a man standing on a rock with mountains in the background

Know this from the beginning: this is opinion. No one, literally no one on earth knows exactly what’s going to happen going forward in travel, but as someone who watches incredibly closely, I thought it would be fun to lay some cards on the table and set some jeopardy for the future, with predictions..

Like everyone, I’m seeking facts and figures about a safe reemergence from covid-19 wherever possible, but there’s a also quite a lot you can discern about the future of travel, and the world, just from simply walking out of your front door, and into a local park.

In many aspects, I think travel will be forever changed because of the insane times we’re living in, but not nearly as much as people think. Will all the changes that do happen be bad? Absolutely not! Before we crack into it all, who wouldn’t love…

  • a more orderly airplane boarding process
  • more efficient processing of passengers at immigration
  • better spacing in bars and restaurants with better cleanliness?
  • reasonable crowd controls at the greatest tourism attractions?

The Western World effectively began dealing with the global pandemic in March, after Italy closed its borders and declared a state of emergency. Two months later, May is in full swing, with worst case scenarios avoided, crucial measures being put in place daily to mitigate chances of a second wave and countries looking to reopen tourism.

That’s already a lot more upbeat than many expected, and many more doomsday fans hoped.

There have been unspeakably sad losses of life on an awful scale, but so too have their been selfless acts of good, as humanity bonded together to stay home and keep everyone safe. Many people tend to compare this to war, but I wasn’t sent off to fight to the death against my fellow man, I was just told to stay home and order takeout and discover and unlock the true potential of the internet.

The world bounced back from multiple wars, and it’s worth mentioning because it will absolutely bounce back from this.

a large building with a pool in front of itPrediction 1: Awkward First Dates

Travel is going to feel like an awkward first date for a while, but sometimes awkward first dates turn into lifetimes of love, and I think after a few months with the training wheels on, we’ll remember that travel is like riding a bike, and many elements of travel will return back to normal, even if they should not.

And that’s an important distinction to make, before you light your molotov cocktails and launch them my way, while becoming a central figure in a Banksy work of art.

I’m all for the science, I’m all for social distancing and I’m all for kicking the living crap out of covid-19 with any laws, drug or vaccine which helps safely do so, but people fail to consider how inflexible we as humans really are. It’s precisely why I just don’t see travel fundamentally changing as much as many predict.

airport space

Prediction 2: Social Distancing Will Always Be Weak

Observing people in parks on my daily jog, or walk, I see people who are unlikely to be in the same household. Their mannerism tends to give it away, with that little uneasiness of “should we be doing this”. But within seconds, they are back to normal chatting away about old times, new adventures and more.

Frustratingly to many, including myself, that 2 meters of recommended social distance seems to shrink by the word.

Even incredibly intelligent people who mean the best lack spatial awareness. Each run I embark on, I find people totally respectful of distancing, as I try to be, but then others who seem to have no clue that a pandemic is afoot, or simply don’t have that cognitive thought to move sideways as they brush past.

There are lots, and lots, and lots of these people and they are going to be on your subway cars, trains, planes and busses all over the world as restrictions begin to ease. In many parts of the world, they already are – whether you like it, or agree with it or not.

Nothing in life is without risk, and as workers do return to the everyday grind, I think society will slip back into normal more than I think the pundits on television would have anyone believe.

I’m not saying that’s a good thing, just a prediction of reality.

People are people, people are social and after a few drinks, old friends will be hugging and telling old stories. Unless the world plans to ban alcohol, which Hong Kong did somewhat successfully manage to do in bars for a bit, all the novel ideas we have for the future will largely fade away. My best hope is that new rules create positives for travel which actually improve, not worsen the experience.

a colorful tiled bench in a cityPrediction 3: Broad Travel Trends

I think we’re going to see a shift in how people travel, why and for how long. I think this will lead to a few trends which will last years, including…

  • People will take fewer trips, with hope for better comfort or social distancing in transit.
  • Villa vacations, where people rent houses and control their surroundings will increase.
  • Short haul, domestic and regional trips will bounce back before other international travel.
  • Travel pricing will become increasingly important during years of continued recession.
  • Wealthy travelers will seek second passports to broaden options in future crises.

I believe people will focus on taking a quality, longer trip each year, rather than the micro-trip trends which were emerging in recent years. That’s not to say short term travel won’t still exist – it will – it’s just that people will look to maybe save up for one trip in more comfort, so they can do so as safely as possible.

I think villa vacations will boom once more, particularly as families reconnect. Villas allow you total control over what you eat, who comes in, what goes out and can often mean considerable savings when groups are involved, like extended family.

a view of the wing of an airplanePrediction 4: Air Travel Trends

Planes will get smaller, routes will become unsustainable and who wants to touch the seat or anything on a plane these days? Air travel is going to fundamentally change…

Business class travel is going to be lagging for a long time to come, and won’t ever likely fully recover. To keep moving, airlines are going to shrink the number of seats they sell on each flight, and they’re going to use marketing tools like great fares, and loyalty programs to make you care about travel again.

