What will 2021 look like for travel? Your questions answered

What a year (to forget) in travel.

On the positive side, some of us did manage to squeeze in overseas trips just before you know what showed up and there have been cherished moments of domestic travel bliss for many of us between border closures, border reopenings, border closures and border reopenings.

The good news is that the year from hell (vacationus interruptus) is almost over. 

Nothing is going to prevent Traveller from digging out our office crystal ball again (first giving it a good sanitise) in an attempt to unmask keen travellers' prospects for next year as we endeavour to answer the 21 burning questions in travel for 2021.

1. WHERE ON EARTH CAN I TRAVEL TO IN 2021?

A simple question and perhaps the toughest to answer. Travel in 2021, a little like Winston Churchill's Russia, is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Based on the federal government's recent extension of its controversial ban on international travel - unique in the world - we aren't going anywhere overseas, except, all going well, to New Zealand (see below) and perhaps Fiji, before March. Such is the parlous state of the pandemic around the world that there are conspicuously few other candidates for bubbles with Australia. International cruising is also suspended until at least then with our leaders keen to observe the outcome and efficacy of the complex roll-out of vaccines overseas in hard-hit (or less compliant) countries such as the UK and US. See who.int

2. WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE TRAVEL BUBBLE BETWEEN AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND?

SINGAPORE - FEB 11 , 2017 : Super tree in Garden by the Bay, Singapore. tradec19cover

Super tree in Gardenx by the Bay, Singapore. 

It's been all rather deflating since the travel bubble was first proposed, bro. The concept of a trans-Tasman bubble was first mooted in April and has been delayed by events and caution ever since. While New Zealanders have been able to travel here (provided they quarantine for a fortnight on their return) Australians are to finally get their chance to cross the Tasman in early 2021. It will be a boon especially for the heavily-tourism dependent Kiwis, who have also announced a travel bubble with the Cook Islands to begin in the first quarter of next year. If the travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand works it will represent the first major travel bridge to succeed anywhere. Singapore and Hong Kong were forced to postpone their travel bubble when the latter destination suffered a sudden spike in cases (see below). See newzealand.com

3. SO WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

A young men enjoying the beautiful view of mt Cook , New Zealand tradec19cover

Beautiful view of mt Cook , New Zealand tradec19cover

Risk-averse leaders and medical authorities of the two nations will be closely monitoring the medical situation in both nations, ready to deflate the bubble at a moment's notice, chiefly if locally-acquired transmissions emerge on either side of the Tasman. That may prove inconvenient for Australians and New Zealand caught in the other's country as politicians issue their decrees. Whatever happens, travel bubbles of any kind take a level of courage and pragmatism as they can easily go wrong, even before they are launched.

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4. WHAT ABOUT BUBBLES INVOLVING OTHER COVID-SAFE NATIONS IN THE PACIFIC?

The federal government, possibly with a watchful eye on China's growing influence in the Pacific, has said it intends to provide vaccines gratis to our Pacific neighbours, which, thankfully, have a low incidence of COVID-19. In the absence of a bubble, this may hasten the restoration of travel to destinations such as Fiji. Sadly, Fiji's hugely tourism-dependent national economy is suffering badly from the absence of visitors from Australia and while a bubble between the two nations has been floated, it has yet to materialise. See fiji.travel/au

5. WHAT PARTS OF THE WORLD ARE LIKELY TO BE OFF-LIMITS FOR AUSTRALIANS FOR THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE?

Where to begin? Our ever-circumspect national state political and medical authorities may play it safe for much of 2021 - even with a successful vaccine roll-out - and limit travel to COVID-19 safe nations in the Asia-Pacific sphere, if they even allow that. The world's eight billion people are conceivably to be vaccinated in what experts rank as a logistical task perhaps unrivalled outside of wartime.

6. SO THIS COULD MEAN WE GET TO TRAVEL HERE AGAIN NEXT YEAR, RIGHT?

Well, yes. Maybe. Possibly. Noggabri and Nar Nar Goon, here we come. And it won't be such a bad thing for the national economy, especially on top of China's boycott of our exports, as domestic tourism is a surefire way to compensate for the conspicuous absence of overseas visitors and boost spending generally. Wineries that have invested heavily in tourism and are hit hard by the China trade boycott, will likely benefit. The industry will appreciate your support. See ultimatewineryexperiences.com.au

7. WHEN WILL WE SEE OVERSEAS TRAVELLERS START RETURNING TO AUSTRALIA?

We should work towards making Australia the inclusive society it should be. Because words can do much more damage than sticks and stones.

