It may be only April but, still, we're ready to put this annus horribilis behind us and look forward to brighter, more positive times, and that time, we believe, is 2021. Next year may seem far off , but travellers have always dreamt and planned ahead.
We also know that many of us are itching to get back out there as soon as it's safe, which is why now may be the perfect time to cast your mind forward and consider your journeys for next year.
At the very least it will provide us with some much-needed hope in these darkest of times. So where do you want to go? What do you want to experience? What have you missed this year that you're desperate to make up for in 2021?
To help shape our ideas and inspire a few dreams, Traveller approached a number of travel industry experts to get the lowdown on 2021: what's new and exciting, what are the likely trends? Above all, what can we look forward to?
The experts we talked to cover the full gamut of the industry, from hotels to resorts, airlines to cruises, ski to safari, and it's heartening to hear their confidence that Australians, a hardy band of travellers, will be keen to hit the road again – beginning with domestic travel, before going further afield – as soon as they're able.
And that opportunity will come. Eventually. Until such time we can dream, plan and enjoy the anticipation.
Here's a number that should gladden the heart of travellers and industry figures across Australia. A week or so ago, during a time of recognised crisis, with travel banned across the world, Intrepid Travel (intrepidtravel.com) made almost half a million dollars' worth of sales in a single day.
"It's amazing," says James Thornton, chief executive of Intrepid. "I suppose the psyche of the intrepid traveller is that they still are willing and want to get out there. Perhaps this notion that they're going to be cooped up for a period of time will stimulate that wanderlust."
Touring will continue in 2021, god willing, and in fact, it may be stronger than ever, given the sense of security and safety that travelling with an established tour group can provide. Thornton predicts that next year will see a rise in domestic travel, with Australians initially keen to stay close to home.
"People will want to see more of their own backyard. They'll want to support the local economy. We're thinking things like the Red Centre [in the Northern Territory], into the Kimberley [Western Australia]. ."
Thornton also envisages a rise in active travel with Intrepid next year launching guided treks on the Portuguese Camino, the Trans-Caucasian Trail in Armenia and the El Mirador trek in Guatemala – as well as big, bucket-list experiences.
"For so long we've taken travel for granted," he says. "But if this virus has taught us anything it's that if you have a big travel dream, you really shouldn't wait."
Robyn Brown, national groups sales manager at Insight Vacations (insightvacations.com), has seen similar fortitude from Australian travellers. "Most of our guests are really keen to travel," she says. "A majority of people are moving their booking to the same time in 2021."
Next year, Insight plans to continue its focus on local food experiences, in-depth journeys, luxury and conscious travel. The company will also offer more of its women-only tours.
"Women travelling either alone or with a female friend is quite common on our trips," Brown says. "So much so that we have launched a series called Wander Women journeys, tailored specifically for them. Our first trip reveals India from the perspective of local people, including many inspiring women who are leaders in their communities."
Dennis Bunnik, managing director of Bunnik Tours (bunniktours.com), believes travellers will be drawn next year to the security of small-group tours, particularly the company's new range of shorter itineraries.
"These will initially focus on tours to the United Kingdom, Europe and the Middle East, but we hope to offer them across our entire range," Bunnik says. "We also had huge success with our "Five Stans" and Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan small-group tours that launched this year.
"People are always looking for those off-the-beaten-path countries, so we will continue to rely on our vast personal travel experiences to guide our product range."
HOTELS AND RESORTS
There's plenty to be excited about for the hotel industry. Though times are tough there are numerous long-term projects set to open in the next 12 months, as well as advancements and improvements hoteliers are keen to share when patrons return.
"Australians have a superb propensity to travel, and have rebounded from plenty of difficult situations," says Leanne Harwood, managing director of IHG Australasia and Japan (ihg.com). "Staycations and domestic travel will likely dominate initially, with people exploring closer to home and supporting regional destinations that need it the most.
"Flexibility will also be key, as travellers look to change plans and dates, and we are already adapting to accommodate."
IHG has a expansive suite of brands – the likes of InterContinental, voco, Hotel Indigo and Kimpton – but Harwood says it's Crowne Plaza that has the most to talk about in 2021.
"The brand has been completely reinvented and is moving into a new era with design innovations built around flexibility and technology. It will also be rolled-out across Europe, the US and Greater China.
"Locally, we will see the arrival of three new-build Crowne Plaza hotels in Sydney, Hobart and Adelaide, as well as major refurbishments across the entire estate."
A new voco hotel will open in Melbourne Central, supporting a likely trend towards domestic tourism.
Michael Issenberg, chairman and chief executive of Accor Asia Pacific (all.accor.com), says he also foresees a rise of travel in Australia in 2021, with a focus on supporting local economies. And when people do head overseas again, Accor has plenty of new developments to offer.
"We have some very exciting openings coming up including Raffles Bali, which is a very exclusive all-pool villa resort overlooking Jimbaran Bay. We also have our first serviced residences project opening in Singapore, with Orchard Hills Residences MGallery which will provide an urban wellness retreat; our first MGallery in Manila; a new Novotel Ubud; Mantra Melbourne M City; and a fabulous Fairmont in Seoul."
