Other than people’s love of traveling, the pandemic changed everything when it comes to heading out on the road. At least it seems that way at times. Not only did COVID stop travel altogether last year, but from what I’m learning it appears to caused some deep, and in my opinion, much needed changes, not just about where people will travel going forward but in how they will travel.
We’re already seeing close-to-home escapism becoming more popular, with road trips and RVing at the top of the list for many who are eager to hit the road again. People in the U.S. are already visiting state and natural parks in huge numbers, and taking more wilderness trips as well. Travel to Hawaii and Alaska are booming as many overseas destinations still remain closed to visitors, or require long periods of quarantine (like Japan or Singapore).
One of the biggest changes that seems to be coming to the travel industry can be summed up in one word: sustainability. According to experts, big resort vacations at exotic locations or trips visiting multiple locations in a short period of time are going to be less popular than longer stays in one location, where the focus will be more on “human tourism” and the people and culture of a place versus a short vacation or trip trying to fit in as many destinations as possible. The trend in future travel will be tailored, conscious, and more discerning, with health and safety not just of travelers but of those at the destination of primary importance. In a race between quality versus quantity of travel, quality is expected to win. According to travel experts, future travel will be defined more by purpose versus checking off boxes on a list. I certainly hope this is true, and that places like Venice or Santorini that were being “over visited” are able to return to a more natural and relaxed pace of life that can support, sustain, and give back to the local population.
The actual travel experience is going to feel very different as well in the future. Face masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes are going to be with us for a long time. Quarantines will be too, depending on where you plan to visit. Going through immigration in another country may mean longer waits in line, proof of a negative COVID test and/or proof of vaccine (and only certain vaccines may be accepted). Travel seasons may change as well, and may be switched off and on depending on outbreaks of the virus or the rise of variants. And, although airline change and cancellation fees seem to be gone for good, travel insurance will be a must have as trips could potentially have to be cancelled or rearranged depending on what’s happening at a destination. For this reason, booking directly with airlines, hotels, and car rentals versus using an online agency like Expedia, Travelocity, and such can help make sure getting flights and other reservations changed or refunded if necessary.
The cruise industry has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, and will probably face major changes in the future. Restrictions like health screenings, proof of vaccination, and other terms will most likely be put in place for the indefinite future, and things like self-serve buffets and other group offerings will go the way of the dinosaurs. Many countries will not allow ships other than from the country of origin to dock. For example, Taiwain is currently offering short cruises, but only to citizens of Taiwan, and stops are only in Taiwanese ports. It may be a great while before long cruises reappear – current trends point to short cruises of less than a week, many on smaller ships, and only to destinations close to the home port.
Overall, hygiene and sanitation no matter where you go is going to be the top priority. Air quality, cleaning standards, and personal sanitation are all going to be featured by airlines, hotels, and other travel vendors. Some airlines already plan to keep the middle row of seats empty going forward, especially on longer flight. Smaller group numbers for tours and other activities will be highlighted and other safety precautions put in place. Train and bus travel versus flying is already being encouraged, not only for sanitary reasons but because it’s more environmentally friendly overall.
All of the above points to a very different travel experience going forward. Planning will still be fun, but it’s going to require more thought and a greater degree of flexibility. Change is to be expected. Still, there’s no reason not to start thinking about future travel. We’re still ready to go – it may not be exactly what we hoped for, but it will still be wonderful.