If anything is really going to change in air travel, it’s going to be around solutions for deplaning and boarding. I do not predict middle seats to be blocked, simply because it’s ineffective. Technology, for the few airlines which can afford to invest in it will also be key. Solutions to wirelessly connect your device to their devices on board, with as few touch points as possible will be crucial.

a white building with yellow shuttersPrediction 5: Hotels And Accommodations

I think cleaning programs and the ability to market them will continue to be all the rage for months to come, as hotels make their case for coming back inside. It’s for this reason big chains have a leg up on the initial boom. Hotel and accommodations will see…

  • Airbnb will see a splintering as hosts look to cut direct, cheaper deals with travelers.
  • Hotels will use cleaning partnerships to promote travel and create awards for themselves.
  • Hotel bars will become more exclusive, since they’re typically more socially distanced.
  • Room service will become the new special hotel meal, with greater fanfare and fun.
  • Hotel pools will experience more classism, with preferential spots for suite guests, etc.
  • Mega hotels will suffer more than boutiques, but excess rooms will keep prices down.

a beach with buildings and a body of waterPrediction 6: Destination Trends

For years, mass tourism has been everything. Spain and France received more visitors than any others, and it meant crowding everywhere. Crowding, in a post covid-19 world, will no longer be cool. Tourists will seek tranquility over buzz, and small crowds versus large gatherings for a long time to come, thanks in part to government measures preventing them.

  • Health certificates, or some sort of pass/fail will be necessary for intl travel before flight.
  • Many destinations will weed out mass market travelers with taxes and subsidy cuts.
  • Beaches will become a police state in popular destinations, with fines and bans.
  • Higher visa/ETA fees in advance of travel to help cover additional screening measures.
  • Western countries will lose restriction free access in many Asian countries, need visas.
  • Tourism boards will begin to restrict visitor numbers by limiting flights, capping visitors.
  • Cruise travel will be curbed most due to the close nature and proximity of guests.

a plate of food on a tableDining Out And Activities In Travel

Restaurants, bars and other activities tend to be the very last element in plans to reopen the world. That’s probably because they hold the most jeopardy. Many of the very things which make travel so worthwhile will be changed, and they’ll be different longer than many other elements, perhaps with life long effect.

  • Table spacing will increase prices on dining out and trust will be difficult with tourists. 
  • Health “letter grades” become international standards for prospective eaters in cities.
  • Volume based attractions like Disney will struggle to stay open if a single case pops up. 
  • Entertainment venues will bring price increases to cover talent costs with fewer guests.
  • A rise in small scale “8 seater” restaurants like Japanese omakase sushi dens emerges. 
  • National parks will place strict limits on permits, visitors, gatherings and camping.

a man standing in front of a wall with artHoping For The Best

Ultimately, so much of what I personally believe is a result of what will happens when governments release restrictions, and say it’s up to “us” the people to make prudent choices.

Instantly, a large sub set of the population is going to start doing all the wrong things, other groups will try their best, and others can make strong decisions based on their personal circumstances and own risk assessments. But again, even people with great intentions don’t always have good spatial awareness or balance.

I just generally don’t believe human beings are flexible, and the way of life that’s been enjoyed for 100’s of years, through plagues, war and politics will simply fade away into some unrecognizable universe. People are people, they’re hard to change in the best of times, and I think once the future of travel is put back into our hands, we can only hope for a few positives to emerge.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Really nice article, Gilbert. No “hot takes” or contrarian statements just to be contrarian. I think you’re spot on with a lot of these.

  2. I came here thinking you’d write a few predictions like others have but this is very well thought out in every area of travel. Really great job. A lot of things I hadn’t even considered but it will be quite interesting to return to this 1 and 2 years from now to reassess your predictions.

    Also, most importantly I appreciate your straight dose of reality. Everyone is sitting on their high chair about following guidelines but I drive for Uber eats in Portland and I gotta tell ya, 80 percent of people are not wearing masks and no matter what you do only so much distance can be kept when 20 people are waiting around 1 open door or a restaurant for example. This just further proves that we all have good intention but I think will grow tired of social distancing. It’s only the start of summer and there’s no way you keep the American population outside and 6 feet apart will cutting off an enormous amount of places to go (bars, entertainment, national parks, museums, etc). I give it to 2 months and I think most Americans who haven’t felt sick or have been shown to have the virus antibodies (already were sick) will just all out not give af.

