How the pandemic has changed travel trends

Trying to book a holiday at the moment could be likened to having a flutter at the races: there’s every chance you’ll be onto a winner, but there’s always that looming risk of backing the wrong horse.

With quarantine restrictions increasingly dished out with very little warning, it’s beginning to feel as if there are no longer any safe bets.

Unsurprisingly, many travellers are stepping on the brakes and turning their attention to next year – a rosy future on the horizon.

Right now, it’s hard to imagine where we’ll be in six weeks – let alone six months – but according to some key operators, several trends are beginning to emerge.

1. Bucket lists are booming

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During lockdown, when movements were limited, the only possible way to travel and explore was in our dreams. Now those wild, adventurous thoughts are edging closer to a reality, with bookings up for once in a lifetime trips.

G Adventures, which specialises in escorted group tours, says it has seen more interest in itineraries such as climbing Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, walking the Inca Trail in Peru or sailing to the seventh continent, Antarctica.

In Europe, Kirker Holidays says trips on the Orient Express are proving to be very popular, meaning only limited cabins will be available for next year.

2. The ideal ship shape is small
Given the controversy around cruising and coronavirus, it’s hardly surprising most people are opting for smaller vessels next year.

Jules Verne has been taking bookings for its barge holidays in France, and trips along Portugal’s winelands on the Douro River. Abercrombie & Kent, meanwhile, predicts luxury expedition cruising will be a big growth area: Sanctuary Retreats’ voyages in Myanmar and along the Mekong are doing well, along with Silversea’s trips to Antarctica.

Staying in the frozen south, Exodus has already sold multiple cabins on a photographic voyage to South Georgia with wildlife photographer Paul Goldstein. Quite a feat for a new trip launched in the midst of a pandemic.

Read more Best and worst travel trends

3. Slow travel is ramping up

Before lockdown, the world was accelerating at an unsustainable pace. While we’re all desperate to see normality resume, none of us want to return to the fast lane. As a consequence, people are choosing to move at a slower pace.

Cox & Kings has seen greater interest in its longer itineraries, with more nights spent in each destination – a trend mirrored by findings from booking engine Opodo, which says 30 per cent of trips booked for the first quarter of next year are longer than 15 days.

Original Travel goes one step further, saying interest in sabbaticals is growing. The company cites rolled-over annual leave as one of the explanations: in March, British business secretary Alok Sharma enabled employees to carry over up to four weeks’ statutory annual leave entitlement into the next two years.

Read more Where your star sign is telling you to travel in 2021

4. Seasonal sights are in hot demand

It’s always been advisable to book ahead for popular events. Even more so now, given the number of shifted bookings from the past year and the prospect of continued limited flight capacity.

A&K reports hotels in Japan are looking busy for the popular cherry blossom season, and also recommends travellers book early if they want to trek to see gorillas in Rwanda on a specific date.

One of the most in-demand activities is witnessing the wildebeest migration in Kenya’s Masai Mara and Tanzania’s Serengeti. Gordie Owles, commercial director of Asilia Africa, which operates 19 camps across Kenya and Tanzania, says: “Safaris are big-ticket purchases, which are often booked 18 months in advance, so we are now in the situation that our migration camps are full for peak season 2021 [July-September].

“It is possible to see the migration year-round, but people traditionally want the high adrenaline excitement of seeing a river crossing. Interestingly, we are slowly seeing that changing. Perhaps we have all realised we don’t know what’s around the corner and it will be wonderful whenever you travel.”

5. Entry limits might restrict visitors

It’s not only seasonal spectacles that are selling out. Many galleries, museums and attractions are still operating on the basis they may only be able to admit limited numbers.

“Capacity limits may be around for some time after other restrictions have been lifted, to avoid large crowds,” warns Patrick Millar, marketing manager at Kirker Holidays, whose Cultural Tours program is already selling well. In particular, he says UK concerts are hot tickets.

It’s a similar story further afield. In North Africa, A&K says allocations for many of the ancient sites in Egypt – such as the Pyramids and Sphinx in Giza – are filling up.

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6. Last minute or long term?

Uncertainty has resulted in many travellers booking holidays at the last minute to ensure it’s still possible to reach their destination. That trend may continue into next year, but a number of people are planning ahead – even beyond 2021.

Chris McIntyre, MD at Expert Africa, has noticed this trend. “We recently booked a substantial trip for clients who had only started talking to us about their itinerary just two weeks before they got on the plane; conversely we are holding more bookings for two years hence (to travel in 2022 or even 2023) than we ever have,” he says.

“This fits for us, with the COVID era, whereby people are either seizing a window to travel at short notice or they are planning big trips a year or so into the future, by which time they expect travel to have reached a new normal.”

Do you have any trips booked for the future? Where are you planning to go when the world opens up again?

– With PA

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