What should travelers expect in 2021? Here's what experts predict
There's only one thing that travelers should expect for sure in 2021: It's uncertainty.
Nobody knows when the coronavirus pandemic will end. Nobody knows when the authorities will lift travel bans. And while you can now plan all the trips you want, nobody knows if or when you can actually take them.
It's all in the air.
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Most Americans will continue to travel domestically for the first half of the year. According to a new survey by Generali Global Assistance, 64% say they prefer to travel domestically. But the results suggest that Americans will be going overseas again, perhaps as early as Memorial Day. More than half of US travelers (54%) said they would be comfortable traveling internationally six months after a vaccine was available.
"The average person's willingness to travel increases," says Chris Carnicelli, CEO of Generali Global Assistance.
"Travel will look different in the future," said John Thompson, international accident and health manager at Chubb insurance company. "But it will come back."
Why? The reason is simple: we have to travel. Despite what happened in 2020, there remains a "deeply human desire to connect, connect and collaborate, maintain and strengthen family bonds - those underlying attributes have gone nowhere," says Thompson.
Experts are optimistic about travel in 2021. They hope that 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 help plan the perfect trip.
The worst is over. That's what Sloan Dean, CEO of Remington Hotels, believes. Here's how he puts it: December 21st was the darkest day of the year in the northern hemisphere and one of the darkest days of the pandemic for travelers. "But the turning point lies with us," he says. By the summer solstice, America will have access to multiple vaccines that are shown to be greater than 90% effective. "This 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're likely to see some changes in the way people travel," said Jason Guggenheim, senior partner in the travel and tourism practice of Boston Consulting Group. "For example, travelers will prefer using Airbnb over hotel stays." Travelers are also likely to prefer car rides over airplanes. It's a continuation of a trend that started in 2020.
There are plenty of other offers. Sites like Priceline, which monitor tariffs and hotel prices, say the bargains are abundant - especially for early next year. "View flexible deals that can be booked now for travel at a later date," said Ben Harrell, chief marketing officer at Priceline. "There are great offers, so take advantage of the current offers."
Expect more overbooked flights. This is a direct result of the easing of cancellation restrictions during the pandemic, said Azim Barodawala, CEO of Volantio, which provides revenue optimization services to airlines. "Before COVID, airlines had a pretty solid sense of how many passengers would cancel or not show their flights and they would overbook accordingly," he says. With customers now able to cancel without penalty, these assumptions are no longer valid and airlines have already started to overbook more flights.
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You won't pay a lot of fees. These hated surcharges like ticket exchange fees and hotel resort fees won't re-emerge in 2021, according to Melissa Downham, a travel advisor for the Departure Lounge. Some of the fees are gone forever. "I think flight change fees are a thing of the past," she says. "If airlines want to stay competitive, they can't charge - there will always be some airlines that don't charge change - and they keep customer loyalty. The same goes for hotels. If they want people to book." With confidence, they need to be more flexible about cancellation policy - even during busy times of the year. "
Everything is squeaky clean. Travelers would be no different, says Mike Slone, vice president of travel retail at PROS, a Houston-based software company. "Expect the perceived value of cleanliness to continue," he says. "Even if there is a vaccine, we've got used to cleaning hotels, restaurants and flights. Don't expect that to go away."
You may want to hire a professional. Since traveling is so complicated, you will likely need to seek expert advice. "Due to the unpredictable impact of the pandemic on travel plans, people are increasingly turning to professional travel agents to organize their trips," predicts Vered Schwarz, president of Guesty's short-term rental property management platform. "Agents keep their finger on the pulse and have the latest information. They can easily make refunds and cancellations easy."
Yes, there is still a lot of uncertainty, but one thing is certain for the future: you will travel again.
"It is in people's DNA to travel," says Daniel Durazo, Director of Marketing and Communication at Allianz Travel. "With demand pent up and the hope for a highly effective COVID-19 vaccine, we saw an increase in travel bookings in 2021."
When should you plan a trip?
Spring Break, Spring holidays, Spring Break. According to a survey by Morning Consult, at least 2 in 5 adults in the US said they would not feel safe traveling abroad until spring 2021. The prices will be low, but the risks will be high. State health departments may not be able to distribute the vaccines widely. If you belong to a risk group, you may want to wait a while.
Summer. Tour operators like Apus Peru Adventure Travel encourage their customers to book tours for the summer or later to allow countries time to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine. "Vaccine or not, it will take time for full COVID protocols to be implemented and perfected. The longer travelers wait, the more likely all kinks will be fixed at the time of their trip," said Sarah Confer, manager at Apus Peru.
Wait until 2022. This is advice from Christopher Schaberg, an English professor at Loyola University in New Orleans and the author of four books on airports. "My best travel tip for the coming year: keep travel to an absolute minimum," he says. "See and be with the people you love and reconnect with your home region."
This article originally appeared in the US TODAY: COVID-19 Travel in 2021: What Travelers Can Expect After Vaccination
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