Look for deals on airline tickets to overseas destinations. Expect pampering by hospitality industry employees showing a fresh zeal for the visitors who help boost their economies, national and personal. Interest will grow in less explored locations and small-group tours. Natural wonders will be just a little more wonderful because they haven't been trampled in the past year. According to travel experts, these are some of the ways the difficulties of 2020 will transform travel for the better in 2021.
In a taste of what's to come in the new year, Craig Beal got a prime parking spot to watch as tens of thousands of wildebeest rumbled across the Serengeti plains. The annual mass migration has been known to cause safari vehicle traffic jams, but in September, the owner of Wayzata, Minnesota-based nonhunting safari company Travel Beyond watched for two hours and saw just seven other vehicles.
In the Galápagos Islands, pods of dolphins and albatross have appeared in huge numbers, likely a result of fewer visitors, said Jordan Harvey, co-founder of Minneapolis-based Knowmad Adventures. Machu Picchu is another altered spot. A client sent him photos of a recent stop there and he was nearly alone at the popular 15th century Inca citadel.
"There's a gold mine out there, so to speak, in visiting previously overtouristed places and seeing them in all their glory," Harvey said.
Harvey also said small-ship cruises, with stops in smaller ports, will be big as cruising returns.
Other locations on the petite side will include second-tier cities — think Orvieto, not Rome — as travelers remain leery of crowds, according to Dr. Nadeen White, an Atlanta-based physician and travel blogger at the Sophisticated Life. White anticipates that as travelers prepare to hit the road again, they will take fewer but longer vacations; "slow travel" is the buzzword. "The less exposure to people, flights, the better," she said.
That fits with another trend she sees coming: a focus on sustainable tourism. "We have all had a chance to stop and take a look at what overtourism has been doing to the environment and the planet."
White also believes there will be a rise in the number of people taking curated small-group tours. Harvey agrees, saying travelers want custom trips that reflect their tastes. "People want their microbrew, not their Bud," he said.
Chevonne Ball, owner of Dirty Radish Travel Co., can attest to that. The wine expert offers tours of Oregon's Willamette Valley based on clients' interests, and business has taken off even as the pandemic set in. (Her trips to France will return in 2022.)
On the airline front, 2020 saw change fees go away and prices drop on some routes. Beal recently nabbed a business-class trip from Minneapolis to Tanzania next fall for $3,700; it usually costs $10,000 or more.
No matter where people go and for how long, they can expect to be treated well. "Everywhere I've gone now, they are so excited to see tourists," said Beal. "Service levels are off the charts."