2020 is the year we learned that life is fragile and the freedom to roam the world - even our local communities - can be taken away in the blink of an eye.
While determining its annual trends for the coming year, the team at Amadeus drew from the undeniable and powerful human desire to travel and the belief that, in 2021, this desire will remain undimmed - perhaps even strengthened - by COVID-19, and will act as a driver to push the travel industry and local, regional and national governments to quickly innovate and make travel safer, more comfortable, and more enjoyable.
Predicting the future is impossible but imagining a way forward is critical. Here are six trends we see shaping travel in 2021.
1. Go big (near or far) or stay home: the year travel dreams come true
Go big or stay home. That's the theme we're seeing with travelers in 2021. Amadeus surveys found that 55% of travelers said they would travel for 14 days or more, and 60% expected to take only a few trips a year - which suggests that if people travel, they may want to go all out.
In 2020, we've all become a bit restless at home with time to fantasize about our next adventure. 2021 is the year to bring it to life.
To make up for lost time, people are likely to gravitate to “big idea” or “bucket list” trips and looking to tick off those once-in-a-lifetime adventures in the spirit of "life is short and the world is wide."
With added travel considerations, travelers will be looking for unique experiences, taking fewer flights but making those journeys count by staying longer and getting more out of their journey.
2. Nomadic travel: Embracing work from anywhere
2021 may be the year the workplace is reimagined. Even once COVID-19 has passed, employers may have a hard time luring employees back to the office, and they may not need to.
If all we need is Wi-Fi and enough time in the day to get the job done, we can work from just about anywhere.
Barbados was the first country to strike on this opportunity: their "digital nomad" visa means you can work from paradise for a year. Bermuda, Anguilla, Georgia, Dubai, Estonia swiftly followed and Aruba and Croatia are next.
In Portugal, Martinhal Resorts is offering a reduced rate for long-term stays aimed at families who want to relocate during the pandemic and the company Love Home Swap offers people the opportunity to swap houses for an extended period to travel and work from the comfort of someone else's home.
With COVID-19 causing travel restrictions and extra stress, there is a clear desire for longer holidays that let people take their work with them. This was confirmed in recent Amadeus research that found that 55% of participants considering a holiday of 14 days or more.
As more and more hospitality companies change their focus to longer holidays - Airbnb has already shifted its entire business model to long-term stays - 2021 will be the year we re-define what it means to travel for work.
3. The loyalty shift: Better service for all
Before COVID-19, consumers racked up points and miles which often shaped the level of service and quality they experienced. But this dynamic has been upended.
With 40% of tourists saying they would favor airlines, airports and hotels with higher health and safety standards, travel providers must now demonstrate their loyalty to travelers by demonstrating their commitments to health, hygiene and safety - the new currency for earning customer trust.
So far, many companies have been quick to adapt to this demand: Hilton Hotels now offers contactless hotel stays; staff at the Marriot now clean with electrostatic sprayers; and IHG created a dedicated Cleanliness Council called "Commitment to Clean"; while Lufthansa is linking its tickets to COVID-19 tests.
Companies around the world are also looking at how to take care of their employees and meet their duty of care obligations. They need to ensure business trips are safe, productive and stress-free as possible.
To do this, corporate travel managers must have the right data and tools to be flexible, reach their business travelers quickly and provide them with the latest information.
4. Swipe right on tech: touchless tech will inspire traveler confidence
Transparency, clear communication and seamless payments and boarding are the clear winners of 2021. Fortunately, there's an app for that - or a few.
In a recent survey conducted by Censuswide, more than four in five travelers said technology would increase their confidence to travel in the next 12 months.
When asked, the technology that travelers cited more than any other as giving them the confidence to travel was a mobile application that would provide on-trip notifications and alerts, for example, if there is a localized outbreak or changes in government guidance (42%).
The same percentage said contactless payments (e.g. Apple or Google Pay, PayPal, Venmo) would increase their confidence to travel in the next 12 months, and just slightly less (39%) said mobile boarding.
We're also already seeing several airports embracing rapid-result COVID-19 testing to spur on travel, ease concerns, and avoid the need for quarantine.
Tampa International Airport recently announced that all departing and arriving passengers can take a rapid COVID-19 test at the Florida Hub, while Heathrow Airport is preparing to launch a simple COVID-19 saliva screening test that aims to provide an accurate result within 20 seconds.
In 2021, safety will be paramount, and simple tech solutions could be that nudge to get people exploring the world more confidently again.
5. Travel Agents: Don't leave home without one
The pandemic only served to highlight the critical role of travel agents - anyone who didn't have one in 2020 probably regretted it.
As a result, 2021 will see travel agents become the fountains of all knowledge: want some great travel inspiration? Check. Looking for the best deals? They have you covered. Need an update on the latest health and safety standards? Done.
Looking for the latest news on health policies all over the world, from Timbuktu to Torino? You got it. Need help rebooking after a disruption? They'll have it booked before you ask.
If you've had to change a trip or manage a big travel disruption on your own, you probably understand why it's helpful to have a travel agent in your corner.
So it's no surprise that we found that 40% of global travelers expect their travel agents to be on hand to problem solve and provide more recommendations. With a considerable amount of uncertainty and quarantine rules changing weekly, opportunities for travel agents to become invaluable and irreplaceable sources of information abound.
6. Travel with an impact: smaller footprints and bigger hearts
Pre-COVID, there was a growing understanding of the impact - good and bad - that travel has on the world around us.
The enforced pause created by the pandemic has given travelers and the wider travel industry further opportunity to think deeply about how we move around the planet - for leisure, for family, and for work.
For example, a spokesperson for a Venice-based group that works to preserve Venetian identity in the face of over-tourism said: "Venice is a five-star restaurant sold as a fast-food restaurant. We shouldn't waste the chance to start again from scratch."
Travelers also want to do good: a recent survey found that 68% of travelers want the money they spend on travel to go back into the community.
In 2020 we had the time to reflect on what we missed- travel builds empathy, sparks connections, and creates friendships. Travel can also bring valuable economic development to remote communities and help travelers learn from unique cultures and different ways of life.
In 2021, we'll see travelers looking to recoup these benefits as quickly as possible and makeup for lost time.
Travelers' wanderlust will be stronger than ever - it will be a year of renewal and reconnection. However, people will be more conscientious about how they travel: they'll want to minimize the footprint of their journey and make sure their presence is having a positive impact on their host destination.