Australia's ecomonic recovery has suffered from the lack of foreign tourists visiting our shores. Photo: AFR

Eventually the federal government and its tourism marketing arm will need to begin rebuilding the lucrative inbound industry, diminished by the almost certain loss of almost 1.5 million Chinese tourists. Remember that the Chinese Communist Party earlier this year banned its citizens from visiting Australia, a rather asinine move considering the fact that our own federal government had already banned visitors from China, and then everywhere else due to the pandemic. But Australia's largely exemplary containment of the virus may also eventually prove to be a marketing advantage in enticing tourists back. See australia.com

8. WHEN I EVENTUALLY TRAVEL OVERSEAS, WILL I NEED TO PROVE I'VE BEEN VACCINATED?

Alan Joyce, the boss of Qantas, was onto something when he declared that only passengers with proof of vaccination against COVID-19 would be permitted on the airline's overseas flights. As security became the dominant theme in travel after the 2001 terrorist attacks in the US, so too will 2021 and beyond be characterised by global health considerations. However, Joyce's statement was somewhat at odds with the fact that the wearing of masks is not mandatory on Qantas flights. Certainly, governments will not want to become net exporters and importers of COVID-19. Therefore a regime of digital health or immunity passports showing proof of vaccination with not only one shot but a booster as well as required by certain vaccines, seems inevitable. Already the International Air Transport Association has announced it is developing a digital travel pass for passengers. See qantas.com; iata.org

9. HOW WILL HEALTH CONSIDERATIONS CHANGE TRAVEL?

Aside from masks continuing to be an essential travel accessory, we're guessing that a heightened awareness of the risk of other communicable diseases among travellers will be a corollary of the pandemic. This may lead to increased monitoring of other vaccines required for travel to exotic destinations and even a recommendation by medicos of influenza shots when travelling overseas, especially, for instance, in the northern winter. See who.int

10. WILL I BE ABLE TO GET TRAVEL INSURANCE WHEN OVERSEAS TRAVEL RETURNS?

This remains one of the most vexed issues surrounding the resumption of overseas travel. No doubt insurers, for whom travel insurance was, or is, a lucrative segment, will be watching closely to see how fully vaccines reduce risk for travellers. The Insurance Council of Australia advises that most travel insurers have suspended sales of international travel policies due to the federal government's travel ban. However, some are now providing travel insurance, though these policies are unlikely to cover travellers for claims related to COVID-19 such as medical expenses, repatriation, cancellations or delays. Watch this space. Closely. See insurancecouncil.com

11. WHEN WILL I BE ABLE TO TAKE A CRUISE AGAIN?

The traditional September to April cruising season down under is not going to happen thanks to government concerns. One unresolved issue that the cruise industry and authorities need to address is the crewing of ships in Australian waters with personnel traditionally largely drawn from developing nations like the Philippines and Indonesia which have a high prevalence of COVID-19. The cruise industry is discussing the issue and how it can managed domestically with the federal government but cautious state governments will also need to be persuaded. See cruising.org

12. WHAT IS THE CRUISE INDUSTRY DOING TO ADDRESS HEALTH ISSUES?

SatOct12cover - Cruise Food Guide - Brian Johnston
Image supplied via journalist for use in Traveller.
The Wintergraden on Viking Sky

The Wintergraden on Viking Sky Photo: Supplied

Cruise lines are not about to go down with their ships and are doing everything they can to address the threat COVID-19 poses to the future of their industry. Viking Cruises recently announced an exhaustive list of health measures it intends to introduce, even with the arrival of vaccines. These include new air purification systems aboard ships and the first full-scale laboratories at sea for the daily testing of passengers and crew. See vikingcruises.com

13. HOW DIFFERENT WILL THE CRUISING EXPERIENCE BE WHEN IT DOES RESUME?

Even with vaccines, health will play a dominant role on any future cruises, but the last thing that cruise lines will want is for their vessels to feel like hospital ships. Party ships, or at least partying on ships, will be a big no no for the foreseeable future with cruising set to be a more subdued, socially-distanced affair both on sea and shore. Overall, cruise ship operators are hoping for much calmer waters in 2022 and 2023 and devotees of this style of travel, confident normality will have resumed by then, are already buying cruise holidays for those years. See cruising.org

14. CAN WE BE SURE STATE AND TERRITORY BORDERS WILL REMAIN OPEN IN 2021?

If there's one certainty in politics it's that politicians will, as we've seen in the past 10 months, always act like politicians, even in a crisis. The constant closures and openings of state and territory borders have undermined confidence among travel consumers and there's no certainty of certainty in 2021.

