Step 1: Get the vaccine.
Step 2: Fly to Venice, Italy, and take in the magic of the canals, bridges and alleys. Next stop? Modena, to visit the Ferrari museum. Down to Florence then, with some wine tasting in Tuscany, naturally. After that, might as well swing by Pisa, Rome, Sorrento and Capri before flying to Greece for a few days.
That’s the plan one couple in Pennsylvania is mapping out for their honeymoon in the post-Covid world. While health precautions have meant that most leisure travel was put on an indefinite hold during the pandemic, vaccinations that have now begun in the U.S. and U.K. are prompting travel buffs to envision vacations once again.
The plans are being made even as the Covid-19 virus is still spreading, borders are still restricted and many hotels are still shut. But serial trip planners — those who enjoy trawling deal websites, scouring Instagram for inspiration and organizing it all on detailed spreadsheets — say they are experiencing a renewed sense of hope for 2021.
“Finally there’s a horizon,” said Jack Ezon, founder and managing partner of Embark Beyond, a luxury-travel and events company in New York. In the past month or so, he has seen surging demand for the third and fourth quarters of 2021. “We’ve been running without a finish line.”
The coronavirus crisis abruptly canceled most travel, including long-planned vacations. In its place, trips tended to be last-minute affairs. The unpredictability of rule changes and case surges meant that fewer people were confident booking trips far in advance.
For months, Tracie Jones, 32, of West Chester, Pennsylvania, was plotting her two-week European honeymoon to Italy and Greece, filling up Google Docs and spreadsheets. But the project manager was reluctant to actually hit the button on a purchase, given the state of the pandemic.
“It’s hard to plan because I’m so scared to put out thousands of dollars when something crazy could happen again,” she said.
The vaccine rollout has started to change her outlook. Jones — who is set to marry fiance Tyler Cohen in June — says she is seeing prices rise so has started to book Airbnb stays. She is likely to buy her flights to Venice in the next few weeks. Their trip budget is around $8,000.
An Oliver Wyman survey of more than 4,600 people from nine countries including the U.S., U.K., Canada and China found that 63% of people said they’ll travel the same or more for leisure once the pandemic is over. When travel returns to pre-Covid levels, 33% of people intend to spend more on trips, according to a survey of more than 8,000 people by rental marketplace VRBO. The Hilton hotel company says 66% of Americans and 60% of Chinese travelers plan to quit putting off “bucket list” trips when travel restrictions ease.
“We are seeing interest in spring and summer 2021 growing, moving towards a more traditional booking horizon,” said Jo McClintock of the travel-booking service Skyscanner Ltd.
Alison Jameson is counting on a vaccine. The 64-year-old from Colorado says she feels she needs to catch up from a year of not traveling. In 2020, she missed two weddings, several reunions, a trip to Germany, another to Rome, a niece’s star turn in a school play and a nephew’s performance in a college one. That’s meant a lot of unused rewards points she plans to put to good use in the new year.
On her very tentative 2021 itinerary: In May, for Memorial Day weekend, a stay at the Ritz Carlton in Beaver Creek. A trip to see the sandstone arches in Moab in Utah in June. A Viking cruise through London, Scotland, the Arctic Circle and Norway in July. Over Labor Day weekend, a few nights at the Waldorf Astoria in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. And hopefully at the end of the year, a trip to Germany to visit the Christmas markets.
“We need to all be vaccinated, or we won’t go,” she said.
There’s pent-up demand and an understanding of the risks related to travel, said Bruce Spear, a partner at Oliver Wyman. “Obviously you’re not going to see it yet in plane passengers or in airport TSA numbers,” he said. He sees customers taking advantage of sales, deals and relaxation of restrictions on things like change fees.
Ezon of Embark Beyond says a post-pandemic pattern is emerging in the travel industry: People are now planning travel in a way they might plan their finances, over the short, medium and long term.
Before the pandemic, Ezon said he struggled to get clients’ families to fill out what he calls a “five-year plan” for travel. Now, more are taking him seriously, mapping out travel in 2021 and making goals for dates as far off as 2026 to fit travel into important life milestones.
Jones is hopeful she will be able to celebrate her honeymoon in September. She and her fiance take a big trip each year, but in 2020 they went on a smaller, staycation-style vacation in Long Island.
“It was really nice,” she said. “But Long Island wine country does not compare to Tuscany.”
Travel tips for 2021
Travel experts have a few tips for those who are being comfortably distracted by their travel planning:
Beware the 2020 backlog. “The biggest side of travel for 2021 is actually people who have postponed from 2020,” said Charlotte Wells of luxury travel company Abercrombie & Kent. “Many of these trips have already been booked. Many of these beautiful lodges, remote locations, are actually already at a decent capacity. We are encouraging people to dream big and plan early.”
Demand flexibility. If Covid has changed one thing about travel, it’s the willingness of providers from airlines to hotels to allow customers to change plans, at least for now. Experts say this applies even to tickets in the budget-economy bracket. Because there will be continued unpredictability in 2021, look for options if your plans need to change.
Think about the latter half of 2021. “We don’t recommend planning to go anywhere in the first two quarters if it’s not open already because it looks like things are going to get worse before they get better,” said Ezon of Embark Beyond. He sees June or July as reasonable starting points for now. And then November or the end of 2021 as a time to think about more exotic, longer-haul journeys.
Get creative with food-inspired itineraries. Many travelers love planning their vacations around restaurants. That may not be the best guiding principle for the new year, Ezon said. “If you are a foodie, consider immersive food experiences,” he said. “They are great places to learn how to cook because that’ll probably be around.” Specific restaurants may still be closed or unfortunately, out of business.
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