What will the future of travel look like? TPG asks 8 industry experts
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In April 2020, nearly a month after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Points Guy polled 16 travel industry experts on the future of travel.
At that time, airlines had grounded large parts of their fleets, cruise ships were docked, popular tourist attractions were shuttered and there was no vaccine on the immediate horizon. The U.S. government went on to inject $54 billion into the airline industry alone between March 2020 and March 2021.
Nearly two years later, it’s been up and down for the travel industry. Airlines have added more flights, more employees and brought aircraft back out of desert storage. Countries and popular tourist attractions such as Disneyland have reopened, albeit with COVID-19 protocols in place. Cruise ships started leaving U.S. ports again in March 2021.
But the industry has also had to deal with the rise of the delta variant of the coronavirus this summer and — with the holiday travel season in full swing — it is facing new uncertainty around the omicron variant.
Against this backdrop, TPG decided to poll industry experts again to find out what they think travel will look like in 2022 and beyond.
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Hot spots to consider as travel resumes
Audrey Hendley, president, Global Travel & Lifestyle Services at American Express: The hottest spot is the place you want to go. The desire of our cardmembers to travel is strong, but people have varying levels of comfort around travel right now. The ideal trip is different for everyone. While some people are excited for that once-in-a-lifetime trip like a safari tour or a luxury cruise, others want to stay closer to home and relax with family and friends they haven’t been able to spend time with. The good news is, there is no wrong answer.
Michael J. Taylor, travel intelligence lead at J.D. Power: That’s a tough question. The first priority would be to find a location that accepts travelers with your profile: vaccinated, negative test, quarantine period, etc. Assuming you are willing to meet the criteria, destinations with the highest probability of outdoor experiences, such as Norway, Ireland, Belize [or] the Maldives would be fantastic destinations to beat the COVID-19 blues. Personally, I’m planning to be out-of-doors on Idaho ski slopes in February and on a half-dozen golf courses in the Scottish Highlands over the summer.
Tim Hentschel, founder and CEO at HotelPlanner: For those who wish to remain outdoors and/or avoid crowds as much as possible, a destination ski trip with friends or family is a great idea this winter, or a road trip to visit some of our iconic national parks, which all saw record visitors this year. Looking overseas, there are now 110 countries welcoming vaccinated Americans to their shores, so the options are endless. Popular warm weather beach destinations such as Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean are all seeing increased searches and bookings. If you are comfortable in large crowds, millions are now returning to New York City and Las Vegas for Broadway shows, concerts, holiday shopping and fall weddings, too. And Orlando is also enjoying a lot of visitors because of Disney World’s 50th anniversary.
Debbie Flynn, managing partner, global travel practice leader, Finn Partners: know I spent much of lockdown wondering why I had never got ’round to visiting so many places and I know many of my friends did the same. So I think the future hot spots will be both places that have always been on a bucket list or now are higher up the list. Personally, I hope people will have seen some destinations whose communities have been so devastated by the pandemic in terms of lack of visitors that they will prioritize them. [There are] also countries that are really taking sustainability seriously and were also recognized for their handling of COVID-19, with Singapore [being] a great example of this. I know that the recent COP26 [climate summit] highlighted how in danger the island nations are — I have never been to the Maldives and certainly have it higher on my list now than ever.
Nitya Chambers, senior vice president of digital content, Lonely Planet: Because I think this is a moment for grace, for coming to terms with what feels right to you and your loved ones as we all (re)learn how to responsibly navigate an uncertain world that’s still finding its footing. This is a time to find the overlap between the things about travel that give you joy and the boundaries of your personal comfort when it comes to personal and public health. If that means you’re ready for a meticulously planned far-flung expedition? Great! But if a nearby road trip or weekend spent rediscovering the delights of the place you live feel better for the moment? Also great! Just take a mask, your sense of humor — and empathy for a whole world of people trying to do this at the same time.
Angela Gittens, retired director-general, Airports Council International: Because I’ve never been to Russia, Scandinavia and a few places in South America. I’d also like to revisit Italy, Morocco, South Africa and Nigeria. I’ve been to Greece recently and I could go back any day of the week. I really enjoyed Malaysia. I went to a camp outside of Kuala Lumpur and had a great time. There are so many places in the world I’d love to visit and I cannot think of a country that I’ve been to that I wouldn’t want to go back to.
Jack Anderson, president, Crystal Cruises: I’ve We’re particularly excited about our first-ever expedition cruises to Antarctica aboard our newest and most luxurious expedition ship, Crystal Endeavor, that are taking place through February. Antarctica offers an amazing combination of remote, rugged terrain with interesting marine and animal life and icy polar landscapes not found nowhere else in the world. Next year, Crystal Endeavor will also sail to Greenland and Iceland — where she made her inaugural voyage this summer — providing guests a chance to explore awe-inspiring glaciers, icebergs, fjords and hot springs and more.
Places you won’t consider visiting in 2022 — and why
Chambers: Not really. If anything, two restricted years have made me more restless to see all the things I’ve ever wanted to see. I’m just planning with possible changes in mind — choosing flexible booking options where I can, staying on top of entry requirements and local policies and making plans from a place of extreme gratitude.
