COVID travel

The State of Tourism in 2021: What Can We Expect This Year?

Since the start of the global COVID-19 crisis, tourism has been among the hardest-hit sectors worldwide. A UNWTO reported stated that international tourist arrivals were down 83% in the first quarter of 2021. Asia and the Pacific recorded the lowest levels of tourism, with a 94% drop. 2021 is set to become the most notable year yet for tourism. As the world recovers from the pandemic, borders are gradually starting to reopen. Meanwhile, COVID-19 has markedly reshaped tourists’ preferences. International tourism is set to change permanently.

Choice of destinations and activities

A European Commission report stated that the COVID-19 health crisis is affecting consumer willingness to travel, and destination preferences. It is evident that we won’t be able to travel as freely as we used to, without risking our health. Travelers will actively seek to avoid crowded cities. Vibrant marketplaces, packed concerts, and the usual hotspots will not attract as many visitors as they used to.

There is a growing preference for outdoor and holistic experiences. Activities such as yoga, meditation, birding, biking, hiking, water sports, and adventure sports will grow. Holidays involving nature, clean air, and relaxation are becoming more popular. At the same time there is a growing awareness for sustainability. Tourism is being widely reorganized with a view to support local communities. 2021 and beyond will mark the era of eco-conscious travel.

Growth of domestic tourism

Holidays are an essential part of life. Millions have been forced to postpone leisure travel for too long. International borders are still to fully reopen. This is why domestic tourism is set to resume at a faster pace than international tourism. An OECD report on tourism stated that domestic tourism has already restarted, and is helping to mitigate the impact on jobs and businesses. Tourism employs vast numbers of migrants who send money online to support their families back in their home countries. UNWTO said that many destinations have started with domestic tourism before opening up for international travel.

Safety and social distancing

Traveling in groups has long been a cost-effective way to enjoy vacation time with minimal planning. However, traveling with strangers increases the risk of exposure to infection. Organized group tours have suddenly gone out of fashion. Travelers are willing to pay more to reduce the risk of infection. Group travel may regain popularity after comprehensive and widespread vaccination becomes a global reality.

The popularity of international destinations will be highly dependent on their track record of success in dealing with COVID-19. Tourists are becoming more sensitive to the ongoing precautions (or lack thereof) at destinations while planning their travel. Big cities will lose some of their tourism attractiveness. Places that offer outdoor and nature-centric activities will gain popularity. Open locations make it easy for travelers to maintain social distancing and minimize risk.

The cost will no longer be the sole consideration when booking flights. Tourists will choose their airlines based on hygiene standards, seat occupation (spacing), sanitation, and so on. Domestic travelers will increasingly opt to travel by car, and avoid public transport where possible. This may well start a new era of road trips. With new priorities and considerations, shorter holidays will become the norm. People are opting to travel to destinations closer to home, places that are no more than a few hours’ drive.

The regulatory environment

Government regulations will be instrumental in shaping the public’s long-term attitudes toward travel. Right now it is vital for authorities to emphasize public health and awareness. Effective handling of outbreaks now equates to better tourism in the future. However, several complex questions remain. For example, how will governments manage star attractions? Can we ensure social distancing at monuments that attract millions? The solutions may lie in greater attention toward environmental and social sustainability.

Role of tour operators

Travel planning is becoming a lot more considered, deliberate, and involved. International travel restrictions are being updated too frequently. This is causing much uncertainty regarding travel safety. There is too much information to process. To make things worse, a lot of online information turns out to be contradictory or fake. All the new complexities are making it more difficult to plan holidays.

Travelers will increasingly depend on tour operators to plan their trips, manage the complicated airline bookings, and advise on the proper health regulations to follow. Tour operators will become more specialized by providing carefully researched itineraries including transport, stay, and activities.

Tips for travelers

  • While planning, consider the recent remarks of other travelers on social media. Pictures provide valuable information. Check facts. Filter out fake info. Use your best judgment.
  • Research your destination thoroughly with regards to the prevailing safety procedures. It is best to reach out to a licensed tour operator for options. Seek quotes from multiple vendors to get a fuller picture.
  • Travel restrictions tend to change often. Opt for bookings with ‘no cancellation fee’ when choosing airlines, hotels, and activities. Flexible cancellation policies are helpful in a time of uncertainty.
  • Experiences are important. Potential tourists are less likely to rely on promotional literature, and more likely to believe reviews. Hospitality businesses should consider this a key factor.
  • Plan your travel finances well. Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card is considered the best card for travelers. As of this writing, they offer 100,000 bonus points when you open an account with them and meet the spend requirement of $4,000 in the first 3 months. Use it for your travel related purchases for special perks. Keep using it for other purchases to rack up the miles/points.
  • Currently many destinations are offering attractive discounts in an effort to restart tourism after a long hiatus. Scope out these limited-time offers and make the most of them.


About the author: Hemant G is a contributing writer at Sparkwebs LLC, a Digital and Content Marketing Agency. When he’s not writing, he loves to travel, scuba dive, and watch documentaries.

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