Good news for everyone who only enjoyed a staycation in 2020 and ready to get out of town for a real vacation in 2021. Vacation travel will return this year, but there is no returning to the old “normal.” Travel will be different—and in many respects, better than before. The travel environment will improve continuously over the course of 2021 as vaccines are delivered around the world. And, yes, there are places you can travel to right now.
Where can I travel right now?
As of early December, there were over 68 countries where American tourists could travel. Many of these destinations have virus testing requirements and some still require a quarantine period. The list and entry requirements continue to change weekly, so check with your travel agent to see what is available if you want to travel in the next 60 days. What is available right now without quarantine restrictions is the all-inclusive and family resorts in Cancun, Las Cabos, Punta Cana, Jamaica, Aruba, Costa Rica, and a few other Caribbean islands. A negative test result for COVID-19 is required for most international travel, except for Mexico and the Dominican Republic. In the United States, theme parks in Orlando and attractions in Las Vegas are open to visitors.
What risks are associated with airplane travel?
Great trips often involve a flight a two, and many eager travelers want to know how air travel fits within their personal risk profile. In a new study, the Department of Defense found that the odds of exposure to the exhale of another passenger are three in 1,000— assuming that all persons are wearing masks—and concluded that aerosol exposure risk is minimal even during long-duration flights. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website concurs, stating: “Most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes.” Modern aircraft replace 100 percent of the cabin air several times per hour and filter all recirculated air using medical-grade HEPA filters. And, it turns out that those high seat backs do a pretty good job of blocking airflow from everywhere except the adjacent seats. Airlines have adopted stringent cleaning and disinfecting protocols between flights. While some airlines are leaving the middle seats open for physical distancing, many have discontinued this policy. There is a more recent trend for airlines to require a negative COVID-19 test and to provide testing in the airport or home test kits to customers.
What about cruises?
Cruising resumed earlier this summer in Europe and is restarting now in Asia for local markets, but these have not been available to U.S. tourists. On Oct. 31, the CDC outlined the path to resuming cruising in the U.S., and all cruise lines are busy preparing to resume tours in early 2021. The year will start slowly—no earlier than March—with short, three-to-five-day Caribbean cruises out of Florida ports. Cruise lines will bring ships back online in a sequential fashion, and we expect it will be the last quarter of 2021 before we see a 100 percent return of ships and itineraries. As part of the CDC framework, there will be no cruises in the U.S. more than seven nights long through the end of October 2021. Cruise lines are banking on a full Alaska cruise season (May through September) and are positioning a number of new ships on the West Coast for this. The Mediterranean season for U.S. travelers is uncertain, but we expect this popular cruise itinerary (including Greece, Montenegro, Spain, Portugal and Italy) to be available this summer. In general, the later in the year for any European vacation, the more options will be available to travelers. Northern Europe cruises (British Isles and the Baltics) and European river cruises should resume around the same time. However, the timeline will be determined by how quickly borders are opened to inbound travel by Americans.
WHAT WILL BE DIFFERENT FOR TRAVEL IN 2021?
Reduced capacities: Hotels, resorts, parks, ships and airplanes will operate at less than full capacity for the foreseeable future to allow for physical distancing and to enable deep cleaning and sanitation. Expect fewer guests, lines and crowds, no matter how or where you travel.
Immunity passports: A personal digital record of immunization and health records that will enable travel anywhere in the world is picking up support from the travel industry. Expect requirements for proof of testing and immunizations to be required for international travel.
Sanitation and cleaning: The entire travel, tourism and hospitality industry is committed and focused on this. You will see sanitation stations everywhere. Buffet dining will no longer be self-serve, and rooms and cabins will be deep-cleaned between all uses.
Physical distance and masks: Will be required universally. You should not travel if you are unable or unwilling to follow these protocols.
Low touch: To support physical distancing, new processes and technology are being introduced to eliminate crowds and physical contact. For example, registration at hotels or boarding for cruises will all be done in advance with online registrations using a smart phone app. Similarly, restaurant reservations will be required almost everywhere.
ADVICE FOR 2021 VACATION PLANNING
It’s always wise to book your travel far in advance. The earliest prices tend to be the lowest pricing, and the best rooms, locations, attractions and options also tend to sell out first. For 2021, this advice is even more important. Everything from resorts to tours and cruises will operate at reduced capacity. At the same time, the pent-up demand from travelers who are itching to get away is extraordinary. Prices will go up and the most popular vacations will be sold out for 2021. If you don’t want to be forced into second and third choices, and don’t want to pay the highest prices, book early!
Use a professional travel advisor
Travel in 2021 is going to be different from the last time you traveled. Health and testing requirements will differ in each country, and you need to understand the modifications made to tours, excursions, dining and entertainment to ensure a safer experience. And, these all can change from week to week. Your professional travel advisor will stay abreast of everything, guide you through the maze, make sure you are prepared and will be with you every step of the way to make sure you have a fun and memorable trip.
Travel insurance is now more important than ever
Savvy travelers understand the value of travel insurance to protect their investment. But now, insurance is more important than ever. In fact, some destinations now require that tourists show proof of insurance for entry. It is important to know that standard trip insurance will not cover COVID-19 as an insurable reason for trip cancellation (the pandemic is a known event and carriers will not insure against a known event). We recommend that clients purchase Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) insurance and select the cash back option over the voucher-back coverage.
Top recommendations for right now
Your best options for a getaway in early 2021 are resort properties in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Aruba and the Caribbean. If you prefer to stay in the U.S., top choices are Universal and Disney World in Orlando, Las Vegas and the National Parks. There are also domestic river cruises, and more travelers are looking at railroad vacation packages.
Domestic and international travel will rebound in 2021, and we expect a full menu of travel choices to be available again by the end of the year. Because of high demand and reduced capacities, savvy travelers should book their 2021 vacation early to avoid expected higher prices and sellouts after Q1.