2021 and the future of travel


Well… as we stumble, shell-shocked towards the end of 2020, some of us are beginning to contemplate a world where we may cross boarders - or even leave our houses.


Just the other day I actually drove from my home in the mountains to the city. It felt quite adventurous and I was actually a little tired by the time I returned home. I’ll have to toughen up before I really strap in for a real journey!


As is the case with almost all career travellers this year, my well planned 2020 schedule

froze, and was then entirely dismantled. I returned home from a cultural tour in Mexico on March 14 and immediately went home. I was meant to fly to Europe March 16, but instead I hunkered down into quarantine - official national lockdown began March 17. I have not flown since (and have rarely even seen an airplane in the sky).


This has been a year of reflection, exercise, home cooking and a few too many drinks. Not too bad.


The crushing economic implications of all this have been harder on many, but this was certainly not a year I budgeted for. Numerous companies have failed and small businesses have collapsed. Personally I have seen how different companies have tried to adapt. Some companies have remained engaged, friendly and forward looking, despite having to cancel virtually everything - I look forward to working with them as soon as we can. Some others have not faired so well.


Most people in the travel world fully intend to return to their beloved vocation. How that will look is yet to be determined.


Vaccinations


It seems quite clear we need wide distribution of vaccines before we can really plan any travel. It is interesting how ‘herd immunity’ has been thrown about (or often conflated with herd mentality). Group immunity is dependant upon widespread vaccinations. This is just how it works.


Setting aside the conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers (who somehow don't think eradicating measles or polio was a good thing), some more thoughtful people are concerned by how quickly these Covid-19 vaccines have come to market. For my part, I will take whichever one is available as quickly as possible. These treatments are testament to what science can do when $billions are thrown at a problem!


In my broader, but connected world, I now know of over 300 people infected with Covid-19. More broadly, I would know of thousands. Of the 300, 5 have died and 50+ have needed medical support beyond just staying home. I know a 23 year old woman who still has no smell and limited energy a month on.


As compared to the so-called Spanish flu 100 years ago, we have been relatively lucky this time around. This coronavirus has proven extremely infectious (hence a pandemic), but fortunately not as extremely fatal as it could have been. This is little consolation to the thousands of people on ventilators, or to those who have lost loved ones.


Looking forward

As more vaccines are approved and distributed, we may find our lives becoming freer by early spring. This would be wonderful and should be achievable. If this is the case, what will travel look like?


Masks may become more common. We are already accustomed to seeing travellers from (and in) many parts of Asia wearing masks. Hong Kong learned a lot from SARS and the famously polite Japanese have long used masks when they have cold symptoms. I certainly have become accustomed to wearing one - it is actually quite nice in the cold!


Small group travel. Group tourism has been trending this way for some time and smaller groups may be a good, gentle way to restart touring. Smaller groups allow for more custom experiences and should build trust within groups. There will of course be cost implication, but perhaps this may be somewhat offset by competitive hotel prices, at least in the short term.


Pent-up demand


While many of us have had a challenging year economically, many of our clients have not been spending and may have accrued more vacation time, or simply banked fixed-income pensions. This is hopeful all around! As a sign in Alaska once read; “eat here, or we’ll both starve!


This will be a time to customize travel experiences. Perhaps choosing destinations where social distancing is a little easier and travel times are not too arduous. A gentle transition from the 'staycation,' onto 'regional tourism' and onto our beloved international experiences. For some markets, closed borders has forced the travel industry to acknowledge the potential domestic market. This is hopeful.


I listened to an excellent podcast from a guide in Guatemala. She very honestly noted they had never really contemplated an actual Guatemalan market. Engaging citizens in the project of tourism has so many positive outcomes from economics to social and environmental engagement.

Airlines


It is difficult to predict the future of flying. Unlike hotel space, which is somewhat fixed, airlines can limit volumes and costs. This may mean wonderful flight deals or a much higher fixed pricing strategy - thoughts?


Beyond the evident challenge of vaccine distribution, I see flying as one of our biggest challenges in the short to medium term. This may further promote a continuation of regional and national travel.


As the airline industry is so important economically, I expect governments to offer significant aid. It will be interesting to see whether the main beneficiaries will be national carriers, or if we will slide further into the low-cost model.


On the up side …


This extremely challenging year has caused a distinct decrease in polluting emissions. Those of us who travel globally are particularly aware of the potency of climate change. Sometimes we can forget our contribution. Normally by the end of December I would have flown on nearly 100 airplanes. My carbon footprint has shrunk. Here is our Covid and Mother Earth article from early in lockdown.


I am excited to return to the Andes, to enjoy a pint in a pub in Ireland and eat BBQ in Seoul.

This is a magnificent world, full of wonderful people and incredible sites. After this year of reflection, I hope we can all advocate for a more responsible and collective approach to our health and that of our home - indeed there is no ‘Planet B.’

As we look back on this peculiar year, it will be interesting how it is remembered. I'm sure there will be many movies to come! I have enjoyed the family time. I have also tried to shop locally - and order food from our struggling restaurants. We have all been learning to zoom, to sleep regularly and I now tap elbows with anyone I recognize!


Please enjoy this new website - there are well over 200 articles from around the world. Contact us for a travel consultation, a virtual tour - or better yet, let us plan a small group journey for you!


Please connect and stay safe. Here’s to 2021 and travel once again!




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