What might 2021 travel look like?
As we approach the year mark since the first lockdown, for most of us it’s becoming close to impossible to keep our wanderlust in check.
After months of restrictions, people are desperate for a bit of a break. But with the daily death rate still worryingly high and guidance changing almost constantly, it’s difficult to say with any certainty when travel might be a real possibility again.
International travel has been effectively banned since the start of this year, with only those with essential reasons allowed to board flights in or out of the country. This, of course, followed restrictions for much of 2020, which cost the UK travel industry many billions; according to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) the UK travel industry loses £60m per day due to loss of overseas visitors.
However, with positive news on vaccinations and other countries around the world opening up again, it’s not all doom and gloom. So, when can we start packing?
Staycations are 2021’s big thing (at least for the coming months), though, with vaccine and travel optimism on the rise, it’s time to start thinking about marketing activity to capitalise on a likely boom in holiday interest towards the end of the year.
As travellers’ feet get itchier, travel insiders are being called on to predict when we can all embark on adventures again. The vaccine rollout has led to some optimism that ‘staycations’ and domestic travel could resume from as soon as late March, with international travel perhaps following later in the year. Many insiders are being a little more cautious, particularly following Transport Secretary Grant Schapps’ recent statement urging consumers not to book holidays just yet, arguing that the government doesn’t know “where we’ll be” with virus restrictions by the summer.
There has, however, been some potential good news surrounding the travel and tourism industry itself, with the WTTC predicting that over 100 million jobs could return to the travel industry this year, suggesting that things may be on their way (slowly!) to getting back to pre-pandemic normal.
Industry reporting suggests that most consumers are being understandably cautious with overseas bookings. Over 40% of Thomas Cook’s recent bookings were for October and beyond, indicating that there is still some hesitation to travel abroad currently. Mandatory hotel quarantine will be rolled out from February 15th for arrivals from more than 30 countries on the government’s travel ban list, adding another factor into consideration for overseas travellers – particularly since Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that the quarantine would cost each traveller £1,750.
A dropoff in foreign bookings has seen much of the online travel search traffic instead transfer attention to the staycation market, with domestic holidays experiencing a boom.
Google Trends analysis reflects this, with a year on year decrease in search interest for “Europe holidays” and an increase in interest for “UK staycations” that looks to be growing as we continue through spring.
For UK-based travel firms, a reduced appetite amongst consumers for overseas travel meant a huge uptick in visitor numbers. Cottages.com saw a 45% increase in web traffic last month, with other similar sites also experiencing significant rises in visitor numbers.
At the start of February, Cottages.com took 8,000 domestic bookings, an almost 20% increase on the previous booking record set last June following the relaxation of the first national lockdown.
Capacity for holidays in the UK this summer is already filling up rapidly thanks to postponed 2020 holidays and restrictions on entry to popular foreign destinations – PremierCottages.com reported a 405% increase in bookings compared to the same week last year.
Trends to look out for in 2021
Whatever happens with vaccination, staycations and restrictions, travel throughout 2021 is still likely to look very different to what we knew pre-pandemic. With almost a full year of being grounded under our belts, we’ve all been finding other ways to get our holiday fix from home, and in many cases our new mentality is likely to stick around for a while longer yet.
Bearing that in mind, these are some of the trends we predict will be hot for 2021:
1. Familiar Favourites
With domestic holidays and staycations on the rise, familiarity and a sense of being close to home will be a huge trend. ABTA found that just 41% of people wanted to visit a city or resort they’d not visited before (a 13% decrease from 2019).
2. VR Vacations
The new Oculus headset Quest 2 offers users the chance to explore bucket list fixtures like Machu Picchu and Antarctica virtually. Without being able to physically adventure, headset users can virtually experience new destinations, offering the next best alternative to actually being there.
Additionally, a number of tourist boards are also turning to virtual experiences to remind would-be travellers of their wares – Visit Maldives is offering a number of tours allowing a taste of tropical paradise everywhere from Male to Manchester. Services offering everything from guided walking tours of Transylvania to immersive experiences of Indigenous Australian culture are available online, suggesting the virtual travel market isn’t going anywhere (at least as long as we aren’t either).
3. Family Reunions
With social distancing and lockdown isolation dominating life over the past 12 months, reuniting with loved ones is going to be a huge theme of future travel.
A recent AirBnB survey in the US found that reconnecting with family was a huge motivation. 32% of respondents said that being close to family was a concern for future travel, and over 40% said connections with family and friends are more important post-pandemic. Further, AirBnB reported an all-time high with family/group bookings in 2020, signalling a shift in holiday trends that seems here to stay.
This trend also looks likely to be reflected in the UK, with several companies reporting an increase in family or group bookings. 75% of Premier Cottages’ family properties are already sold out for 2021, according to chair Beth Bailey