2020 has definitely taught us not to make predictions. However, it's just our nature to have questions, and everyone wants to know how travel will be affected the rest of the year. You can read many opinions, but I've compiled at list of predictions that seem to be most believable.
Booking flexibility is here to stay. People who book a trip in 2021 will be looking hard at cancellation and refund policies. For the most part, travel suppliers are all offering flexibility right now and allowing change or cancellation without fees. Most industry insiders believe that these policies will stick around, even when travel begins to normalize.
A return to international travel will be slow. Many people have traveled to Mexico and the Caribbean during the pandemic because of their open borders. However, Europe and Canada continue to have limited access which may continue through most of 2021.
The new pandemic health and safety trends aren't going anywhere. Contactless touchpoints, mobile ordering, enhanced certified cleaning programs, mandatory face masks, air filtration temperature tests, health screenings, restricted capacity, and other social distancing measures will remain in place for most of the year.
River cruising will return before mainline cruising because the smaller number of guests make it easier to manage screenings and safety protocols. There will be high interest in river cruising destinations in the U.S., such as the Mississippi River, the Great Lakes, and the Columbia River Gorge.
We can all say goodbye to buffets at resorts and on cruises. Health officials have advised that self-service food stations lead to crowding of customers and repeated touching of utensils.
Expect spring break travel to be quiet and summer travel to be busier. Current bookings show that volumes are higher after Memorial Day. All travel segments are showing an increased number of bookings due to re-scheduled trips from 2020 and availability through the rest of the year is tight.
There will be lots of domestic travel deals as airlines and other travel providers try to entice travelers with lower prices. We have already seen deeply discounted flight and cruise fares since the first week of 2021. International deals are expected to come later.
You may need a digital vaccination passport when cruises and international travel open up again. The International Air Transport Association has a travel pass app in the works where travelers will be able to check COVID-19 entry requirements and store digital proof of a vaccine. Right now, it’s currently in testing with international airlines, and IATA is planning to launch the app by the end of March.
There will be more last minute trips. Industry leaders across different travel sectors – vacation rental, campgrounds, rail travel, hotels – are all seeing bookings that support the idea that travelers will book more last-minute trips due to flexible policies and the need to wait for testing or vaccination.
More travelers will be using a travel advisor. Travel advisors are well connected and on top of the shifting entry protocols and testing requirements. They have access to preferred pricing and added amenities for clients, and they act as consumer advocates should something go wrong.
Things will get better and the travel industry will recover. It might not happen as quickly as we'd like, but there will be a solid rebound because of travelers' pent-up demand.