15. WHEN WILL BE ABLE TO TRAVEL TO THE US AGAIN?

The idea of a holiday anytime soon to the US is looking a bit Mickey Mouse, to say the least, so don't bother booking that dream Disneyland holiday quite yet. Despite being our closest ally and one of our most popular overseas destinations, the US may be way along the queue of nations we get to visit again. The level of take-up of vaccines is likely to be much lower in the US than other parts of the world, particularly in comparison with Australia, reducing the chance of herd immunity. The US recently recorded one million new cases of COVID-19 transmission in a mere five days with the daily death toll now the equivalent of a September 11 death toll each day.

16. BACK TO THE BUBBLES, WEREN'T THERE MEANT TO BE SOME CREATED BETWEEN COUNTRIES LIKE JAPAN AND SOUTH KOREA?

Although Japan and South Korea were at the vanguard of the initial response to the pandemic both nations have recently recorded surges in COVID cases, particularly Japan. It's a disappointing outcome for the country which hopes to stage the postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics in 2021. Concerns have been expressed in the Japanese media about the pace with which Japan will be able to provide vaccinations for its large population. But nations like South Korea are still likely to be among the first countries Australians may be allowed to visit later into 2021. See english.visitkorea.or.kr; japan.travel

17. WHAT HAPPENED TO THE TRAVEL BUBBLE BETWEEN SINGAPORE AND HONG KONG?

In a telling illustration of the vagaries of the virus and its ability to dash hopes, a travel bubble between Singapore and Hong Kong, both of which are highly dependent on tourism, was recently postponed because of a sudden spike in cases in troubled Hong Kong. However, Singapore, where recent positive cases have, like Australia, been imported and not transmitted within its community, has been largely a COVID success story and surely remains a strong contender as a country for Australians to visit next year. But travel bubbles can only work if they aren't compromised by people being introduced into them from non COVID-safe territories. A porous travel bubble is not a true bubble - it's a recipe for disaster. See visitsingapore.com

18. ANY OTHER TRAVEL BUBBLE CANDIDATES FOR 2021?

Taipei, Taiwan at Liberty Square. tradec19cover

Taipei, Taiwan at Liberty Square.

Taiwan, a rewarding and underrated destination, is another country with an exemplary record in dealing with COVID-19, and so is another two-way travel bridge candidate for Australia (talks are reportedly under way between the two countries to increase trade in light of the China boycott of Australian exports). If Taiwan emerges as such we can highly recommend a visit. Of course, the Chinese will hate it. See taiwan.gov.tw and traveller.com.au

19. SHOULD WE LOOK AT VISITING THE GREAT WALL ANYTIME SOON?

BYO Penfolds Grange if you can manage to pull it off. Although the Chinese appear to have effectively contained the virus, the origins of which can be traced to that country, you don't need to be a Sino-Australia relations expert to realise it's unlikely that Australians will be welcome or indeed be completely safe there for the foreseeable future, considering the ongoing frigid diplomatic relationship. Consider its near neighbour, above.

20. SHOULD I GET MY PASSPORT RENEWED - IF I CAN FIND IT?

Hands giving passport (of Australia) iStock

Can you remember where you put your passport? Photo: iStock

It would definitely be worth finding it and storing it somewhere safe and memorable. Before you do pop it away (and be sure it's in a dry place) do check the document's expiry date. If it's due to expire, renew it. When international travel does begin to resume there will likely be a major rush on the Passport Office for renewals and applications. You will also need it should you be attracted to the trans-Tasman travel bubble if it launches in 2021. And remember: most countries expect six months' validity on a passport and without that you will not be allowed to enter. See passports.gov.au

21. WILL TRAVEL EVER BE AS MUCH FUN AS IT USED TO BE?

Yes, a few inconveniences and annoyances aside. There may be countries we can't visit just now but we have our own country to explore. Get out there while the going is good. The rest of the world can surely wait a little longer.

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