Now that the dreaded year that shall not be named is behind us, many look to 2021 for hope and travels. A whole year has passed seeing just your kitchen and home office which also happens to be your bedroom; many are itching to see the world again. With the arrival of the vaccine, will travel open back up? What will this year bring for the travel industry?
Travel will make a comeback, however, it will be different. There will continue to be restrictions and what we call the “new normal”. As a pharmacist and travel writer, here are some travel predictions for 2021.
Masks for Years
The masks are here to stay. Given that CDC released new research on February 10, 2021 stating that doubling up on masks—wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask—offers more protection against the coronavirus. This is effectively saying that a grand farewell to masks won’t be happening in 2021.
Given that an airplane is an enclosed space where everyone is in close contact with each other, masks will be required for years but may also just be preferred by travelers in the future. After all, masks have been de rigueur for germ protection for over 200 years..
Vaccine or Health Passports
Even if the U.S. reaches herd immunity through vaccinations, it doesn’t mean that all nations will have received the vaccine. Logistics on storing and distributing the vaccine won’t be as easy in some countries and some simply do not have the proper infrastructure. As long-term studies are still underway and new variants are popping up, it’s unlikely that borders will fully re-open in the short-term.
We also face another public health threat: vaccine hesitancy. Social media spreads misinformation just like a virus. Given that the virus is novel and something many people have never experienced in their lifetime, it raises plenty of concern and fear. In a recent survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly 51% of participants stated they would not get the vaccine at all or not immediately. With numbers like those, it’s easy to see that it might take longer to reach herd immunity. In the meantime, expect some sort of vaccine requirement to travel.
This isn’t such a new idea. Several countries in Africa and South America either recommend or require a yellow fever vaccine certificate to enter the country.
Lab Testing Pop-ups
Even with the vaccine, Covid-19 tests will still be needed and expected upon entering and/or exiting a country. At the beginning of the pandemic, testing sites were scarce, by appointment only, took hours to get through and even longer to get results. It’s safe to say that as this becomes our new normal, more and more testing facilities will become available.
Plenty of providers’ offices, labs, hospitals and public spaces will have kiosks or rapid testing available. The hope is that this year, the tests and processes will be available in more locations with faster and cheaper tests and to be able to get from A-Z like going through the pharmacy drive-thru. Airports and resorts are already building this into their process. Airports including Cancun International Airport in Mexico (CUN) already have a rapid-testing lab installed in the airport. The rapid antigen results are delivered in less than 30 minutes.
A Different Way of Travel
One hundred percent open travel across state lines won’t likely return until the summer of 2021. Many states have restrictions on who can travel into the state. Some states, including Connecticut and Pennsylvania, have implemented quarantine requirements after return. Many will look in their own backyards, others will continue to bring travel to their own home with culinary skills, virtual events, picnics and more.
The road to travel will be slow for some. A recent study showed that close to two-thirds of travelers will start with small road trips within a day’s drive from home. The general mood has shifted towards staying in Airbnbs, campsites or smaller lodges rather than busy hotels and resorts.
Also, car camping and tiny wheels on home will continue to flourish as we’ve already seen. Many have purchased vans and make them a DIY project throughout the pandemic. In 2020, RV sales rose almost 5% even with the industry shutting down completely for two months, and are on trend to beat that number in 2021.
All in all, domestic travel will continue to flourish for the remainder of 2021. It’s safe to say large gatherings like conferences, concerts and festivals will take years to return to pre-2020 levels.
Changes in the Travel Mindset
Looking ahead, travelers will be more health-conscious. Many will take their own health and options to seek treatment if they get sick into consideration when choosing a destination—maybe even getting travel health insurance for the first time. Others will make decisions with intent and purpose, choosing their destinations more carefully, and recognizing and respecting the environment and locals.
Finally, many will choose to savor their vacations and to actually take them even if they didn’t use them before Covid-19. The days of millions of wasted vacation days may finally be over. We will see two different extremes in the travel industry, some that have felt like a privilege was taken away from them and others who will never travel the same way again.
Long-Term Travel Instead of the Three Day Vacation
Upon arrival at a new destination, self-isolating will remain. This will translate well for those who are willing to travel to be in it for the long haul. There will be an urge to make up for lost time, so longer stays or even relocating for a while will become more popular. As offices let employees work remotely even when the pandemic ends, larger cities will take a hit and smaller communities with lower housing costs will take center stage.
Several countries have enacted year-long visa programs for digital nomads around the globe, often with income and insurance requirements. Countries like Barbados and Bermuda want to support their local economies without having any jobs displaced but also limit the number of visitors and invite them to stay and live abroad. These programs will allow people to explore a new country while staying put in one place and abiding the country rules and policies put forth.
Before the pandemic, several tourism boards and governments were capping the number of visitors to certain sites to preserve the historic landmarks, heritage sites and ruins. For instance, Machu Picchu in Peru has had limits to curb tourism for years set forth by the Peruvian government.
It will be commonplace to see limits placed for the number of visitors for popular tourist attractions to combat Covid-19 by minimizing large group gatherings and the spread of infection. A measure like this could easily be one that we see moving forward without an end date.
Health Apps and Technology
Thanks to technology advancements, Moderna and Pfizer were able to produce a vaccine quickly to combat Covid-19, with several other pharma companies following suit. Aside from the vaccine, our whole country saw a shift in healthcare with everything from annual physicals to therapy going virtual. The world of tech tapped into the health industry and this won’t be the end of it. You can expect health apps and technology to continue to pop up on the market.
Innovations in technology will touch the travel industry as well. Dragonslayer is an app that will help travelers choose their destinations, pull up restrictions and be able to personalize the right destination based on a series of questions. A Google Chrome extension called Pilota is a booking tool that is used to predict flight information.
Others apps under development can help identify if you’ve been exposed to Covid-19 or if someone nearby has Covid-19. Patients who are traveling will be able to and will want to be more in charge of their health. These apps, tools and gadgets will be normalized and become part of one’s packing list.
Improved Hygiene and Facilities
Some positive things to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic are the importance of hygiene and improved facilities by restaurants, airlines and hotels. All industries have been affected by Covid-19 one way or another, so new safety strategies and techniques have been put in place.
As you step into hotels now, the QR codes, contactless check-in and plastic wrap on remotes will remain into 2021 and beyond. Cleaning processes have changed and will hopefully stay at the highest level which means that travellers will be walking into state-of-the-art facilities that will remain in great condition due to better upkeep.
The importance of hygiene for each individual has also come to light—many will continue to be extra vigilant and observant about health and safety while on the go. We can expect the hand sanitizer, mask wearing and temperature checks will be here to stay possibly for years to come.
Travel will resume and the industry will bounce back in the matter of time. In the meantime, travellers will have to remain flexible and plan to book last minute, be prepared for cancellations and face some hurdles. When travel does return slowly but surely, the healthy and the wealthy will be among the first to do so.