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Looking Ahead: Our Travel Predictions for 2021

After a challenging year of individual hardships and isolation, we find ourselves collectively longing to travel again, reveling in the shared experience of stir-craziness. Thankfully, the light at the end of the tunnel beginning to appear for our global community as vaccinations are rolling out and the tourism industry is adjusting to increased safety measures. Still, it’s impossible to telescope too far into the future without reflecting on the challenges, setbacks, and consequences of this past year.

To that end, for our annual list of travel trends, we’ve taken a slightly unconventional approach. Instead of brainstorming a fresh set of pie-in-the-sky predictions, we’ve instead revisited the travel trends that experts were forecasting for 2020, recasting and amending them to take into account our newfound reality. Quick trips that combine multiple stops? A thing of the past (at least for now). Regenerative travel? Bigger than ever.

In some cases, COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of these trends, while other movements (multigenerational and organized group travel) have been slowed. Read on for the full list.

Quiet, Convenient Getaways

Last year, Virtuoso proclaimed that “trips that mix multiple countries, even during shorter journeys” were “trending.” While this kind of spontaneous adventuring was permissible pre-COVID, it’s no longer the case. Now travelers are looking to minimize their time in transit and spend an extended amount of time in one destination. Hotels and other travel companies are catering to this desire by streamlining the arrival process and offering services and amenities that deliver on convenience—from meal delivery and “home” schooling to private airport transfers.

The Road Less Taken

“The well-traveled luxury set is seeking remote, unspoiled destinations to avoid crowds at over-touristed locales,” noted Virtuoso last year. Our take: If 2020 has cemented any trend, it’s this one. With concerns over mass gatherings and bustling streets, the desire to escape from the hustle of daily life isn’t just a desire, but a top priority. A recent Forbes article found that search data in 2020 showed that 90% of overall searches were for trips to rural areas. Related to this is the rise in “alternative accommodations” that allow for social distancing and time spent in nature. Notes a recent Expedia report: “While the most popular lodging for 2020 was hotels, the types of accommodations showing the biggest growth compared to last year were castles, ranches, cabins, chalets, and cottages.” At Luxury Frontiers, immersion in nature is paramount when designing our sustainability-built, alternative accommodations.

Travel for Two (Or a Few)

Virtuoso predicted steady growth in multigenerational and organized group travel for 2020. But with older adults especially vulnerable to COVID-19 and the built-in risks of group travel, we see this “trend” taking a downturn in the year ahead. In its place, we predict the rise in couples’ trips, groups of couples’ trips, and small family getaways. And many of these bookings will be last-minute: a new report from Expedia shows that the majority of travelers are now booking less than a month out, compared to the pre-pandemic average of 35 days.

Transformational Travel

“Today’s traveler is seeking more profound experiences leading to increased emotional intelligence,” states Virtuoso’s 2020 travel report. “Rather than ticking off attractions… clients are instead opting to tap into their passions.” Looking ahead, we see this trend morphing into another distinctively post-pandemic movement: regenerative travel. This shift will breathe new life into destinations—especially those that are tourism-dependent and have suffered tremendous losses over the past year—in a way that ensures the health and viability of the locale for generations to come. It will also heal and nourish travelers’ souls by fostering strong and meaningful connections between people and places.

What’s ahead? The unforeseen disruptions of 2020 leave us cautious to hope and plan for the future, yet we have already seen some promising shifts predicted to emerge in the way we travel. We predict desire to return to nature, visit emerging and secondary cities and seek authentic connection unaided by technology will shape the trends of 2021, as we continue to keep a close eye on how the world adjusts to the lessons of the past year.