Travel Trends in 2021: What to Expect from the Future of Travel After COVID-19

It would be an understatement to say that 2020 is a year of change and reflection. With the COVID shutdowns, travelers found their options limited, and it has changed their outlook. People are more cautious about traveling, but they want to travel. After months in lockdown, they’re ready to go but with parameters. 

A Travel Leaders Group and the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) surveyed 3000 travelers found nearly 70% plan to vacation in 2021. Euronews also says people want to travel. Research shows that 70% of people have started planning travel in 2021. 

Yet, travelers look to the travel industry for guidance more than ever. Where can they go, will they need to quarantine when they get there, and is it safe?  As a result, the travel industry has embraced new technology and looked for ways to reassure travelers that they’ll be safe should they choose to travel. 

Due to the pandemic, travel organizations have found themselves highlighting cleaning protocols, eliminating change fees, and keeping travelers informed of changing regulations. 

For example, airlines like United, Iberia, and JetBlue experiment with different cleaning protocols that include touchless technology at baggage check-in and electrostatic pistols that shoot a disinfecting powder in the cabin to clean everything, including headrests and armrests. 

Airlines have also eliminated change fees to encourage travelers and implemented new tech solutions to keep them aware of border regulations, like for instance, this interactive map

Reassurance is a continuous theme in 2021 tourism. Reassurance of where you can travel, that cancellation policies are lenient, and that you’ll be safe wherever you opt to go.


What Difference Will a Vaccine Make in the Future of Travel?

We’re in the early days of a  COVID-19 vaccine release. As a result, many in the travel industry are hopeful 2021 will see a rebound. Yet, it’s too soon to tell just how and when that may happen. 

It depends in part on how quickly travelers can get vaccinated. Once nationwide vaccinations are distributed, it will establish travel corridors between countries of similar risk. There’s talk of a digital passport such as updated health certificates. Some countries already require proof of yellow fever vaccination, and travelers may need international evidence of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Top Travel Trends in 2021

Travel is evolving. Some emerging travel trends in 2021 reflect the new reality of the current age. For example, remote work makes it possible for people to travel and stay longer in an area. They may opt for local accommodations over a busy hotel and blend work with travel. 

Other travel trends, like wellness travel, aren’t necessarily new but will continue to be at the forefront of travel. It’s no surprise that people want to feel better when they return home. 

2021 travel is shaping up differently by age group. According to the SAP Concur study, 38% of millennials want to take an international bucket list trip in 2021. Older travelers 55+ are more interested in staying closer to home. 

Broad travel themes include: 

- Reassurance - Highlighting cleaning protocols, social distancing, and staying up-to-date with entry restrictions border regulations will continue to be necessary. Digital Health Passports and Contactless technologies will help. 

- Flexibility - Delta, American, and many other airline carriers have all eliminated change fees to help travelers feel more comfortable booking tickets. In case a proposed destination becomes a hot spot, people will likely want to wait or choose a new location.

- Familiarity - Whether it’s returning to a place where people have traveled before or comes as a recommendation from family and friends, travel destinations can highlight this in their marketing. One way is by keeping travelers apprised of the area’s health and safety measures. 

- Sustainability - The skies and oceans are cleaner, and wildlife has returned to areas where it’d dwindled. There’s no doubt that the lockdown has benefited the environment. A PhocusWire article states, “The pandemic has effectively hit the pause button on emissions, which are projected to be 8% less in 2020 than they were in 2019.”


Specifically, those travel trends 2021 show up in the preferences of business travelers, the pandemic has only accelerated them:

1. Bleisure

The blend of business travel and leisure continues being a travel trend. While leisure travelers are pausing to ask probing questions of themselves about future travel like:

  • Where do I want to go? 
  • What do I want to experience? 
  • What do I want to discover?

More people want to travel slower and get to know local communities where they do travel. Part of this impetus is with remote work and schooling. It’s much easier to book a more extended trip and blend work/school life by exploring a new area. Plus, it’s appealing to head to a sunnier, warmer climate with less COVID infections. 

According to a Phocuswire article, TripIt data shows people are booking for longer trips and often choosing a short-term rental where they can feel comfortable. Short-term rentals like, for instance, AirBnB, Vrbo, and other providers offer the opportunity to keep closer tabs on your surroundings and those in them than a busy hotel. Plus, they give you the chance to live more like a local.

2. Self-Booking

Business travelers want to have a human back up in case of complex travel issues. However, for the initial booking, they’re likely to do it themselves. According to Business Travel Trends, 63% of travelers prefer to book their own travel. Likely, this reflects a general shift as millennials now represent roughly 50% of the workforce. 

This also fits into the desire for more flexible corporate travel policies. For years, a percentage of business travelers have ignored policies and chosen to do their own thing. This is a chance to review those policies and bring them up-to-date. 

3. Contactless Technologies

Another travel trend in 2021: Contactless technologies, which are here to stay. Now that everyone has hand washing and germs on their minds, keyless entries and digital menus have found a place in the travel eco-system. The pandemic has only accelerated the adoption of these across the travel industry.

4. AI and Virtual Assistants

Artificial intelligence (AI) uses data to predict things based on past behavior. It’s the reason why companies like Amazon, Spotify, and Netflix can offer you personalized entertainment choices. 

It can also suggest appropriate entertainment choices in destinations and provide other personalized recommendations. Additionally, virtual assistants like Siri can provide itinerary updates. 

5. On-Demand Testing

From home test kits to on-site testing at hotels and airports, rapid COVID testing (results in 15 minutes) may be vital to reducing both virus and quarantine worries. 


6. Up-to-Date Data on Restrictions

One of the most complex travel trend today is knowing border regulations and travel restrictions. As the pandemic has countries opening and closing borders and different quarantine rules, it’s necessary to have a tool that keeps them informed. For instance, this COVID-19 Entry Restrictions solution used by Delta, United and others, offers up-to-the-minute, accurate information on restrictions in any destination. 

What to expect in 2021

As we look into the crystal ball for 2021 travel predictions, we know that people are likely to be cautious. Of course, how soon the vaccine rolls out will play a role. According to an Allianz Travel survey, 49% of Americans will feel comfortable traveling again once a proven vaccine is ready. 

However, if the experience is any indication, the travel industry will return. Those who stay engaged with customers now and reassure their safety will reap the rewards when those customers choose to travel again. The future of travel will include reassurance in many ways. Just as 9/11 changed travel, the pandemic will leave travelers more aware of health measures. 

What more information on technology to assist your travelers? Here are six startups helping to restart the tourism industry. 

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by Jennifer Phillips April

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