will look for wealthy travellers to maximize the average intake per traveller.
New Zealand’s Tourism Minister Stuart Nash, for example, says that his country won’t return to a pre-Covid “business as usual.” It will target wealthy tourists instead of the people who used to make up the bulk of tourists there: backpackers and people who travelled the country in rented recreational vehicles. By charging more across the board, New Zealand and other countries also hope to offset the negative impact of previous over-tourism.
5. Reason for Travel
Lastly, the nature of holidays will change. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a dramatic rise in people working from home. As travel opens up, some of these remote workers will seize the opportunity to change locations and work from somewhere new. They may also spend part of their time in a short-term rental working and part of it vacationing. These trips will tend to be domestic or include rural locations, in line with the other 2021 travel trends.
For sure, travel in 2021 will look different than it did before the pandemic, but it will also be a whole lot better than it did in 2020.