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

It would be an understatement to say that 2020 was 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) survey of 3,000 travelers found that nearly 70% originally planned to vacation in 2021. Euronews also says people want to travel. The ability to travel, however, is still up in the air depending on destination and origin, citizenship and vaccination status, among other factors.

Now more than ever, travelers are looking to the travel industry for guidance: Where can they go? Will they need to quarantine when they get there? Is the current situation 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 from Delta.

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.

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

From a global perspective, vaccinations are in full swing. Unfortunately, however, each country is vaccinating its citizens at a distinct rate, and there is still not one widely-accepted method of checking and proving one’s vaccination status.

There’s continued talk of a digital passport, such as Europe’s Digital Green Pass, but until there is an international agreement travelers will be subject to varying methods.

Top Travel Trends in 2021

Travel continues to evolve. 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 years and up) 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 had previously dwindled. There’s no doubt that the lockdown has benefited the environment. A PhocusWire article from November 2020 stated, “The pandemic has effectively hit the pause button on emissions, which are projected to be 8% less in 2020 than they were in 2019.”

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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 to be 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 those that use AirBnB, Vrbo, and others 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 in with 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 ecosystem. The pandemic has only accelerated the adoption of these novelties across the travel industry.

4. AI and Virtual Assistants

Artificial intelligence (AI) uses data to make predictions 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 options 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. 

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6. Up-to-Date Data on Restrictions

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

What to expect in the second half of 2021

As we look into the crystal ball for travel in the latter half of 2021, we know that people are likely to be cautious. Of course, the progression of vaccine roll outs will play a major role. An interactive map that displays the vaccination rates by country can be found here.

Now that billions of doses have been administered worldwide and the number of vaccinations continues to climb, one thing is certain: 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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