After months of unpredictability, it’s hard to imagine how holidays might look in the year ahead. But one thing’s for certain: with a vaccine roll-out already in full flow, short breaks and long-haul getaways can and will resume once more in 2021.
Of course, like everything post-pandemic, travel will look a little different. But already, consumer demands are creating new trends and reshaping the industry – arguably for the better.
Here, some key players working in the travel business share their thoughts…
1. It’ll be smooth cruising once the vaccine is out
“As a luxury river cruise company, where a good number of guests are on average 60-plus, we’re confident the roll-out of the vaccine means that 2021 won’t actually be too dissimilar from a ‘normal’ season,” says Chris Townson, managing director of UK & Ireland for Uniworld (uniworld.com).
“Based on current timelines, most Brits in our typical demographic will have received the vaccine by late spring, and once they do, there’ll be no stopping them! Our booking patterns reflect that optimism and pent up demand, and our sailings across Europe for mid to late 2021 are filling up very nicely. 2022 seems to be the year of the bucket list, with our long-haul trips, in particular our Ganges cruise with the Golden Triangle in India, seeing a resurgence in popularity. People desperately want to make up for lost time and turn that dream of escapism into a reality.”
2. Glamping is here to stay
“Glamping was undoubtedly one of the biggest success stories for the domestic tourist industry in 2020,” says Mike Bevens, managing director of Canopy & Stars (canopyandstars.com).
“Our bookings for 2021 are already significantly higher than last year, our record year, with forward bookings up over 180 per cent year-on-year in December. Last year, we saw summer holiday bookings treble in the days immediately following the [British] prime minister’s announcement that restrictions would be eased, so guests would be wise to book ahead of the post-lockdown rush.”
3. Demand will be high if you book too late
“When it’s wet and gloomy outside, the idea of enjoying a cocktail at sunset on your balcony, overlooking the ocean, is a beautiful prospect,” says Derek Jones, CEO of Kuoni (kuoni.co.uk).
“January has always been a popular time to book, as there are so many good savings, but this year it’s advisable to book sooner rather than later, to guarantee you’ll get away to the spot you want. Demand is going to flood back as soon as we’re through this latest set of restrictions, so you could find that if you leave it, you may struggle to find what you want.
“Flexibility will continue to be a theme as complexity and uncertainty around travel continues. A move to trusted brands, with real people to help fix things if anything changes before or during the holiday, is going to be important this year.”
4. It will be a time for new destinations to shine
“As consumer confidence grows, we will see a desire to make up for lost time, and to ensure the time we do spend travelling gives us as much enrichment and value as possible,” says Jerry Inzerillo, CEO of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority, responsible for a new cultural site in Saudi Arabia (dgda.gov.sa).
“Travel will become more meaningful again, with each trip offering the traveller an opportunity for consideration and depth of experience – places that were previously considered ‘once in a lifetime’ will move higher up consumers’ lists, as the urgency and impetus for travel returns again.
“We will see more far-flung, adventurous trips in 2021, with the sentiment being that there is no time like the present. Emerging destinations that are off the beaten track and less well known, such as Saudi Arabia, will benefit from this, as people crave new experiences and seek out adventure.”
5. Hobby holidays will be top of the agenda
“People have been prevented not only from travelling, due to Covid measures, but also from pursuing many activities,” says Phil North, manager at Dive Worldwide (diveworldwide.com).
“Our research indicates many people have used the time to take stock, and will be keener than ever to enjoy activities – such as scuba diving – in 2021. We’re getting enquiries from qualified divers, but we also have non-divers wanting to learn. We believe small groups may prove popular also, providing camaraderie within a small bubble, and have introduced small group adventures to the Red Sea, the Maldives and Indonesia. Indonesia is our biggest selling destination and it will always be a favourite with divers.”
6. Africa meets new demands for private, secluded hideaways
“Our guests are looking for places that offer wide open spaces and lend themselves to physical distancing, or the novelty of exploring a completely new destination, knowing they’re safe in the A&K cocoon,” says Geoffrey Kent, founder of luxury operator Abercrombie & Kent (abercrombiekent.com).
“This is Africa’s moment. Safaris are a natural fit as we begin travelling again, featuring small boutique camps with plenty of space and privacy. Plus, tourism plays an important role in protecting endangered wildlife, not only by keeping poachers at bay, but also bringing much-needed funding to local conservation projects. It’s a win-win all round.”
7. People will invest in privacy and space
“There have been more bookings for upgraded rooms, focusing on larger suites with their own private pools, as well as private villas that are part of hotel complexes,” says Erin Johnson, marketing director for Sovereign Luxury Travel (sovereign.com).
“This gives customers access to hotel facilities, but means family bubbles can be together in their own space. Requests for in-room private dining have also proven popular, suggesting that after a year of cooking for themselves, customers want the joy of eating from a hotel restaurant, but to do so in their own space. We have always offered private transfers as standard for all of our customers, as well as lounge access at the airport, but I think this will be something customers come to expect when they travel again, as it means limited exposure to large groups of people.”