There's no doubt cruise lines have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic crisis, but experts are predicting a fightback in 2021, led by the domestic travel market, and those who enjoy the good life.
"Luxury cruise passengers show the most resilience," says Adam Vance, general manager of sales and marketing at cruise specialists Cruiseco (cruising.com.au). "They've been cruising for many years through many challenges and are still booking now for next year."
Interestingly, Vance predicts that 2021 could be the biggest ever year for cruise holidays by Australians, provided we have a speedy recovery in 2020.
"Europe, Asia and the South Pacific have pent-up demand," he says. "Passengers with cancelled 2020 cruises have anywhere between 100 per cent and 225 per cent of the value of their cruise to spend. Some will divide and take two cruises, others may cruise longer or move up the ship to suites and penthouses."
Tony Archbold, director of sales at Holland America Line (hollandamerica.com), is also predicting a strong comeback in 2021. He sees a trend for travellers to want to visit and assist the communities that have been hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
"Remote destinations such as Alaska will also have obvious appeal," he says, "allowing travellers to experience the wide-open spaces of the world."
To take travellers to those destinations, Holland America Line is launching a new ship in May 2021, the Ryndam, which will be the third of the company's Pinnacle Class ships.
For adventure cruisers, meanwhile, Jeff Gillies, commercial director of Coral Expeditions (coralexpeditions.com), says his company has a new ship launching in January 2021, the Coral Geographer, with an amazing itinerary.
"Her maiden voyages will explore small islands around the Indian Ocean, a first for Coral Expeditions. We'll be traversing the coastlines of Madagascar, Seychelles, Sri Lanka and Zanzibar. She'll then follow that with another series of small islands to the South Pacific, Japan and the Philippines."
Coral Expeditions is refocusing on Australian destinations as local travellers seek to stay close to home. "We've introduced a seven-night departure aboard the Coral Adventurer to the outer Great Barrier Reef," Gillies says. "We'll also add new departures for deeper exploration to the Torres Strait Islands."
There's no need to tell you that airlines are hurting. Badly. Just take a look up into the sky and witness the lack of traffic. This is a huge global industry that has ground to an almost immediate halt. But, it will be back.
"The airline industry will recover just as it has from other shocks like SARS, 9/11 and the GFC," says Geoffrey Thomas, editor-in-chief of airlineratings.com. "Of course, this is worse, much worse, and it will take longer for a full recovery.
"But people love to travel and can't resist a bargain, thus it may be faster than we think if airlines put amazing deals into the market."
The airlines likely to make it through this periodt, Thomas says, are those that are either government owned or heavily supported, making it critical that Australian carriers are given appropriate assistance. For those which do take off again there are some exciting advancements afoot.
"The biggest new development next year will be the 777X from Boeing, which will usher in cheaper and more comfortable travel," says Thomas. "It burns about 40 per cent less fuel per passenger and that is what cheaper fares are all about."
What will 2021 look like for those keen to book a package holiday? It's a little too early to say, according to Cameron Holland, chief executive of Luxury Escapes (luxuryescapes.com) There is, however, confidence that the industry will bounce back.
"There will no doubt be a lot of pent-up demand from travellers, particularly if travel bans and lockdowns continue for some months," says Holland, whose portfolio includes a swathe of luxury properties and experiences across the world.
"If the situation can get under control this year, there could be quite a large number of people wanting to explore the world – and home – all at once in early 2021."
Holland predicts 2021 will be a year to explore Australia, for travellers to feel the safety of home while also enjoying a holiday again. "International travel will start to open up in destinations that are perceived to be closer or safer before the more adventurous locations return to normal," he says. "But we may see more isolated island locations like the Maldives, South Pacific, outer islands of Indonesia, and even Hawaii prove to be the favourites."
SKIING AND SNOWBOARDING
The ski industry is accustomed to challenges. You've heard about climate change, right? And now COVID-19 has forced the early closure of many northern hemisphere ski resorts. Those in the south, meanwhile, including Perisher and Thredbo, remain in limbo for 2020, yet to make a decision at the time of writing on their coming season.
One of the few certainties is that Australians love to ski and snowboard, and many are focusing on the next northern hemisphere season.
"We look forward to welcoming guests back to our North American mountain resorts for the 2020-21 season," says a spokesperson for Vail Resorts, owners of Perisher (vailresorts.com), as well as multiple northern hemisphere properties. "As the crisis of COVID-19 passes, the mountains will be waiting for skiers and riders to return."
And when they do return, Vail is hoping to tempt them with Epic Mountain Rewards, a program for Epic Pass and Epic Local Pass holders. In 2020-21, those holders – who have access to the likes of Vail, Whistler Blackcomb, Park City and Breckenridge – will receive a 20 per cent discount on on-mountain food and beverage, lodging, group ski and ride school lessons and equipment rentals.
