Predictions for the state of travel in 2022 from our editor
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This is the time of year when folks like to pause, reflect and try to predict the future. What will 2022 bring for travel?
Boy, I wish I knew.
Like so much during the past two years, it will all depend upon “the virus.” Each time we think we have rounded a corner, COVID-19 finds another way to rattle us and remind us that nature trumps all.
My wife and I are both vaccinated — and boosted. Our 6-year-old got her second dose two weeks ago. That’s led us to book several big trips, but what seemed certain just a few weeks ago is now all a bit unclear thanks to yet another variant: omicron.
There’s new fear but also exhaustion. Call it pandemic fatigue. We’ve reopened our lives and things were starting to feel normal. Even if omicron isn’t the trip-buster that it once threatened to be, who knows if there isn’t a pi, sigma, upsilon or omega variant down the road?
Nobody wants to go ahead and cancel yet another round of vacations. Do we?
So, as for those predictions … the only sure thing for travel in 2022 is that there is no sure thing. The rest? Well, here are my best guesses, assuming the world doesn’t go back into a full lockdown again.
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Flexibility in travel planning
Flexibility is becoming the key objective when mapping out a new trip. Folks want the ability to cancel or change plans without stiff penalties.
The lack of airline change fees is a great thing for travelers, but good luck keeping track of all those vouchers and flight credits.
Frustration will grow in the coming year as travelers watch those vouchers finally start to expire or realize that the airline they have a credit on doesn’t fly to the place they really, really want to visit.
Adding to the complexity will be a series of more-frequent schedule changes. Airline route planners are moving planes around at a pace unseen before. At the first sign of strong business travel, key corporate routes will get back frequent service.
Other cities have seen giant spikes from tourists. As leisure destinations come in and out of popularity — often based on local COVID-19 positivity rates — flights will be added or removed.
Even 48-hour hotel cancellation policies now seem a bit scary, especially in an age where one positive COVID-19 test can upend a trip hours before departure.
The hardest part of this is that there is still an inclination for last-minute trips, but the availability that was once there is now gone for the prime destinations. If you aren’t mapping things out months in advance, you might be out of luck.
Everything takes longer
Staffing will remain an issue everywhere.
The other day, I waited almost three hours to talk to a Walt Disney World phone agent. Call times for airlines have been extremely high, often exceeding an hour for elite members.
These waits aren’t just for call centers. My beloved Clear is now seeing a line. We’re talking a few minutes — nothing horrible — but I’m no longer able to just walk right up to the airport security checkpoint.
And this is all just traveling domestically. Despite having Global Entry, I had a lengthy wait at immigration when reentering the U.S. in November. Customs and Border Protection only had two agents processing passengers in my JFK terminal.
Leaving the country now requires researching and then following a hodgepodge of entry rules. Plus, there’s often a stack of paperwork to complete, a country-specific app to download or both. Not to mention, there’s always a chance that the rules could change midtrip, upending everything.
The staffing challenges are no better at hotels. My wife and I recently stayed at a luxury resort. One night, a thoughtful — but inexperienced — waitress was taking our dessert orders before our entrees were even cleared. The next night, we couldn’t find anybody to help us order a new round of drinks.
This isn’t meant to be a laundry list of all the things that have annoyed me about travel recently. It’s meant as a warning: Everything takes longer, and that is unlikely to change in 2022.
The classics are back
Our mindset about travel coming into the new year is different.
During my November trip to London, I found myself and my colleagues starting out the night with a round of drinks at the famed American Bar at The Savoy. This is far from a new bar. In fact, the hotel bills it as “the longest-surviving cocktail bar in London.” As such, it was packed on a Monday night.
Before the pandemic, we all craved the latest hot spot. Now, we want the greatest hits.
At TPG, we recently sent five reporters across the country to relive some of their favorite classic travel experiences (think: high tea at The Palm Court at New York’s Plaza Hotel or a trip to the top of Seattle’s Space Needle).
There’s something reassuring about knowing that after all of the heartache of the past two years, these institutions still solider on.
We aren’t going to take them for granted anymore … at least, not for now.
Those who can afford to upgrade their trip won’t think twice about paying for it — there is still a feeling of making up for lost time.
That can mean staying in nicer hotels, flying first class or just splurging for that adventure that once seemed out of reach or fiscally irresponsible.
Those who are in the points and miles game have been racking up hefty balances thanks, in part, to lucrative pandemic-era credit card spending bonuses. Now, they’re ready to redeem their earnings for fancy trips.
That is bad news for those of us looking to get a free upgrade from our airline or hotel status, but it’s a welcome change — especially for airlines that have been trying for years to get more people to pay for a better product. While it doesn’t fill the void of high-paying business travelers, it does at least help close that gap.
Speaking of business travelers, we all acknowledge that the nature of such trips will change. Those without kids in school are already starting to add on extra days to work trips — an upgrade of sorts.
I’ve personally been out there connecting with travel industry sources I haven’t seen in years. Each trip has reinforced the importance of in-person meetings. On the flip side, the days of young consultants on the road Monday through Thursday are probably never coming back.
I’m bullish on 2022.
I sincerely hope the worst of the pandemic is behind us and that we learn to live with the COVID-19 endemic.
Last year, we were promised a “hot vaxxed summer” only to see parts of it fall apart with the emergence of a new COVID-19 variant: delta. This year, there is more caution in our predictions, but — with no medical training at all — I’m feeling much more optimistic that we are learning to live with this virus.
There are people who have been traveling the entire length of the pandemic and others who waited for their kids to be fully vaccinated. Others still don’t feel comfortable traveling.
This will be the year that we transition into our new normal for travel. That’s right, it will be a new approach. We’re never quite going to get back into our pre-pandemic mindset. One day the masks will come off, but their memory will stay with us. Just as 9/11 changed airport security forever, COVID-19 will change the way we travel. I always used to carry an extra night’s worth of clothes in case I was stranded because of a storm or some other travel hiccup. Now, I almost feel like I need to be prepared for a two-week quarantine anywhere I visit.
That is all a long way of saying: It’s time for most folks to get back out there and remember what we love so much about travel. Just take it one step at a time.
Featured photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy.
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