There’s only one thing that travelers should expect in 2021 with any certainty: It’s uncertainty.
No one knows when the coronavirus pandemic will end. No one knows when authorities will lift travel bans. And while you can plan all the trips you want now, no one knows if or when you’ll actually be able to take them.
It’s all up in the air.
Most Americans will continue to travel domestically for the first half of the year, with 64% saying they preferred to vacation domestically, according to a new survey travel sentiment survey by Generali Global Assistance. But the results suggest that Americans will venture abroad again, maybe as soon as Memorial Day. More than half of U.S. travelers (54%) said they would feel comfortable traveling internationally six months after a vaccine becomes available.
“The average person’s willingness to travel is increasing,” says Chris Carnicelli, Generali Global Assistance’s CEO.
“Travel will look different, going forward,” says John Thompson, the division president for international accident and health at insurance company Chubb. “But it will come back.”
Why? One simple reason: We must travel. Despite everything that’s happened in 2020, there remains a “deeply human desire to connect, to socialize and collaborate, to maintain and strengthen family bonds – those underlying attributes haven’t gone anywhere,” says Thompson.
Experts are optimistic about travel in 2021. They hope the darkest days of the pandemic will be in the rearview mirror. The way Americans travel has changed, but mostly for the better. It’s cleaner, prices are lower and expert advice is available to plan the perfect trip.
The worst is over. That’s what Sloan Dean, CEO of Remington Hotels, believes. Here’s how he puts it: Dec. 21 was the darkest day of the year in the northern hemisphere and among the darkest days of the pandemic, as far as travelers are concerned. “But the turn is upon us,” he says. By the time the summer solstice is here, America will have had access to several vaccines that are proving to be more than 90% effective. “That day will be the longest and brightest of 2021, in more ways than one,” he adds.
How you get there will change in 2021. “We’ll likely see some changes in the way people travel,” says Jason Guggenheim, a senior partner in Boston Consulting Group‘s travel and tourism practice. “For example, travelers will favor Airbnb usage over hotel stays.” Also, travelers will likely favor car travel over planes. It’s a continuation of a trend that started in 2020.
More deals abound. Sites like Priceline, which monitor fares and hotel rates, say there’s an abundance of bargains – particularly for early next year. “Look into flexible deals that are available to book now for travel at a later date,” says Ben Harrell, chief marketing officer at Priceline. “There are amazing offers out there, so take advantage of the current promotions.”
Expect more overbooked flights. That’s a direct result of easing cancellation restrictions during the pandemic, according to Azim Barodawala, CEO of Volantio, which provides revenue optimization services to airlines. “Pre-COVID, airlines had a pretty solid sense of how many passengers would cancel or fail to show for their flights, and they would overbook accordingly,” he says. Because customers can now cancel without penalty, those assumptions are no longer valid, and airlines have already started to overbook more flights.
Southwest’s policy:No, middle seats won’t be empty. Yes, you can get a refund.
You won’t pay many fees. Those hated surcharges, like ticket-change fees and hotel resort fees, will not resurface in 2021, according to Melissa Downham, a travel adviser with Departure Lounge. Some of the fees are gone forever. “I think airline change fees are a thing of the past,” she says. “If airlines want to stay competitive, they can’t charge people fees – there will always be some airlines that don’t charge change fees – and they will get the consumer loyalty. The same goes for hotels. If they want people to book with confidence, they’re going to have to be more flexible on cancellation terms – even during busy seasons.”
Everything’s squeaky clean. Travelers wouldn’t have it any other way, says Mike Slone, a vice president for travel retail at PROS, a Houston software company. “Expect the perceived value of cleanliness to continue,” he says. “Even though there may be a vaccine, we’ve become accustomed to cleaner hotels, restaurants and flights. Don’t expect that to go away.”
You may want to hire a pro. With travel being so complicated, you’ll probably need to get expert advice. “Because of the pandemic’s unpredictable impact on travel plans, people will increasingly turn to professional travel agencies when arranging their trips,” predicts Vered Schwarz, president of the short-term rental property management platform Guesty. “Agents keep their fingers on the pulse of travel and have the latest information, and they can easily facilitate refunds and cancellations.”
Yes, there’s still a lot of uncertainty, but one thing is certain about the future: You will travel again.
“It’s in people’s DNA to travel,” says Daniel Durazo, director of marketing and communications at Allianz Travel. “With pent-up demand and the hope of a highly effective COVID-19 vaccine, we could see a surge of travel bookings in 2021.”
When should you plan a trip?
Spring break. At least 2 in 5 U.S. adults said they wouldn’t feel safe traveling abroad until at least spring of 2021, according to a survey by Morning Consult. Prices will be low, but risks will be high. State health departments may not be able to distribute the vaccines widely. If you’re in a high-risk group, you may want to wait a while.
Summer. Tour operators like Apus Peru Adventure Travel are encouraging their customers to book tours for the summer or later to give the countries time to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine. “Vaccine or not, it will take time for complete COVID protocols to be implemented and perfected. So the longer travelers wait, the more likely all the kinks will be worked out by the time they travel,” says Sarah Confer, a manager for Apus Peru.
Wait until 2022. That’s the advice of Christopher Schaberg an English professor at Loyola University New Orleans and author of four books on airports. “My best travel advice for the upcoming year: Keep travel to an absolute minimum,” he says. “See and be with the people you love and reconnect with your home region.”