    Is it grim to say more people are gonna die, yeah maybe, but the real cold truth is that we’re all selfish to a degree and mix that with the a huge amount of misinformation given by our politicians and were bound to say “idk what’s right fkc it I’m going out to see the people I care about”

    at first I thought we should keep things closed, I still believe we should have done an Italy style lock down, but at this point we’re dragging it out and it’s hurting businesses. My friend then pointed out to me that Inflation will continue to increase but a lot of people will have lost their jobs or only got a few stimulus checks if that and it will all collapse.

    The numbers don’t add up. I read an article that expects home prices to continue increasing after stalling. Do you think the same amount of people are going to be able to afford prices that are increasing when upwards of 20 percent of the labor market is still trying to figure out how to proceed.

    Point is I’m not trying to be unrealistic just like yourself and the truth is a lot of indicators including a lot of CEOs of companies see the economy collapsing further and if that happens travel will be the last thing on anyone’s mind.

  3. I wonder about mass travel being lower- when they announced that Disneyland would re-open in Asia somewhere the tickets sold out in minutes. It doesn’t get more crowded than Disney in summertime. I think your earlier point about people forgetting this in favor of getting back to the old normal is most likely. I see it here in Texas already where, despite the rising case numbers, the restrictions have eased and people are ditching masks and distancing. It is ridiculous.

    The thing I would most like to see is a new de-boarding where every stays seated until its their rows turn. I HATE the scrum to get off, as I am small and get shoved around. I am almost always in the first part of the plane (status benefit!) and it’s infuriating that if I even hint at staying seated until the people ahead of me are almost done getting up/out, the people behind me crowd up and I basically miss my chance until there is a break in the throng. Ugh.

  4. I’ll tell you what’s going to be an awkward first date. When restaurants require temperature checks and your date checks out fine but you don’t and are therefore denied admission.

    Also, tv pundants are just that. Talking heads on tv who know little to nothing. People should stop acting like their word is law.

  5. I agree with most of what you are saying. The mass media is our worst enemy. They are mainly a bunch of egotistical narcissistic self centered people who each have their own agenda. Very little real news gets reported without a major slant. The one good thing to come out of this will be increased cleanliness standards for planes, restaurants, lodging and other public venues. I think for those of us looking for premium air seats we may be in for some hard times. The social distancing and wearing of masks will only work if made mandatory. Don’t see social distancing becoming the new norm which by the way is a term I have grown to hate. How do you social distance at a concert, major sporting event, bar, bus, airplane, subway etc.

  6. Due to other sources (my employer) I think you’ve hit it on the nail here. As concierge at the largest (non-gambling) resort in North America I left the desk 61 days ago when I’d be walking through the hidden tunnel up to the the lobby again. During the furlough employees have received info and what I can share is that rushing to open takes second seat to making the guests and employees feel comfortable. They don’t see a reason to rush, because eventually people will travel. They will be back and I will be there when it happens.

  7. I totally agree with Lara S. about de-boarding a plane, absolutely hate the rush to leave your seats and open the overhead bins to grab luggage . I would also like to see this when boarding a plane and calling say 2-3 rows at a time and everyone remain seated at the airport until your row is called .. There are still social distancing aspects to adhere to and if you stand near the boarding gate and it is not your row, then you should be made to board last as you have broken social distancing rules … or even further penalties / sanctions. This will stop the cattle mentality.

    Also, to further support the above comment, no-one needs all that hand luggage on the plane in overhead bins for a start (and this is what causes the cattle mentality, we all know we have a seat, but the mass bunching around the boarding gate is where people are trying to get on before everyone else to have access to the overhead bins.. this is all it is about. I regularly fly from UK to US and manage with a rucksack that fits under my seat and very rarely use overhead bins (apart from bringing gifts back at Christmas etc…). If airlines only allowed essentials on board the plane and everything else goes into the hold and just one rucksack or back pack, then this would eradicate the cattle mentality. I know there would be a few exceptions to the rule, travelling with very young children for supplies etc… and if you have a health condition and may need to carry medicines etc… The that would be justified.

    Another option would be to charge for the overhead bin space directly above your seat number and you can only buy the space for 1 item of luggage. If all of the bin space for the seat numbers above you have been sold, then you are out of luck and would have to check your hand luggage into the hold (although you can still carry on your rucksack / backpack as long as it fits under your seat. Not allowing passengers to use other overhead bin space would certainly cure the above. The seat bin space allocation number could be printed onto your ticket to prove the space is yours and would avoid unnecessary conflicts and encounters with other travellers in the event of confusion. I would have no issue paying for overhead bin space if it was required.

  8. I think Jeff has a brilliant Idea. Number the overhead space to coordinate with your seat so you dot have to crowd around the boarding gate to insure luggage space. One seat, one overhead space!

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