a man standing on a dirt path with bushes and mountains in the background

In May of 2020, in what we now know in hindsight to be a time of tremendous uncertainty, I detailed my predictions for the future of travel.

At the time, it seemed like the pandemic was improving. Little did we know that the worst was yet to come. I wanted to document my vision of travel at the time and never touch the original piece, to keep as a unique time capsule and insight into the my own thoughts, fear, worries and emotions at the time.

Looking at the piece. There’s a lot I got right, and a few bits I got wrong. I’d love for you to read that piece, but here are some key excerpts of what I got right and a few things I missed on.

My 2020 Travel Predictions: Overall Theme

I think my overall thesis in the May 2020 piece is correct. I didn’t think travel would change nearly as much as most pundits did. I believed people would revert to comforts and practices of old, as soon as health outlooks allowed.

Even with that thesis, I thought it would change more than it has.

Time may prove me right, but travel brands hunkered down and didn’t invest in the future as much as I had opined they may. At the time, people were predicting radical changes and I just didn’t see that happening any time soon.

a man standing on a dirt path with bushes and mountains in the background

The Things I Got Right

It’s important to build a narrative, and experts tell me you need to build trust to build interest. So first, I’l share the things I got right, so you’ll think I’m really smart, Then I’ll leave you with all the things I got wrong, so you can see that I’m in fact, not.

Prediction 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.

My assessment: I got this right. This is how it felt for me and almost word for word how people have relayed their travel experiences to me in the years since.

My next prediction was that social distancing would always be weak, because we’re all too collectively stupid or physically unaware of our surroundings for that to practically work.

Plus, no one was ever going to reinvent the subway, boarding gates or anything like that anyway. We’ll skip over that to the next are of prediction which was broad travel trends.

Prediction 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.

My Assessment: I’d say about as spot on as it gets. The travel pricing is debatable, and it’s still wildly fluctuating due to a myriad of factors like war, but everything else in right on the money. All of these things happened and are happening. Read interviews with any airline CEO recently, and it’ll sound something like the above.

For the other more niche subjects, such as air travel, hotels, or crossing borders, I got a mix of things right and wrong, so I’ll shift to a topic by topic analysis of the points I got right, and those I got wrong.

a sunset seen through a window

My 2020 Air Travel Predictions

I don’t want to give up on these — yet! I know some are set to launch this year, so in time I will be proven right on some (an airline will finally launch Bluetooth connectivity for in flight entertainment) but others I was more optimistic than reality. That’s me.

Here’s a look at my predictions for air travel, from May 2020.

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…

We will finally come up with a better solution for aircraft boarding, deplaning.

Jumbo jets will stop flying commercial passengers almost entirely within 6 months. 

A majority of direct routes will be axed, creating more flight connections, again.

Wireless tech like bluetooth and wifi streaming will take over air travel. No touch!

Cleanliness records will become the new SkyTrax rating for discerning passengers.

Price won’t increase, despite lots of pundits saying it will. Low prices are marketing.

Not all of this is wrong, for sure. Many routes were axed and remain that way. That’s for certain. Cleanliness became a big thing and airlines made big marketing messages about their cleaning partners and so forth.

Many jumbo jets did stop flying, but the A380 has made a resurgent comeback. I’m dead wrong on that front. One I am not sure whether I’m right, or wrong about is the aircraft boarding and deplaning. Delta tried a bunch of things and is still tinkering.

British Airways has been trialling different deplaning techniques, including calling rows of 4, to spread out the flow of passengers. Whether anything sticks, we’ll see?

I got more wrong though. Below the bullet points, I opined…

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.

I’m flat out wrong about business class, at least for now. Business travel has not recovered and that was a key reason for my opinion that the cabin would not recover.

However, leisure travelers, who have had trips cancelled and budgets saved up are splurging on business class, and airlines are having a much easier time selling business and premium than they are economy. Those stigmas of close contact are still there.

a pool with palm trees and chairs

My 2020 Hotel & Accommodation Predictions

If there was one thing I was sure of, it was that some marketing company would come up with cleanliness awards, so that hotels could sponsor the show and win prizes. A few other things, are a bit grey.

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.

This section is harder to break down, because individual properties, even when part of. a larger chain, often work differently. Some hotels have done more to rope off special areas for guests or special guests. Some haven’t.

Mega hotels definitely have suffered more than high end boutiques. Much like flying, people are trading up for premium brands and experiences, such as Four Seasons, and that’s leaving the big box properties scrambling. That’s probably why many are cutting costs at alarming rates.

I don’t think hotel bars have become more exclusive at all. I was wrong. Cities are cities and people are people. No major changes there. There definitely has been a change in the sharing economy with more boutique rental companies starting, but Airbnb is still king and queen. I’m quasi-wrong on that one.


My 2020 Predictions On International Travel

I am a very frequent international traveler and feel strong authority on the subject, but again, whether i’m fully right or wrong is hard to say, because there’s very little unity on travel right now.

Even within blocs like the EU, countries are taking different tact toward everything from proof of vaccination to testing requirements. It’s probably a good thing that I’ve always believed in government ineptitude. Here’s what I wrote in 2020…

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

Yep, wrong about the beaches, big time. Some others, unsure. There has been a huge boost in tourism to parks and more sparsely populated areas though, and much of Asia still remains off limits. Cruises continue to be a hot button issue too.

a man holding a drink

More Predictions And Final Words

Any final words? Yep.

I’ve got a bunch more 2020 predictions on the original article, but I think this ticks many of the key areas of interest. If you want the rest, read that original piece.

I did find my closing statements in that article to be pretty interesting though, and I think it frames things pretty well today.

Hoping 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.

Sounds about right, right?

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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