Hentschel: I would avoid Kabul for safety reasons unless you are doing humanitarian or diplomatic work. Beyond State Department-sanctioned countries, all other countries around the globe are worth visiting if COVID-19 protocols and travel restrictions allow you to. In fact, now is the time to consider an off-the-beaten-path exotic or epic destination. For example, millions of millennials and Next-Gen travelers are doing just that: booking revenge travel trips to just about anywhere that’s Insta-worthy.
Anderson: At Crystal, we sail all over the world to hundreds of global destinations across all seven continents. We work very closely with world tourism officials and health experts, and right now some places are just not ready for cruise travel yet, unfortunately. We will go where the science dictates. It is our hope that very soon we will be able to showcase these destinations for our guests through immersive experiences that allow our guests to explore the entire planet in luxury one voyage at a time.
Balram Bheodari, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport General Manager: There are some areas in the world that are unstable and I really don’t want to go there because of their unstable nature, along with areas where there’s poor or very little to no healthcare available because of COVID-19.
Taylor: I’m one of those persons who feel that if you’re not in a health risk category and you’ve been vaccinated, you should travel anywhere you like. For more than a year now, I’ve maintained that “all epidemics end — all of them.” This pandemic will be over and if you can travel safely, you ought to do so.
Gittens: I don’t want to go anywhere where I have to quarantine or where I might be concerned they would put in a new rule while I was there. I don’t see countries getting together and collaborating on travel rules, [and] they’re not, so that adds to the uncertainty for people. Airports and airlines are doing a good job making the travel process safe and fairly convenient, along with managing through the uncertainty with changes in rules and practices.
How will you travel differently than you did before the pandemic
Flynn: For sure I will plan to spend longer, if I can, on every trip. A very recent example was a business trip to Washington, D.C., to speak at our client Capital Region Members conference. A couple of years ago I would have flown in for two nights. On this trip I stayed for nearly a week. The new Zoom world we live in meant I could keep up with day-to-day business meetings, but the extra time allowed me to experience a destination I promote. I went to new museums and off-the-beaten-track neighborhoods and felt less guilty, too, about my carbon footprint as I had maximized every minute of my extended trip. I will also make sure I plan “wellness” into my travel. I took up yoga during the pandemic and will now always try to choose experiences where I can continue to look after myself.
Anderson: We are gradually returning to normal, with five of our eight ships returning to service this year — [and] the full fleet scheduled to be back by spring 2022. We have implemented a wide range of shipboard protocols that have proven very effective and will, of course, continue in 2022. Our operations team has also done a fantastic job at curating itineraries that showcase the wonders of the world while creating diverse offerings tailored for these times with more close-to-home embarkation ports, a greater variety of short-duration cruises, an expanded 132-day Grand Voyage and overnight stays in world-class cities. Many of our guests are true collectors of travel experiences and the debut of our expedition ship has also afforded us opportunities for adventure in new places and a new lens to see the world. By their very nature, Crystal ships are inherently designed with social distancing in mind as they carry half as many guests as similar-sized ships. Also, our cruise experience revolves around intimacy and personalization, with guests dining with whomever they like and smaller, custom-designed shore excursions.
Chambers: The last two years have made me more ambitious about traveling than I could have possibly imagined: I want to see all the things I’ve ever wanted to see, I want to have profound experiences — and I want to push myself to do both. But as someone who L-O-V-E-S the details and the anticipation of the planning process, I have to be ready to steer through the unforeseen, and to temper disappointment through unexpected changes. It’s ok, though — the unexpected moments are usually where the most memorable things happen.
Hendley: Keeping travel stress-free is a huge priority for me, so no matter what the destination is I’ll be planning ahead. I’ll leave plenty of time to get through airports, make sure I know all of the logistics as I travel between cities, and I’ll lean into my travel counselor teams to plan the perfect holiday. When it comes to trends for next year, we’ve seen an increase in niche travel start to take shape and I imagine we’ll see even more of these types of trips in 2022. There is no longer a “one-size-fits-all” vacation. Travelers want personalized trip itineraries that cater to their specific interests. I expect to see our cardmembers continue to plan unique vacations that fit their needs, whether that is a quick two day trip from New York City to the Catskills or embracing “slow travel,” settling in at a destination for an extended period to really appreciate the location, like a recent customer who booked an incredible 75-day vacation in a penthouse suite on a cruise.
Hentschel: As an American CEO currently residing in Singapore, my travel has been quite limited in 2021 due to travel restrictions and quarantine requirements. But I’m about to spend a week at our global headquarters in West Palm Beach, Florida, and South Beach in Miami to attend our 7th annual American Group Travel Awards. I’m also planning to move back to London by next summer, which should make it much easier for me and my family to take long weekend trips across the EU.
Taylor: I’ve had my Scotland golf trip on hold since 2020. I’ve re-booked all my reservations and tee times four times. I’m determined to really get the most out of this long-delayed trip. I’m going to splurge on hotels I’d normally consider too expensive, buy whiskies I might have hesitated purchasing and play a second round of golf on the same day when I can. The Idaho ski trip is a family vacation and the kids and I are going to ski long hours and eat at some exciting restaurants. My The Platinum Card® from American Express is going to get a workout this coming year.
Bheodari: You’ve got to be more cognizant of your surroundings in terms of advice from public health officials. Be prepared to take those necessary, extra safe health precautions to safeguard your health during your travels.
Featured photo by Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images.
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