This is what travel could look like after a pandemic
valentinrussanov | E + | Getty Images
Many Americans are thinking of traveling again.
And who can blame them? After all, it was more than a year in which coronavirus infection rates fluctuated, lockdown restrictions kept coming up, and quarantine simply tired.
While the anti-Covid-19 vaccination efforts are gaining momentum nationwide, tourism providers are pursuing increased interest and even business in vacations that are leaving as early as the spring of this year. However, many aspects of the travel experience have changed and can become permanent – for better or for worse.
“We are seeing a growing number of people who are optimistic that they will either go this spring or into the summer,” said Jeff Hurst, president of the online Vrbo vacation rental website in Austin, Texas and marketing co-lead at the parent company Expedia Group.
“What’s encouraging is that people are essentially putting their money where their mouth is and booking this trip,” he said.
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A recent Vrbo survey of more than 8,000 people found that 65% of Americans plan to travel more than they did before Covid in 2021.
A March poll of 535 adults on The Vacationer website found that a quarter of people would like to travel more after “official” pandemic, while just over 58% are returning to pre-Covid travel habits. The same study found that 67.72% of respondents plan to travel this summer.
Expedia Group’s 2021 Travel Trends Report, conducted in December, found that 46% of people said they were more likely to travel when a Covid vaccine becomes widely available. By Wednesday, nine states will offer vaccinations to all of their residents, and President Joe Biden wants every US adult to be eligible for a vaccination by May 1.
Jon Grutzner, president of Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold – two high-end guided vacation brands owned by Cypress, California-based The Travel Corporation – said, “As the vaccine rollout continues, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in ours Bookings noted. “
Reservations for the third and fourth quarters of this year have now been received. “But it is 2022 that will be a record year for everyone,” said Grutzner.
Air travel is on the rise and both short- and long-term hotel bookings are starting to recover, according to CNBC, according to Nicholas Ward, president and co-founder of Koddi, a Fort Worth, Texas-based travel booking technology company.
Ward said he saw increased vaccination rates, more travel demand and good mood data as indicators of “the possibility of a great summer period even if we don’t fully recover in 2021”.
While the demand for traditional hotel accommodation has declined 13% year-over-year and 20% year-over-year, “this is the smallest decrease in some time,” he said. “We see that things are generally going in the right direction from a travel requirement perspective and keep improving week after week.”
Even so, industry executives see no return to the pre-pandemic status quo. There’s a new normal journey, they say, for better or for worse.
“I don’t think there will be a future year that feels normal in the context of the past,” said Vrbo’s Hurb. “I don’t really plan it that way, and I’m not sure if the consumers are either.”
I can tell you that everyone should add travel insurance to every transaction.
Co-founder and President of InteleTravel
James Ferrara, co-founder and president of InteleTravel in Delray Beach, Florida, a network of around 60,000 home travel agents, agreed.
“We will never go back to what the industry was like before the pandemic, and neither should we,” he said. “We’ve grown over the past year, we’ve learned a few things – and so have consumers.
Ferrara said some changes, like continued masking or cruise lines operating at half capacity, will only be temporary, while others – like improved hygiene protocols and looser cancellation and rebooking policies from airlines and other travel providers – will stay here. “This looks like a long-term change to me and I think this is excellent business for everyone.”
Koddi’s Ward agreed, and also predicted, that the secure and “smooth” check-in protocols hotels, resorts, and other accommodations have put in place during the pandemic will be a fundamental change, with providers focusing on updating technologies such as Focus on smartphone apps.
“We are seeing that contactless check-in and mobile check-in are increasing very significantly,” he said. “It’s a net benefit for consumers and so can hotels.
“They want to – and in many cases need to – work much more efficiently,” said Ward, noting that it will take time for the accommodation staff to recover. Hence, technical abbreviations are crucial.
Interest in travel advice has increased
Igor Emmerich | Culture | Getty Images
Speaking of staff, Ferrara said the silver lining to the travel consultants – or travel agents as they used to be common knowledge – pandemic was that they had stood the test of time for consumers. A profession that has suffered repeated blows, from commission cuts to the advent of online booking engines, since the turn of the century finally had to prove it had the right stuff when Covid hit and holidays scrubbed en masse.
“We are here a year later and we see that some customers are still struggling to get their refunds,” Ferrara said. “A professional travel consultant will do all of this work for you, and often free of charge.”
When he founded InteleTravel in the early 1990s, travel consultants’ credibility fell “somewhere near used car dealers,” Ferrara said. But “consumers have learned the value of a professional travel advisor, especially when things are not going the way they want them to.”
“In my 30-plus-year career, I’ve never seen such a high level of interest and confidence in travel agents as I do now,” he added, noting that surveys have shown that two-thirds of potential travelers plan to use a travel agent with travel consultants for future trips.
Where you go?
Vrbo’s Top 5 Mobile US Travel Destinations for 2021
- Broken Arch, Oklahoma
- Boone, North Carolina
- Naples, Florida
- Miramar & Rosemary Beach, Florida
- Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Source: The Vrbo Trend Report 2021
Look for continued interest in domestic travel, beach vacations, vacation home rentals, and bleisure trips that combine business travel and vacation – all trends that emerged during the pandemic. Another is the road trip.
Vrbos Hurst says local car trips will stay here. “The wanderlust of exploring the area has potentially lasting benefits, especially for the younger generations,” he said. “You won’t be in the air that much.
“It’s a different kind of economically sustainable travel and you can invest more in local communities and things that you may find a different kind of connectivity for.”
Insight Vacations’ Grutzner agreed that “traveling with a purpose” is the name of the game. “We’re getting more questions now about what our company is doing to give something back.” (All 40 Travel Corporation brands have jointly founded the TreadRight Foundation, which supports 50 projects around the world dedicated to sustainable tourism and helping communities and the environment.)
Grutzner also expects a resurgence in interest in escorted vacations or group travel, although travelers may now prefer smaller allotments.
“We are careful and very selective about the hotels we stay in, the restaurants we eat and the places we go so we don’t put our guests at risk,” he said, adding, that Insights’ average tour includes fewer than 24 participants and Luxury Gold’s under 20 years of age. “I believe this will increasingly be something people will be looking for.”
Something they are also looking for or must have is travel insurance, especially for medical coverage outside of US borders. According to Grutzner, 85% of customers are now buying insurance, compared to 40% to 45% before Covid.
“I can tell you that everyone should add travel insurance to every transaction,” said Ferrara of InteleTravel. “You have to worry about getting flown somewhere where you trust the medical services,” he said. “And those bills – I’ve seen people make claims for a quarter of a million dollars.”
While today’s travelers will largely be vaccinated and insured, the travel sector itself will be healthier than it was before the pandemic, Hurst said.
“We’ll have a new muscle when it comes to … how … we hopefully deal with a much smaller version of it in the future,” he said. “I think we’re all better prepared. So I’m optimistic that such future events will be both smaller and less disruptive.”