The coronavirus pandemic is still a global health emergency, with short- and long-term outcomes yet to be determined. But as curves flatten, stay-at-home orders expire, and businesses begin to reopen, our collective “new normal” is starting to take shape. (If we had a new passport stamp for every time we’ve read “new normal” this month…) Many who love travel are cautiously ready to plan again, and tourism is going play an important role in economic recovery – last year, travel and tourism accounted for 330 million jobs and $8.9 trillion of the world GDP. The travel industry is ready: Countries are (slowly) beginning to loosen border regulations, while rolling out plans for museums, restaurants, and other tourist attractions to reopen; airlines are adding popular routes back to schedules; and several Virtuoso hotels and resorts have recently announced reopening dates – with strict cleaning and social distancing guidelines in place.
We always knew travel would be back, but it’s still unclear exactly what it’s going to look like. Are people really ready to travel – and if so, where do they want to go? And where can they go? We asked Virtuoso travel advisors to tackle these questions – and a few others about travel in our new post-pandemic world. Here, their expert insight:
Many advisors report seeing a recent uptick of travelers reaching out, ready to start thinking about potential trips for later this year and into 2021. “No doubt there is pent-up demand for travel,” says Virtuoso agency executive Scott Largay. “Travelers are beginning to poke their heads out and at least inquire about where it’s best to go on their next trip and when they should expect to be able to go to certain places.”
Our travel advisors noted that older and high-risk travelers are likely the ones who plan on staying put – at least until there’s a vaccine. And while Virtuoso travel advisor Leah Smith predicts some families will be ready to travel soon (“I’m guessing after being quarantined with kids for so long, they’re yearning for some open spaces!”), advisor Grace DeVita adds that big, multigenerational family trips and reunions might still be on hold for a while – as family members are concerned about older relatives. (Though advisors did mention that private villas are good options for accommodating families safely.)
Their best predictions for travel’s rebound: July and August for domestic travel, and late 2020 and early 2021 for international. Ultimately, it’s about a traveler’s personal comfort level, and there are still many factors that can come into play.
“Travelers have always adapted quickly to ever-changing travel landscapes caused by natural disasters and other events,” Smith says. “When these things happen, those who love to travel are eager to get back out there and help their favorite destinations rebuild. For that reason, I’m very hopeful that travel will resemble some normalcy by this fall.”
Until there’s a coronavirus vaccine, potential new Covid-19 outbreaks may dramatically alter hotel openings, tour and flight schedules, and self-quarantine requirements. “It seems that restrictions will evolve and ease in a very patchwork fashion, with screening or testing at destinations affecting travelers’ access, and rules will be inconsistent and unclear,” says Virtuoso agency executive Ken Neibaur. “Travelers will demand a new level of flexibility with softer fare rules, no change fees, and no lost deposits.”
Because of these relaxed and generous cancellation policies, Virtuoso advisors encourage travelers who feel comfortable to go ahead and keep plans for later this year, or start making new ones for next year. There’s a good chance that hotels will release fewer rooms and tours will cater to smaller groups to adhere to social distancing guidelines, Largay says, so some trips for 2021 may actually begin to sell out sooner rather than later.
Wide-open spaces: Yellowstone National Park began reopening to travelers this month. (Photo by Getty Images)