Much like the ski industry, this is far from the first challenge the African safari market has faced. "We have weathered many a storm," says Cameron Neill, general manager of safari specialists Bench Africa (benchafrica.com). "The Ebola crisis in 2014 was our most recent hurdle where travel to Africa pretty much ground to a halt; the following year we saw tremendous growth as pent-up demand exploded."
Bench has a host of recently refurbished luxury properties that it's excited about for 2021, including Jack's Camp in Botswana, Little Kulala in Namibia, and Sayari Camp in Tanzania. "The beautiful thing about Africa is that the real star of the show is nature," Neill adds. "And whether or not we are there to see it unfold, the wildlife is still there, doing its thing, and it will be waiting for us when we can all travel once more."
Though African wilderness trips will always be popular, Julie McIntosh, founder and director of the Classic Safari Company (classicsafaricompany.com.au), says domestic travel is likely to be the first area of the business to bounce back in 2021. "Australia is our new frontier," she says. "Some stunning properties and short breaks tailor-made by us will be available very shortly."
Outside of Australia, McIntosh says Colombia has plenty to offer in 2021, and the more isolated reaches of Africa are opening up. "We have the wild and remote regions of the Congo and Sao Tome becoming more and more accessible," McIntosh says. "There's also expeditionary camping and walking safaris in Botswana and our Great Walk of Africa in Tsavo, in Kenya – 150 kilometres of walking in 10 days – is far from the mainstream and something we are proud to represent."
READY, SET, GO: HOW TO PLAN FOR TRAVEL IN 2021
POSTPONE DON'T CANCEL
This is the key message from the tourism industry, airlines included. If you can afford to, and you're comfortable doing it, don't cancel your plans for 2020, but rather postpone them. Help those companies who provide you with travel experiences to stay afloat by keeping your money with them.
START DREAMING NOW
There's no need to stop thinking about travel now, just because you can't hop on a plane immediately. If anything, this is the perfect time to begin the dreaming phase for your next journey, to take the time to consider where you would like to go next, and what you would like to achieve when you get there.
REVISIT YOUR BUCKET LIST
This can seem a little silly, and some people hate the idea of "box-checking" travel. But if the current situation has taught us anything it's that you can't take travel for granted. If there are places you've always wanted to see and things you've always wanted to do, the signs are there: do them now.
When planning for 2021, the destination that offers the most security and surety would have to be Australia. This might just be the time to take that tour of your own backyard. The likes of Tasmania and the Kimberley will be particularly popular.
CHECK YOUR TRAVEL INSURANCE
A harsh lesson learned from this COVID-19 outbreak is that some insurance providers don't cover epidemics and pandemics. When you're making plans for 2021 and buying insurance, be sure to read the fine print and decide the level of coverage you're comfortable with.
BOOK AS SOON AS YOU FEEL CONFIDENT
The travel industry needs your support. Tour companies, hotels, cruise lines, travel agencies – they all need you. We're not going to suggest a timeline here, but all we will say is that when you feel confident enough to book your trip for 2021, do it. Put some money into these businesses and help them survive.
This is a key factor for those keen to travel in 2021. At the moment, we still don't really know what the year is going to look like. With the world in such a state of flux, it's important to be flexible with your future travel plans. Be ready to change dates or destinations as the need arises.
There's no other way to be right now. And anyway, travel itself is an inherently optimistic pursuit. Every time we leave the house we place our trust in the world that everything is going to be OK. Do your best to carry that attitude as you consider your options for 2021.
HERE WE GO AGAIN: FIVE EVENTS SET TO RETURN IN 2021
One of the world's two biggest sporting events, along with the World Cup of football, won't be taking place this year. But the good news is the Olympic Games has been rescheduled to start July 23 concluding August 8, 2021 which means there's never been a better time to start preparing. See tokyo2020.org
EUROVISION, THE NETHERLANDS
It's one of Europe's most enjoyable and most ridiculous parties, an event that brings the continent together for a parade of sequins, Lycra and parochialism. Only, this year's Eurovision in Rotterdam has been cancelled. Talks are in progress for the Dutch city to put on the show in 2021 instead, so if you're a fan, this could be the perfect time to visit. See eurovision.tv
VENICE CARNIVAL, ITALY
This year's Venice Carnival very nearly reached its scheduled completion date, only to be cut short by two days as COVID-19 swept across Italy. This traditional festival of masks, floats, performances and parades will return in February 2021 with, we hope, renewed vitality in a city hit hard by the virus. See carnevale.venezia.it/en
It isn't just overseas festivals and celebrations that are affected. Closer to home, Vivid, the popular celebration of art and light cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis. The event is returning in 2021 and will no doubt be a focal point for a country moving forward to better times. See vividsydney.com
SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST, US
There's a whole slew of well-known music festivals across the USA and the world that have been cancelled. One of these is South By Southwest, the multi-day, multi-venue indie festival in Austin, Texas. It will return in March next year, bigger and better. See sxsw.com