It has been a long 19 months since the travel industry went on hiatus thanks to the pandemic, but the world is finally opening up again. The skies are full of beckoning contrails, with new flights added every week, hotels are bouncing back, and areas hit hard by lockdowns are welcoming tourists. Travellers have changed during this time too, and our reasons for taking a trip are different than before: The length of our stays has extended as working from home has become working from anywhere, we’re seeking destinations that look after our mental health as well as the health of the planet and even the way we book our travel has changed (hello, flexible cancellation policies and “trip stacking”). Not only are these shifts shaping travel trends for next year, they’re also guiding our return to the wonderful wide world.
From socially distanced group trips to truly flexible cancellation policies, these pandemic–inspired trends will help shape our return to travel next year.
Booking backup trips
After months of hoping to travel (and often being let down by new rules or cancellations) travellers are no longer placing all their vacation dreams in one basket. Enter “trip stacking” – where you purchase a trip using flexible cancellation options and have a backup trip (or two) lined up, just in case. Hans Pfister, co–owner of the Cayuga Collection, which includes sustainable resorts like Isla Palenque in Panama, says he doesn’t expect those flexible policies to disappear any time soon. “When Covid–19 hit, we cut cancellation period requirements in half,” he explains. Customers who, depending on the season, were expected to make final payments as much as three months in advance have seen that number shrink to as few as 15 days. “We're going to carry that into 2022, because we still feel people are a bit wary about committing long–term.” That’s good news for travellers, but it doesn’t mean you should ignore the fine print when you make a purchase – understanding what will happen if you cancel might save you money and stress should your travel plans change.
Travelling together – but apart
Remember other people? Travellers are ready to get back together, but there’s still a concern about being too close. Travel companies are offering small tours that allow for a group dynamic without panic–inducing crowds. Socially distanced tours, like the ones offered by Get Out Toronto and Many Chief Tours in Alberta, keep group sizes small to help travellers feel safe. G Adventures, the Toronto–based adventure travel company, is also leaning into this trend with their private “book your bubble” options, which offer you more control over who you travel with.
The feel–good getaway
The pandemic has redefined luxury travel, prioritizing space and safety over fancy food and posh plunge pools. Far–flung islands, remote lodges and rural settings are at the forefront of extravagant getaways, says Lebawit Lily Girma, global tourism report at Skift, a travel industry news site. “It’s a trend I suspect will merge with the rising interest in wellness vacations.” We’re all feeling the same collective exhaustion, as a staggering 68 percent of vacationers sayid they’re likely to base their next trips around improving their mental well–being, according to a recent report from American Express. Travellers hoping to recharge their minds and bodies are seeking out these remote destinations, as well as natural escapes like birding, hiking and foraging.
Doing the right thing
From First Nations–led tourism to regenerative travel (actively participating in reversing climate change), people are keen to explore the world in an ethical way. “Gen Z and millennial travellers, including families with kids, are increasingly seeking out the educational and life experience aspect of travel, such as learning about a destination’s heritage through hands–on cultural activities,” says Girma. According to a recent Booking.com survey, more than half of Canadian travellers feel that it’s important that their trip is beneficial to the local community at their destination.
Tour guides like Siviwe in South Africa, museums such as Te Papa Tongarewa in New Zealand and The Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia, and planning websites like Destination Indigenous are all organizations travellers can feel good about putting their dollars toward. “With increased attention on political and social movements in the past few years, plus witnessing extreme weather events worldwide due in large part to climate change, travellers want to know their holidays are not only fun and enjoyable, but also do right by the world and its people,” says Matt Berna, managing director of North America for Intrepid Travel, a Certified B Corp that relies on local insiders to lead trips and tours. “This is why many travellers are seeking responsible companies to book with.”
WFA (work from anywhere)
A lot of people were freed from their cubicles during the pandemic, and many have no intention of returning to the way things were. The search for work/life balance is in full swing and the trend of “work from anywhere” is on the rise. (The sister trend of bleisure or workations – that extend business trips to ensure there’s time to explore the destination and not just the boardroom – is growing, too.) Girma says it’s part of a wider shift: “People are seeking a lifestyle change, and want a slower, better quality of life, including travel.”
Hiring travel advisers
Do you know where to get a Covid–19 test? Will the one you take in Toronto be valid in Barbados? If you've got mixed vaccines, can you get on a cruise ship in Miami? What documentation will allow you to lunch in Switzerland? And what happens if you test positive and can’t take your trip? The rules of travel have changed and keeping up with them is a job all its own. Expect to see the shift from booking your own travel to reaching out to consultants to help you navigate the ever–changing rules and regulations. A report released by the Family Travel Association in conjunction with New York University revealed that while only 17 percent of respondents have booked trips with a travel advisor during the past two years, 65 percent would consider using one in the next two. When asked if the pandemic has affected their new response, 31 percent said it had. Families looking for help can turn to the list of certified travel advisers at the Family Travel Association.
Birthdays, weddings, honeymoons, bucket list vacations – we want to make up for all the things we missed. In an effort to “get back at” the pandemic that stole nearly two years of our lives, “celebration trips will likely come roaring back in 2022,” says Rainer Jenss, founder of the Family Travel Association. A recent survey by the blog The Vacationer found that more than a quarter of people plan to travel more than they used to post–Covid. “Pent–up demand is raging,” Jenss says. We have spent valuable pandemic time reassessing what matters most in our lives, including work/life balance, spending time with family and friends, milestone celebrations – and exploring our extraordinary planet.